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For years, Washingtonians have been able to count on seeing concerts for much of the summer at the Carter Barron Amphitheatre, which opened in 1950, and the Fort Dupont Park stage, which opened in 1972. In the 1960s, in the post-riot era, the “concerts in the park” series took on much importance as a way to bring people together in a neighborhood-focused, peaceful space.
But this year, the National Park Service has announced that the Fort Dupont concert series will not start until July 19, and the Carter Barron concert series will not start until August. In the past, Fort Dupont has hosted the likes of Sun Ra, Betty Carter, the Dramatics, Roy Ayers, SOS Band, Lakeside, Con Funk Shun, Regina Belle, Mother’s Finest, the Delfonics, Chi-Lites, and numerous local acts, but this year’s series will feature only one still-to-be-contracted national act. The other three shows will feature all-local bills. In recent years, Carter Barron has hosted numerous old-school soul acts, but it’s also featured the likes of Miriam Makeba, Bruce Springsteen, B.B. King, and the Band.
Last year, when audience members wondered why the concerts at these locations started later in the summer than usual, the National Park Service attributed the shorter schedules and fewer big-name national acts to sequestration. But what about this summer’s shorter, smaller slate? National Park Service spokesperson Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles says Fort Dupont is starting late this year because the NPS has consolidated the management of the area’s historic forts this year. “[T]he person responsible for Fort Dupont beginning this year was also responsible for planning and execution of the 150th anniversary of Fort Stevens,” she says, referring to a Georgia Avenue location where Union soldiers once battled the Confederates. Anzelmo-Sarles calls planning last weekend’s battle re-enactments, panel discussions, and other related events “a monumental task.” Kym Elder, the NPS program manager who was tasked with these duties, did not respond to a request for comment.
But the NPS has nearly always hired an outside contractor to manage the Fort Dupont concert series. The Annapolis-based National Artists Corporation handled the booking and management of Fort Dupont from 2002 to 2012, but the NPS took it on itself last year. (In Washington City Paper‘s cover story on Fort Reno earlier this month, National Artist Corporation’s former stage manager said they did a “piss-poor job taking it over.”) NPS got a late start in the planning process this year, putting out a request for bids on June 13 and awarding the contract to ISOM Global Strategies on July 7, only a week and a half before the first show.
It remains unclear why the NPS and the U.S. Park Police waited until June to request policing fees from Fort Reno, and it is similarly hard to understand why the NPS could not simultaneously plan Fort Stevens events and put out a bid for a concert promoter in due time to host a full summer concert series, as it has in past years. As recently as 2012, National Artists Corporation booked a six-concert series with national acts headlining five of the shows.
National Artists Corporation also handled the booking and management of Carter Barron concerts from 2006 to 2012. This year’s Carter Barron series will include two Washington Post-sponsored concerts, one DC Blues Society gig, two movie nights, and a poetry festival. “The concerts at Carter Barron begin in August due to infrastructure projects at the amphitheater, budget, and scheduling of other events,” Anzelmo-Sarles says. “Projects include repair of the historic front gate and removal of aging structures.” She says those efforts “coupled with limited budgets means the park does not have the capacity to host the concerts until August.”
“We recognize that this year’s programming has not moved forward as smoothly as in the past, and we hope to do better next year,” Anzelmo-Sarles says. With questions raised this year about the NPS’s handling of Fort Reno, the National Mall, Fort Dupont, and Carter Barron, many will be watching its handling of all D.C. events more closely next summer.
Here’s this year’s full lineup for Fort Dupont and Carter Barron’s summer series:
July 19: Maimouna Youssef with Nappy Riddem, Christylez Bacon & featuring DJ Jahsonic July 26: Tribute to Luther Vandross featuring William ‘Smooth’ Wardlaw August 2: National Artist: To Be Announced August 9: Jazz Ambassadors of the U.S. Army Field Band
August 8: Reggae Night, presented by the Washington Post Going Out Guide Junior Marvin’s Force One (formerly of Bob Marley and the Wailers), Ruth-Ann Brown, Ras Lidj & Deep Band August 15: Neo Soul Night, presented by the Washington Post Going Out Guide Black Alley, Lysette Titi, Wes Felton August 16: 14th Annual DC Poetry Festival August 21: Movie Night August 22: Movie Night August 30: 26th Annual DC Blues Festival Shakura S’Aida, Selwyn Birchwood Band, Eddie Turner, Shirleta Settles and Friends, Hardway Connection, Stacy Brooks Band, and more
Photo via Flickr/National Park Service