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Access Press - Minnesota's Disability Community Newspaper

Basilica Block Party views blocked by bad planning

by // August 10th, 2016

Basilica Block Party

Summer is music festival season in Minnesota. For live music lovers, being outdoors with a cold beverage in hand, singing along with thousands of fellow fans as your favorite band plays your favorite song, all add up to The Perfect Summer Day. Unfortunately, that perfect
day can easily turn into a disappointing headache if you are a person with a disability. Recently, I experienced
that headache for myself at the Basilica Block Party.

Started in 1995 to raise money for the restoration of Basilica of St. Mary, the Basilica Block Party is an annual fundraiser drawing tens of thousands of concert-goers to Minneapolis for two music-filled nights. I went to my first party in 2009 to see my favorite musician, choosing to ignore warnings of friends who described the chaos of the crowds.  It’s nearly 20 years post-ADA, and they’ve been doing this for 15 years—surely it’s accessible, I reasoned.

As an avid live music lover who uses a wheelchair and a ventilator, I did my due diligence by contacting the event staff directly about accessibility. They assured me that there were wheelchair-accessible seating areas with excellent sight-lines at each of their three stages. Upon arriving at the main stage, not one of the staff or volunteers I encountered knew where this seating area was. My sister, on a mission to find it, was turned away from the one ramped, raised platform seating area, told that it was only for those with VIP wristbands. So, to make sure that I could see the show, we parked ourselves right in front of the stage—a big mistake.

Eventually, the crowd surged forward and what little space I had around me was gone. As I tried to enjoy the show, people kicked my chair, slammed into my ventilator, and spilled drinks on me. I knew I had to get out. After a nightmare of pushing, shoving, and beer-cans-in-the-face, we were free. I spent the rest of the night safely behind the able-bodied crowd, unable to see anything but rear ends and elbows. I vowed never to return.

Cut to 2012 when I gave it another chance after winning free tickets from longtime event sponsor Cit-Cities 97. Once again, I emailed organizers about accessibility; again they said accessible seating was available at each stage. When I reached the ramped, raised platform that I was directed to, I was stopped and told again that I needed a VIP wristband to get in. Isn’t my wheelchair my ticket to the accessible seating? I argued. A walkie-talkie conversation with a higher-up convinced the volunteer to let me in. While the platform was small and could only fit two or three wheelchairs at most, I was thankful to be able to see the stage away from the crush of the crowd.

So when the same favorite musician was added to the main-stage line-up this year, I decided to go. With the help of said player’s fantastic tour manager, I secured VIP wristbands to avoid having to argue my way into the accessible area. Sadly, instead of the great sightline, I had in 2012, this year my $69 ticket provided a view of a private corporate party which was set up on a platform directly in front the accessible seating. While event staff offered their contact information should I need anything during the show (likely due to my connection to the musician), there were no other workable seating options at that stage.

The event website states the organizers are committed to ensuring that the Basilica “continues to welcome generations to come to rock at the Block Party.” My experiences have been far from welcoming. With the hundreds of thousands of dollars raised from this annual money-making event, Basilica Block Party organizers and sponsors have no excuse for not providing accommodations for individuals with disabilities. It is clear that they have not included the voices of people with disabilities in their planning or design of the event. There are easy fixes should they decide that they truly want to be welcoming to all. Until they do, I refuse to support their organization. I will find my Perfect Summer Day elsewhere.

 

Carrie Salberg is an Access Press board of directors member with a long history of working on accessibility issues.

 

 

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