Music festivals are without question one of the biggest things I look forward to every summer. After all, as a quadriplegic confirmed as a Presbyterian, raised by a Catholic mother and heavily influenced by New Agers as a little girl, I’m one odd duck. The people at these festivals are my people. They’re just as weird as I am.
The other big reason I love going to music festivals is for the sweet delicious music. I love hearing it when I first roll in, echoing from the stages far off in the distance, or when it’s floating through the air into my tent sending me to sleep each night.
The music festival is one big Band-A id for the soul pretty much. I highly recommend going to one this summer, or several, if you can; especially if you have a disability. Sure, there are crowds to contend with, as well as the heat and the grounds themselves, but despite all those things the music festival is still one fabulous recreational activity for a wheelchair-user.
But before you go, you definitely need to be prepared. Most music festivals may not be akin to Woodstock thank goodness (have you seen the documentary? No way a wheelchair-user could’ve survived that), but there are a lot of people and things to consider. Here are my tips for surviving a music festival in a wheelchair.
1. Contact Special Services before arriving
The great thing about music festivals in the United States is they’re required to have a special services department to assist all disabled guests who are attending. Now, some of these special service departments are better than others depending on the festival, but contacting them is the first thing you should do before going.
Ask them to send you information on all accessible services offered, as well as a map on where the accessible seating locations are at all the stages, locations for charging stations (to give your wheelchair some juice if needed), the location of first aid and all accessible bathrooms.
2. Bring your own shade
Global warming is a serious business, and a lot of music festivals simply cannot provide enough shade for everyone in the vicinity of the stage, and this is where being a wheelchair-user comes in handy — you can attach a sun umbrella to back of your chair, but make sure it’s not too obnoxiously big. It may work great, but you won’t make any friends what it comes to trying to see around you.
3. Go overboard on the sunscreen
I know you know you’re supposed to put on sunscreen, but just remember to put on extra when you’re at a music festival this summer, OK? That sun can do a number on your skin before even realizing it, and then you’re left with that annoying sunburn pain for the rest of the festival. I prefer the spray sunscreen — that stuff gets everywhere you need it to.
4. Bring (and drink) lots of water
While sangria, crisp cold beer and anything with rum and an umbrella may seem like the ideal drink for a festival, always go for the water — at least for most of the day. When you’re outside and in the sun your body uses more water. You need to make sure you replenish yourself so you can keep jamming out and being awesome. And if you don’t have a Camelback water bottle yet, get one asap.
5. Get ready for drunken crowds and questions
Oh, the drunken crowds at music festivals … perhaps one of the most entertaining aspects of going. You will get asked, “Why are you in a wheelchair?” lots, and most of the questions will be completely harmless and from a good place. Have fun with these people and use it as an opportunity to make new friends, even though some of these tipsy festival-goers may try to climb on your wheelchair during the mid-point of a rousing set (eeks!).
6. Watch out for your wheels
It you use a wheelchair that has tires filled with an air, make sure you bring an extra tire tube (or two) along, as well a tire pump and patch kit. Music festivals are ripe with everything bizarre littered on the grounds and paths, and no matter how careful you are sometimes dodging every piece of glass from last night’s bonfire just isn’t possible. And if you can, get gel-filled wheels and win at life.
7. Practice your hippy-hippy shake
I know it seems really hard to dance from a wheelchair (or maybe you don’t think that), but you can dance from anywhere or anything, even a wheelchair, and especially so at music festival — so make sure you practice your best wheelchair groove possible. I’m a big fan of shaking my hips by moving my upper body, but I’ll leave the specific dance moves up to you. Just remember —you don’t look stupid. Get that silly thought out of your head.
You got to love the quintessential summer music festival. Get out there and have some fun you guys. And if you need some ideas for music festivals to go to this summer, remember there are the biggies – Bonaroo, the Winnipeg Folk Festival, Suburbia, New Orleans Jazz Festival, Summer Camp Music Festival, Mysteryland – but there are dozens more.
For a full list of summer music festivals for 2014, check out 40 of the best from Rolling Stone (and get your tix asap too!)
What accessible music festivals do you recommend?