Get our free newsletter
The Washington Post sponsored between one to four free summer concerts featuring local musicians at the Carter Barron Amphitheatre in Rock Creek Park from 1993 to 2015, but that series will not continue this year.
Kristine Coratti Kelly, a Post spokesperson, confirmed the news to Arts Desk, adding “we support a wide range of events and organizations throughout the D.C. area, and they sometimes change from year to year.” Neither Kelly nor Emily Linroth, a public affairs specialist for the National Park Service, would provide additional explanation for the decision.
While Fort Reno has hosted local punk bands since 1979, Carter Barron has featured—under the rubric of the Washington Post Weekend section—old-school soul, urban contemporary, R&B, jazz, Caribbean music, and occasional Americana acts. The news comes on the heels of the closures of both Bohemian Caverns and the Chateau, plus the financial problems at the Howard Theatre and WPFW.
This decision is the latest Carter Barron setback for Washingtonians who were once able to enjoy a mixture of free and paid concerts from June through August each summer at the open-air facility. In 2013, the sequester limited the season, and NPS stopped employing an outside contractor that used to book national acts like the Stylistics. In 2014, Carter Barron’s season did not begin until August due to construction and administrative issues, and last year it did not begin until July 17 for unexplained reasons.
“Over the many years, the Post nights became a highly anticipated and celebrated tradition for the local artists, who had the benefit of performing on a big stage and before 4,000 people,” says Dera Tompkins, who served as a talent buyer and advisor to the Post for the series. Tompkins adds that “the community attended the free Friday night concerts in family groups including three generations, as well as neighborhood groups, couples, and best friends. It was an annual community family reunion for what was then Chocolate City. We all felt safe and at home at the Carter Barron.”
Last year, Carter Barron hosted a Washington Post Classic Soul Night with locals Mousey Thompson and the James Brown Experience, Skip Mahoney & The Casuals, and William DeVaughn. Their paper also sponsored a Washington Post Reggae Night with locals Monsoon & S.T.O.R.M. Reggae Band, Puma Ptah, and Ras Biruk & Ras Band.
Over the years, the Post has also booked locally-based Caribbean acts including Ichelle Cole & Strykers Posse, Junior Marvin, and the Image Band. Other bookings include jazz vocalist Akua Allrich, neo-soul singer Carolyn Malachi, Southern soul band Hardway Connection, and salsa combo Orquesta La Romana.
Eric Brace, a former Post Weekend section writer who now plays music in Nashville, says “being a part of the ‘Weekend’s Weekends’ was such a great chance to show the audiences the incredible variety of music that Washington artists make.”
“In my case, I booked a couple of dozen bands every summer from 1996 through 2002, and emceeing those free shows were some of the most fun nights of my tenure at the Post,” he said. “I had seen many, many shows myself over the years at Carter Barron, and it always amazed me how many people never even knew about it. I knew how magical it could be. For Weekend’s Weekends, I would book three bands for each themed night. The Park Service wouldn’t let me book punk rock or hip-hop or go-go because the administrators were a little scared of rowdiness, I think. But within those pretty loose limits, I think we presented some tremendously original and inspiring music. And I loved seeing the same people coming out to each show on any given summer, just to be in that beautiful setting, and to be exposed to some music they’d never heard before.”
So what’s in store for Carter Barron in summer 2016? The National Park Service has not announced a schedule yet, but there may be a tiny glimmer of hope. Former New England Patriots cornerback Darryl Haley, who now lives in the area and provides fitness advice during WHUR’s Friday morning show, has announced that he is doing a “Music at the Monument” series; it will present two concerts a month at Carter Barron in June, August, and September.
While he says there is little money to pay the musicians, whom he has yet to announce, it’s better than this wonderful location sitting empty all summer.
Photo of William DeVaughn performing at Carter Barron in 2015 by Sheila Rieser