Putting on concerts is generally not a free endeavor. There are permits to pay for, audio engineers to compensate, and, of course, the bands. When Fort Reno began, there were both local and federal funds behind the series. Now there are neither. At this point, all the bands play for free and the permits and sound man are paid primarily with money raised benefit concerts, and private donations.
Paul Strauss, 47, D.C. shadow senator and former chair of the Tenleytown Neighborhood Planning Council: The federal funds were the first to go. By ‘85 they were getting reduced. The Reagan administration had cut back on urban community support funds.
[In the ‘80s, bands got paid] just a modest 50 or 100 bucks. The labor to get the money to them probably cost more than the actual check. Occasionally we had $500 for a big summer headliner.
Brendan Canty, 45, played in Fugazi: [In the early ‘80s,] the D.C government would pay bands 50 or 100 dollars, depending if you were opening or headliners.
Strauss: I think we had a $7,000 budget at its peak. The T-shirt company had to get paid, and the sound truck was the biggest expense. For the parks service we had to keep track of how many marshals were there, and for the D.C. government, it was a youth program, so they wanted to know how many youths come to your program. We had to get youth to sign in. We passed around a clip board and asked people to sign up. It was the ‘80s, so no one had emails. We had an old-fashioned mailing list, and we’d get people to sign up and mail them a schedule. That’s largely how it was publicized.
Natasha Stovall, 40, booked Fort Reno in the early ’90s: I think I was there when we started collecting money in water jugs. There were some issues with funding.
Strauss: There was a city budget crisis in ’93 and we lost city funding. ’93 or ’94 might’ve been the last year that the government funded it. We sued Mayor Kelly to keep youth programs going…In the end, it was just the budgetary woes were so great, they had to cut it.
Carleton Ingram, 38, booked Fort Reno 1996-1999, played in The Better Automatic: Gus Sound, the sound guy [who now works at 9:30 Club], kept his rates reasonable for us. During my era, we were able to get bigger bands to come in, get the audience to come back, and then build on it.
It used to be that you could pass a bucket around at the shows, but that was in violation of the permit. So we started having a benefit concert at Black Cat. Every year a big band would have one—-The Dismemberment Plan, Q and Not U, or whoever. It would pay for sound and the permit application every year.