5 Things to think about when going to a concert in a wheelchair
Music has always been one of the most important influences in my life. I can remember getting Backstreet Boys tapes to play in my boombox, and then cds for my discman when I was just a little older. I remember when I was 10 and I discovered the band Good Charlotte and learned just how powerful it can be when you hear a lyric that feels like it was written just for you.
When I lived in Pennsylvania, I was in a small town where bands never toured. I’d watch concert dvds and performances on Vh1 and dream of hearing my favorite songs live. Then, we moved to Florida. Suddenly I was just a half hour away from Orlando. A big, popular city.
Cities bring bands. And soon, grungy bars and clubs became my second home.
At a show, I could forget about everything else and just fall into place. We were all there for the same reason, to hear music we loved. I could sing along with a room full of strangers and nothing else really mattered.
Now, I’m not saying there aren’t any logistics involved because there definitely are. My concert experience is MUCH different from my abled friends, and while I still love going and think it’s an incredible way to spend a night… there are some things to consider.
Earlier in the week, I went to see AJR with my friend Sam. The show was at House of Blues, which is sort of in a middle ground as far as venues go. Not huge, but at a capacity of around 2100 people, it’s much bigger than a lot of little clubs and bars I used to frequent. Nice, but not the nicest. Accessible, but could do better. It got me thinking and I wanted to share a few things that I’ve learned over the years!
So when you’re in a wheelchair, I think some of the main things you’ve got to think about are:
1. Accessibility of venue
If it’s at a place like House of Blues or bigger, like an arena, you’ll probably have no problem getting your chair in or out of the place. If the show is at a small bar or club, it’s sort of a guessing game. Call ahead for sure, but it’d be even better if someone could scope it out. Sometimes you can get in, but not get to where the stage is. Sometimes you can get in to see the show fine, but can’t get to the bathrooms.
They’ll all tell you they’re accessible, but that doesn’t mean that they are. Do your research. It’s better to skip a show than to drop $20 and show up only to find out you’re going to have to turn around and leave anyway.
2. Viewing area
House of Blues has a small section behind the pit, which I lovingly refer to as the Cripple Cubby, that’s designated for wheelchairs and disabled guests. And when I say small, I mean it. You can fit two wheelchairs comfortably, three is pretty cramped, and any more than that is claustrophobic. It’s also the only accessible viewing area that I know of, so if there are more than 4 disabled people going to the show (in a crowd of 2100) it’s not great.
It’s a decent spot, though, with a good view of the stage. Plus, since you’re not actually down in the pit you can look right over everyone’s heads. A lot of places don’t consider this. Even at arenas, a lot of times I’ve been stuck in the back of a section, and the second people stand up I can’t see a thing. Smaller venues don’t always even have accessible seating options. General admission places sometimes end up being a ‘figure it out when you get there’ kind of deal.
If you’re picking a spot, closer doesn’t always mean better. Being in a wheelchair means you’re short, sometimes shorter than you may realize. Sitting right in front of the stage means looking up all night, and after a few hours your neck will be screaming.
3. Seating vs general admission
This is sort of the same point, but still worth considering. Some venues will have the option of seating vs general admission. I always wanted a general admission ticket because I wanted to be as close to the stage as possible, but sometimes it’s not worth it. If you know it’s the kind of show where people are going to get rowdy, opt for the seats unless you’re 100% sure you can handle it. And by it, I mean getting elbowed in the face, climbed on, tripped over, and fallen on all night.
Sometimes it’s better to be farther away if it means you’ll actually get to enjoy the band you went to see.
It’s important to know where the bathrooms are in relation to where you’re going to be sitting. Chances are, once the show starts you’re staying put til it’s over. It’s hard enough to weave through a crowd when you’re walking, but when you’re in a chair and not eye level with everyone, can’t turn sideways and squeeze through, and everyone is either drunk or too excited to pay attention – it’s nearly impossible to get through.
Figure out a route, but also go before the crowd fills in to be safe.
5. Early Entry
A lot of venues will have some sort of policy in place that allows disabled people to get first entry to the show. The ones that don’t are usually pretty good about it, or at least they have been in my experience. Just politely ask and explain why you need to enter first. If you’re worried, call ahead and arrange it with them earlier in the day/week.
Going in first can be important because in a general admission venue, you can’t shimmy through crowds to find a good spot like everyone else, but also because once people start filling in it gets chaotic fast. Hundreds of kids spilling in and running frantically can be super unsafe for someone in a wheelchair, so it’s just best to avoid it by going in early if you can.
If you’re going to buy merch, get food, or go to the bathroom, I’d do it as soon as you get in unless you’re good to wait until after the show. Also, get water. Do it first thing, even if you think you don’t need it, so you’re set if you can’t get it later.
A lot of disabled people can’t wait outside all day to make sure they’re in the front of the line. Some people are sensitive to being out in the sun all day. Others can’t go all day without eating or going to the bathroom. Some have pain levels and need to save their energy for the show at night. Whatever the reason is, just know this: you don’t have to feel guilty when some 13 year old gets pissy at you for ‘cutting the line.’ People are generally understanding, but just ignore the ones that aren’t.
Going to shows can sometimes be a little complicated when you have to plan around your wheelchair. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go!
People have always been really great about helping me get to a good spot and making sure I’m safe. 9 times out of 10, the crowd becomes like a big family for the night. Everyone’s there for the same reason – to have fun and appreciate music. So make friends with the people around you! If it’s a good group, everyone will try to look out for each other.
Just be prepared, have a plan, and have an amazing time!