I attended music festivals for over 20 years before developing CRPS. Yes, for most of my life I have been dancing to incredible music spanning dozens of genres.
The last time I attended an event, I was severely limited by my pain. This really made me think about whether festivals are possible for someone with issues like mine. If so, how many festivals would be possible? The kind of festivals I used to go to, anyway- outdoor multi-day music festivals…
Honestly, festivals are not possible for me right now. Between the vibration sensitivity to the fact I can’t sit in a car for that long, it’s not happening. At least I can listen to music again now. HOWEVER! That doesn’t mean other people with similar dreams of going to these festivals need to stay at home.
I believe attending events like these really depend on what your needs are, what your support is like, and how determined you are. I’ve seen people in wheelchairs crowd surfing, I’ve also seen people with crutches get pushed over. As many of us with limited mobility have learned, “accessible” doesn’t always mean accessible for everyone. So do your research, take advantage of the large Facebook groups most of these festivals have, and make contact with the organizers of the accessibility teams before you plan. A festival may say that the ground is “flat” but for someone in a wheelchair it could be too soft to move easily. I would highly recommend emailing the festival before you start your plans to make sure it is as advertised and to establish a contact working for the festival.
There are other logistic issues to consider as well, like how long is the average wait to get in? If you can only be in the car for 4 hours, but average wait times to enter the campground can be 12, that is an issue. Maybe there’s a way for you to take the staff entrance so it’s doable, but maybe there’s only one road in and out. Is there power there you can access for your medical devices? Are there vegetarian choices at the food vendors for when you don’t have the energy to prepare food yourself? How far is it from the camping area to the stage you’ll be at most? Is their First Aid team equipped to help you if something happens? These are some more important things to consider.
If you are someone involved in running or managing a music festival, please consider the spending power of people with disabilities as motivation to go above and beyond in this area! For disabled Canadians, it’s $55 billion CAD a year in spending power. As the Ontario Chamber of Commerce says, it’s a smart business decision to break into this market. In the United States, the stake of disabled consumers is at least $490 billion USD per year. That’s pretty wild if you are ignoring a whole market, especially with the value attached to it!
I hope some of this information can help create new experiences for you next summer, and perhaps the most beautiful and fun escape you’ve ever had! Please also keep in mind that these are just some North American festivals, some I’ve been to before, some that are highly recommended, and some are just “wild card” picks. 🙂
A great place to start is through Accessible Festivals. This initiative had over 50 music festivals on its rounds last summer! They helped hundreds of people have an experience that they weren’t guaranteed to have otherwise. They are in the process of adding many new events to their 2019 calendar, so hold tight it will be worth it.
For a general listing of music festivals, check out Everfest. The ones I’ve listed are almost exclusively Canadian and American as that is where I’m based!
Another great research tool is YouTube! So many people make recap videos of their adventures now, so you can really get a feel for the environment of these festivals if you want to. It can also help with logistics and planning.
In no particular order:
Shambhala (B.C. / August)
Shambhala is a powerhouse electronic music festival in the Kootenays that has been running for over 20 years. I attended this five separate times from 2007-2014 in my “previous life”. The show you see there is unlike any other, many of the DJs have very dedicated fan bases for their sets and they pull out all the stops. Some of my favourite moments have been at Shambhala. The pathways are very uneven, it is dark at night, there is no guaranteed way to cross the river with a mobility device if you want to hang out on the other side, and many other issues. mobility-wise. During headliner sets, the stages can get insanely packed and maneuvering through the crowd can be impossible, never mind piloting a wheelchair. However, they have a dedicated Shambha-Abled camping area very close to the main vending area, and the 5 stages. I’ve seen people there with various devices throughout the years, as well as people who had an acute injury during the festival and were able to stay and still enjoy some of it. Shambhala is also quite amazing when it comes to providing for their guests, so if you want to go please send them an email and just talk about what you need. If you have issues with vibrations, this is not the festival for you. There is great sound quality here, but with over 100,000 watts of PK Sound at The Village stage alone someone with allodynia triggered by shaking will not have a good time here. *Deadline for Shambha-Abled camping is July 1st. Send an email to email@example.com to sign up.
Lightning in a Bottle (California / May)
This electronic music and art gem has switched locations many times in its history. Regardless of location, LIB is determined to provide for their guests. My sister went to this and absolutely loved it, she can’t comment on the site or accessibility since it has moved since! The new site is “fully navigable for people with mobility disabilities with the assistance of our accessibility team”, and I’m not sure what that really means. You can check out their ADA at LIB blurb here. LIB is one of the festivals that has quite an active Facebook group that can be used as a resource as well.
