The festival turned out to be a fantastic weekend in spite of my visual impairment. Really simple things, like the absence of stairs and obstacles, helped with the feeling that I’m not too different to the couple of hundred others crowded around a stage. Plus, the variety of stage sizes helped too. This kind of change in the make-up and composition of festivals – different stage sizes and atmospheres – makes the experience so much more diverse and diversity-friendly.
Fortunately, change is happening continually. Attitude Is Everything, an organisation that works with many festivals including Reading and Leeds, improves disabled people’s access to live music by working in partnership with venues, audiences, artists and the music industry. The presence of such organisations, and the profile they raise, not only addresses the barriers people such as myself face in the music festival environment, but also encourages the general public to question our assumptions regarding disability.
Any US orgs doing this?
Several years ago, I attended an outdoor music festival with a friend. I have a physical disability, cerebral palsy, that makes it difficult for me to walk long distances, and so we pulled up near the entrance to ask a parking attendant where the handicapped parking was located. Nowhere, we were told: There were no spots. Seeing as we were stopped near several rows of vehicles, we asked if we could just park there, as it was close to the front gate. That wasn’t an option, either: We could, but we ran the risk of being towed–and considering the festival was in an out-of-the-way location, in a state in which neither of us lived, that didn’t seem like a good option either. Luckily, because I’m a journalist, I had a contact at the festival that I could call. This person proceeded to find us, chew out the parking attendant for not allocating spots for handicapped parking–which was illegal, he was reminded–and led us to an area that was safe and close enough for me to get in and out with no problems.
While this was an extreme case of discrimination, it wasn’t the only time my disability unexpectedly became an issue when I was going to see live music. There was the parking lot attendant at another venue who asked me and my husband, “Do you need to use the spot?” when we asked about parking in the handicapped space we knew was near a door. (Um, why else would we be asking to park there?) Another time at an old theater, an employee looked skeptically at me when I asked to use an elevator to get up to the top level where my seats were, as if I didn’t necessarily need to. (Again, why else would I be asking?) And while attending SXSW some years ago, I had a bar actually tell my group we had to vacate the table and chairs at which we were sitting, as they had to be removed for the late-night shows that were scheduled to begin–which would’ve been fine had there been other chairs in the venue, but there weren’t. (Needless to say, we left and went elsewhere.) And these are just a few of the things I’ve experienced, as someone who’s been an avid concert-goer for nearly two decades.
I’m a musician. I want my art accessible. Meanwhile, my son is not great at responding to intensely crowded spaces, but his love of music – especially high energy music (Flogging Molly, Pogues, Hamilton, lately) – is one of his defining personality traits. I want to know we’ll have pathways for him to access music as he ages.
I dream of getting him to see Flogging Molly, for example. In the morning, when he’s not listening to Hamilton, he turns on Drunken Lullaby, Devil’s Dance Floor, or Revolution (his three favorite songs), and pumps his first to shout, “Rock and Roll.” But I’m not sure how we get from desire to reality.