Music Venue Accessibility Presentation at the Folk Alliance International Conference
by Celia Hughes
Have you ever dreamed of being a folk singer? I have. My high school years were spent playing an inexpensive and pretty badly built guitar; feasting on my fantasies of making it to the big time one day. Fast forward a few decades and several careers later, and I find myself at a conference dedicated to musicians of the folk kind. Not quite my high school fantasy, but pretty cool, nonetheless.
I was there to join musician Gaelynn Lea and a panel of peers to talk about access to music venues – the ramp to stage, captions of the lyrics, no-step entrance to the club type – access. We had a fairly good turnout to our panel, which was heartwarming, as generally when I go somewhere to talk about access, I end up talking to myself, and a few “members of the choir.”
As a musician who uses a wheelchair, Gaelynn has made it a rider in her contract that the stage has to have a ramp, and even travels with her own ramp to ensure that she can gain access when necessary. However, if you cannot get in the building, an accessible stage is kind of a moot point. But that being said, there are many challenges to retrofitting an old music club to bring it up to ADA guidelines. And in New Orleans, where the Folk Alliance International conference was just convened, this is a big challenge! So we implored the club owners to think about creative ways to include not only audience members with disabilities, but performers as well. That said, I have no pity for a club owner of a new building who overlooked their obligation under the ADA, now in effect for 30 years!
So, what was New Orleans like with a musician in every nook and cranny of the hotel, strains of music coming from every room, and just an overall sense of good times and good vibes? It was like landing on another planet where people sang their thoughts and shared a heart.
That evening I walked along Royal Street and listened to the music floating out the open doors and windows on the wind. I thought about “how do you make true access a priority?” I saw musicians on the sidewalks and in the streets. Is that a solution? I saw all those one-step entrances to the clubs and thought; “are portable block ramps—called Stop Gaps in Canada—the solution?” I don’t know, but we are a smart country with a lot of caring people, and I think somehow we can figure this out. So, if you have any ideas, please send them my way and together we can start a conversation about making universal access a reality in 2020!
And about my career as a folk singer? Well, a girl can dream, right?
—Celia Hughes, Executive Director – Art Spark Texas