Basscoast (B.C. / July)
The West Coast’s premiere electronic music and art event of the summer, this festival has an easy going maturity to it that makes it different from others. How do I know that? It’s been the favourite of some of my most discerning friends for years. Basscoast has a dedicated camping area for people with mobility issues. The terrain appears varied, with rocks going down to the river and some trees making paths bumpy with their roots. As implied by the name, bass can be heavy here so if you have vibration sensitivity, you will have issues here. You can also check out my previous blog, Music Therapy Samples: Taal Mala @ Basscoast 2017 to get a feel for some of the incredible moments that happen there.
Northern Nights (California / July)
Another immersive electronic music, art, yoga, camping++ experience held on the beautiful Eel River in Northern California. As far as accessibility goes, Northern Nights has an elevated viewing platform for guests and one ADA-designated companion to see the stage. They do not have a dedicated camping area. World class names show up to this, and the venue is unlike any other. This is a festival I lusted after for years but never made it to. Maybe you can!
Sonic Bloom (Colorado / June)
An electronic music festival with art, workshops, and more, this is held on a farm with somewhat varied terrain. They have a dedicated accessible parking and camping area, so send them an email if you’re interested! Big speakers, big vibrations, big attendance, and big vibes as well. On their website, Sonic Bloom acknowledges that part of the stages and camping area have uneven ground, although they do also have a reserved platform to view the main stage as part of their ADA Accessibility.
Borealis Festival (Alberta / July)
Borealis has a specific camping area set aside for people with mobility issues. Wheelchair accessible porta potties are advertised but the land seems like it could be iffy for a wheelchair. However, this one is pretty new and has a very reasonable attendance so if massive crowds are an issue that prohibit you from attending things this could be great! World class electronic music, art, and they are growing every year. This will be the second, and this has the potential to be legendary so get in while you can.
Astral Harvest (Alberta / July)
Intimate electronic and live music and arts festival with educational talks, workshops, yoga, and more. This is all ages, and attendees really prepare all year for this with their camps, costumes, gifts, and more. Out of my dozens of friends who have participated in this over the years, they were all excited and happy to return. I remember somebody saying years ago that an Astrophysics talk given by a PhD candidate was one of their daytime highlights. The campgrounds they are held on have varied ground, but are pretty flat for this sort of multi-day camping festival. They do not have a dedicated accessible camping area as far as I know, but as always send them an email if you are interested.
Bamboo (Costa Rica / February)
Some of my old festival crew have touted Bamboo as their new favourite annual international festival. The eco-focused nature of this music, yoga, and worskhop festival creates an atmosphere of positivity in a way participants always come back for. There are camping and hotel options, so you can choose your lodging accordingly. Accessibility is not mentioned on their website, and the festival site is of a beach-forest situation. Some soft sand, some packed sand, some rocks, some trees and roots, etc. It could be worth it to find out!
Stilldream (California / June)
Another electronic music festival…sensing a theme of what I like? According to a friend, there is disabled parking close to the hub of everything here. There is no mention of accessibility on their website, the terrain is varied there. A new venue at Blue Mountain Event Center should provide a better, flatter forest landscape with the Licking Fork River running through it. A whole lot of bass here, if you are vibration sensitive any of these heavier electronic music festivals may be a bit much. Some really good vibes, and some really great DJs, art, and workshops! They have quite the lineup of visual artists as well, so the live visuals are set to be insane.
Desert Hearts (California / April)
Tech house heads, search no more. This is a whole celebration of that culture with some extra artsy trimmings. Many attendees like the community vibe, and that along with the world class quality of music keeps them coming back. Yet another festival I have lusted after. You can find quite a few YouTube videos from this festival’s attendees.
Joshua Tree Music Festival (California / May & October)
This all ages music, art, and healing festival is held in one of my favourite deserts on the planet- the Mojave desert. The terrain is mostly flat, packed sandy earth. There is an incredible span of music genres available at this festival. Live music like rock, West African kora, Sufi drums, didgeridoo, acoustic guitar sets, as well as electronic acts from live-music-infused, to other worldly alien techno matching the desert surroundings. I know I’ve said some of the other festivals have an incredible genre range, but this one really is the best for variation of sound.
There are quite a few festivals I would love to include, but not sure I should with the information I have. I’ve listed my reasoning along with the festival. Please note some of these are festivals I’ve been to and absolutely loved. Looking at it from a different perspective now, getting around at some of them was a privilege I wasn’t fully aware I had. And again, it really depends on what your needs are, what sort of support you have going around, and what sort of environment you are trying to immerse yourself in. It’s not like these are on a “bad list”, but I have some immediate concerns that come to mind with these events.
Emissions West Coast Bass Culture (California / May)
An incredible looking electronic music experience, but there is limited (and expensive) on-site parking, one of the stages used to be on a sandy hill, and even though there is some pavement throughout the festival there’s no mention of accessibility on their website. You can watch hours of video footage from the festival through Kenny Hoff’s YouTube channel and decide for yourself! If this sort of music is your thing, do the research for yourself because this crew knows how to throw down. I’ve been wanting to go to this for many years.
