About twenty years ago I wrote a feature article for the now-defunct Ottawa magazine Trans FM about accessibility to local clubs for music fans. It was inspired by an advocacy group housed down the hall from CKCU where I volunteered as a DJ. It occurred to me, as a spun records, that the listeners the next room may not be able to go to see the same gigs I did. Small rooms, stairs, tiny toilets.
Fast-forward a couple of decades. A lot has changed. I’m spinning records, discs, and files at home now. I write for myself and edit for others. For sure I don’t go to as many gigs any more, largely because of time and money. And, after thirty years of concert going, I want to sit. Also, as you may have noticed from previous posts, I use a cane now so standing for long periods of time is out of the question.
Back in the late ’80s I saw an abridged version of the Replacements at Barrymore’s in Ottawa. They were a fantastic band who never quite got the credit (read: sales) that they deserved, drowned out by mediocre radio-friendly crap. After years of rumours and acrimony, the band announced a reunion tour as part of Riot Fest…with a Toronto date! Mine wasn’t the only heart that skipped a beat; most of my Gen X friends posted, cross-posted, and linked their middle-aged brains out on Facebook.
Well, was I? Let me check prices. The cheap seats had gone right quick so the remaining single-day general admissions were about $60 to $70. Not bad for the Mats, plus Iggy Pop, the Weakerthans, Dinosaur Jr., et al. I reached for my credit card.
Then the light went on. Where would I sit? The photos of previous fests showed an audience as a sea of standing bodies. OK, it’s a rock gig—well, a festival in a field, actually. I searched the website for accommodations for fans with mobility issues:
Those with disabilities are welcome to attend. We will not be providing parking to attendees, so those with disabilities should be transported to and dropped off at the main gates. Attendees with disabilities should inform security of their needs at the gates upon entry, they will assist you in accessing the festival. We will not have seating available, so those with trouble walking or standing should use an all-terrain wheelchair and/or attend with someone who can help them navigate the vast festival grounds. Onsite, there are many paved pathways to use, ADA accessible toilets will be provided in all parts of the venue and ADA accessible ramps will be placed next to the Front of House structure at a couple of the main stages. If you have further questions after arriving at the festival, head over to the Information Tent on the grounds, and they will be able to assist.
So no room for camp chairs. I’d need to rent a wheelchair for one day. Ok, fine, that starts at about $15, but for a Sunday and return the Monday? Sigh, call it $30. Then I’ve got to get it there. Hmm. The TTC’s Wheeltrans service is out of question as 1) I have to apply, 2) I’m ineligible, and 3) it isn’t used for just one day. Fine. So a cab…from my home in the East End all the way to Fort York: roughly $60 one way.
The tally so far: ticket $70 + wheelchair $30 + return cab $120 = $220 (plus tax) and I haven’t sipped a beer, nibbled a hot dog, or visited the merch table. A friend of mine suggested I get a VIP ticket as she did (thinking there would be more room) and we’d split the cab: ticket $120 + wheelchair $30 + cab $60 = $210 (plus tax) and I’m still parched and famished. Oh, and there’s no guarantee I’ll see the actual show; just the giant TV.
So because I have arthritis, going to Riot Fest would have cost me a minimum of $210 + tax.
Compare this with TURF, which cost me $70 all in. Why? Because I can bring a camp chair. It’s that simple.
Now some would say I’m too old. Uh huh. I’m the exact demographic who would see the Mats (Paul Westerberg, b. 1950, age 53) and Iggy Pop (b. 1947, age 66). Old? Me? Get outta my way, kid, let me see the show.
Oh, one more thing. I’m not alone. In the UK, young Paul Belk is trying to make fests more accessible.