BLOG: Live music is a big part of my identity

Posted on 26.04.2016

BLOG: Live music is a big part of my identity

By Jodie Green

As this week is MS Awareness Week, it seems fitting to talk about the issue of disabled access at gigs and festivals. I’ve enjoyed going to live music events for many years and even met my husband at a gig when he was playing bass for a local band. We’ve seen many bands over the years, often getting tickets at short notice and jumping on the train to Liverpool or Manchester, dancing away in the crowd. So much has changed though since being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2004. I am still able to walk a few metres with the aid of crutches but rely on a wheelchair for any distances and cannot stand for long. I can no longer cycle, something I used to love, and I certainly can’t dance anymore. I can no longer do things on the spur of the moment, everything needs planning in advance and of course access is a major consideration: are there any steps/stairs? Are there accessible toilets? What about parking? If I’m going to a gig, will I be able to see the band or just a wheelchair-height view of somebody’s backside?

Many music venues cater well for disabled gig-goers with level access, PA tickets, viewing platforms and disabled toilets. However, there are still venues that could do better. I’ve been to sizeable venues with no viewing platform and have had to sit to the side of the stage, where the view is obstructed and the sound quality isn’t as good or sit in an over-crowded cordoned-off area behind standing gig-goers, unable to see anything. There are gig venues that would find implementing access provisions difficult due to the nature of the building, usually smaller venues in older buildings. Last year there was a band playing who I really wanted to see but as the venue was accessed by steep stairs, I wasn’t able to go. I found this out from somebody who’d been before as the information wasn’t available on the website.

The first festival I attended was Glastonbury in 1989. It was like nothing I’d ever been to before and I loved it! I was fit and healthy back then and took getting around the site and accessing all that was on offer for granted. We went a few times with a group of friends, travelling down in the back of an old Transit van, pitching our tiny 2 man tent and enjoying the glorious sights and sounds of the weekend. Happy days!

We’ve been to a few festivals over the years. Some, while providing really good facilities for disabled festival-goers, have been difficult to negotiate due to the terrain of the site. However, many festivals give a description of the site’s nature on their accessible information pages, allowing festival-goers to judge for themselves whether attending is do-able. I don’t know who writes the information on access pages but I think it would be good to include a review written by a disabled festival-goer who has had first-hand experience of getting around the festival site.

We went to Green Man Festival for the first time last year. The access was great. Viewing platforms at many of the larger stages ensured I saw all the bands I wanted to and even when there was no platform, I was able to view from the side of the stage out of harm’s way. The platforms and accessible toilets were stewarded, the accessible showers were roomy and although the site was a little hilly, it was manageable and main paths through the site were boarded or tarmacked. The staff at the accessible campsite were very helpful and were even on hand to help put our tent up. We’re going again this year.

The things we do, the way we think and the things we enjoy all contribute to who we are. I love live music and it is a big part of my identity. Although my disability has stolen many of the things I used to enjoy, it will not steal that part of my identity. While festivals and music venues continue to improve accessibility with help from folks such as Attitude is Everything, I’ll be enjoying live music for many years to come.