Sierra Nevada World Music Festival (California / June)
This is an amazing world-class reggae festival held at rodeo/fairgrounds, but with sold out RV camping, no mention of accessibility, and a very pitted campground it can be challenging. I attended this twice, and it really was amazing. The food there is the best I have ever experienced at a festival, with raw vegan food to fresh naan from a tandoor to jerk chicken to trotters to fresh local smoothies. Seriously, the best festival food in varieties I never imagined I would see together. I did see some people using various mobility devices there, but I can’t imagine it being reasonable for a person in a wheelchair. If you stayed somewhere in town, and not in the campground it could be doable.
Future Forest Festival (New Brunswick / July)
A relatively new electronic music, and art experience in Eastern Canada, this is another festival I’ve wanted to attend for a few years. There’s some packed sand, forest grass, softer sand, some rocks, and some roots. This is another festival that cares a lot about its participants, so send them an email to figure out if it is doable. Straight up, If you use a wheelchair then this festival could be an issue. I’m not sure how many festivals with this friendly vibe exist in the Maritimes so that’s really cool!
Real Love Winnipeg (Manitoba / July)
This festival is run by some wonderful people I have the absolute privilege of calling my friends. The site is mostly flat, but does have some unevenness in areas. Accessibility is unfortunately not mentioned on their website, but get in contact with the organizers if you are hoping to attend maybe something could be arranged. Real Love hosts some amazing acts from all over Canada, spanning genres from alternative to psychedelic to shoegaze to folk. I’m not sure how their parking/camping situation works, so walking distance is another factor to consider.
Bamboo (Costa Rica / February) is the new favourite annual international festival as voted by some of my old festival crew. The eco-focused nature of this music, yoga, and workshop festival creates an atmosphere of positivity in a way participants always come back for. There are camping and hotel options, so there are options for lodging. Accessibility is not mentioned on their website, and the festival site is of a beach-forest situation. Some soft sand, some packed sand, some rocks, some trees and roots, etc. Would be worth it to find out!
Any of the big festivals with huge crowds in smaller places, whether they’re my taste or not will be missing from this list. Coachella (California / April), Ultra Music Festival (Florida / March), Electric Daisy Carnival (Nevada / May), and Bonnaroo (Tennessee / June) all seem semi-prohibitive to people in general due to the volume of people. Maybe crowds are your thing. If so, then these are the ones to attend with a hundred thousand of your closest friends. All world class shows, but wow the volume of people seems wild! I must say that Electric Daisy Carnival has really stepped its game up in terms of art to go along with the stacked lineup. It’s in Vegas during the summer though so some years it’s been above 40 degrees (Centigrade). According to the LA Times, the date of EDC has been moved for heat reasons so maybe it will be more reasonable going forward.
There are also many music festivals that are not the multi-day camping experiences listed here. A couple of examples in Calgary include:
Sled Island (Alberta / June)
This music, arts, and comedy festival is held at venues all across Calgary. Punk, indie, alternative, electronic, and more. The creators and curators of this festival have great taste spanning many genres, so Sled Island always turns out great shows. Accessibility varies by venue, some of the venues like Arts Commons are pretty good and some of the venues are standing room only, stairs, etc. They are pretty clear on their website about how each venue is so that is helpful.
Circle Carnival (Alberta / September)
Put on by BassBus, this is a beautiful in-city bloom of arts, entertainment, circus, music, crafts, food, beer, children’s activities, and more. If Burchill plays, I highly recommended going to see his set, although I am biased since he is a lovely gent.
If you haven’t heard, there are specialty music festivals on cruise ships now! I’ve got to imagine a cruise ship has better accessibility than some of these camping festivals but it all depends on the ship. (Here are some general cruise ship tips for disabled travelers.) Some cruise ships have big lifts and lips on doors and a friend who recently went on a cruise had to be lifted through doors on her scooter! Following the running theme here of being informed before you go, make contact first to determine if something is accessible to you and for your needs. Often these cruise festivals are during the winter, but some to keep in mind include: Welcome to Jamrock (reggae), Friendship (Destructo‘s wide ranging electronic music festival), Holy Ship (another wide ranging electronic music festival), and Groove Cruise (house, techno, etc).
There are also some festivals that appear to be taking the 2019 season off. Some are looking for new venues, so it’s hard to comment on what their accessibility will be in the future. Unity Music Festival (B.C. / July), FozzyFest (B.C. / September), Electric Love (B.C.), and also Motion Notion (Alberta or B.C. / July) fall into this category. These festivals are very highly recommended, so when they come back consider checking them out. Motion Notion used to be one of my personal favourites, and I went four times.
Wow. This is way longer than I thought because I kept remembering and adding amazing festivals! I hope this may help if you’re trying to choose a festival to check out. If not that’s also ok because I had fun doing this! Like another sort of walk down memory lane and also a glimpse into my future goals. 🙂
Have fun & be safe this summer!
Artists featured in photos: