The bands play on: Fort Reno concerts start after controversy

Fort Reno Park concert stage readies for performers after controversy nearly stopped it. Photo by Brenda Vega.

The Fort Reno Park concert stage readies for performers on Monday, July 7 after controversy nearly stopped the annual event. Photo by Brenda Vega.

The decades-old Fort Reno concert series kicked off Monday after security costs threatened to cancel the annual community event this year.

The event, which has been held annually since 1968 and takes place at Fort Reno Park in Tenleytown, was abruptly cancelled June 26, generating backlash from community members and a plea to reopen from D.C.’s Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.

But, concert organizers and the National Park Service reached a compromise that has the concert back on this week to the satisfaction of locals like Owen Kibenge who thinks it’s a great community event.

“I think that it adds color to our community,” said Kibenge, 39. “I like hearing the bands play.”

Kibenge believes that community events, such as the concert series, are important to create close ties among the people in the Tenleytown area, which is in Northwest Washington, D.C. Kibenge also stressed the need for these social occasions which serve as important family events, while at the same time serving the needs of the community.

“One hundred percent, we need those community events,” Kibenge said. “They attract a diverse crowd of people.”

And Kibenge feels the diversity that community events attract is beneficial to Tenleytown. Others agree.

A petition filed to allow the concert to continue reached 1,500 signatures within two days of the cancellation. And a Twitter campaign using #savefortreno garnered other passionate responses. One Twitter user wrote: “So glad that so many people worked so hard to #savefortreno. It is by far my favorite DC institution.”

But other Tenleytown residents were unaware of the event and the controversy surrounding its cancellation.

Menelik Walker, 22, an employee at Whole Foods in Tenleytown, hadn’t heard about the community concert series.

“I find it odd,” Walker said, about the apparent lack of advertising for the concerts. An email sent Monday to the concert organizers was not returned.

Walker believed it was strange he hadn’t heard people discussing the events at Fort Reno Park, and felt it was surprising he hadn’t heard anything from social media, or through traditional advertisements like fliers.

Haddy Gale, 22, another employee at Whole Foods, said she missed advertising and information about the concert, too.

“I hadn’t heard about it,” said Gale, who works but doesn’t live in Tenleytown. “People that live here might hear from friends but I don’t know.”

For those who do attend and look forward to the annual event, the Fort Reno concert series has become a part of local tradition and serves as a platform for feeding the creative need of the community.

“Music is the cup of wine that feeds the cup of silence,” Kibenge said. “I want to drink music all the time.”