9 Awesome Techniques to Get Rocking Around a Music Festival

White cane wlit wtih LED lights
Harry Williamson/Spring Studio

One benefit of being blind or visually impaired, unless you are also hearing impaired, is being able to maintain your love for music.

But how many people with low vision actually venture forth to a music festival to enjoy a kaleidoscope of live sound? A full on music festival, with thousands of other music lovers. My guess is, after personally having attended another one recently, not many.

Being at the popular music festival in Australia called Womadelaide with my sighted partner, my white cane seemed to be the only mobility aid tapping out a rhythm as we moved and swayed through heavy crowds

But what I am relieved to report, is how our ‘survival’ techniques brought much more than the enjoyment of music to our shared experience.

If you are a keen live music fan with a visual impairment and would really love to experience a music festival, here are 9 techniques  as a practical guide to encourage you to feel it is worth facing the challenge.

1: Team Up Correctly

There is one very important factor that goes into planning your trip to a music festival—you will need to enrol a friend or family member who is just as keen as you to venture into the unknown.

Your sighted companion must be committed to sharing the experience with you and be aware that guiding you through monster crowds at times is not for the faint-hearted.

It is essential for your partner  to be aware of sighted-guide practices when leading a person who is blind or visually-impaired so you can both move together with confidence.

There are benefits for both of you along the way (which we cover shortly) but it is having a cooperative team player from the start that will get you home and back — in one happy piece.

Develop your own walking technique together where you have certain signals, like following the lead of your companion with subtle hand gestures that will guide you in and around the crowds.

My sighted partner came up with the ingenious idea of strapping a small bicycle bell to my white cane which I rang like mad when we were caught in the flow of heavy human traffic. As an extra enhancement, he taped up a string of LED battery operated lights to the entire length of my white cane—it worked wonders in the dark!

2: Creating Comfort among Discomfort

Apart from packing very comfortable footwear and a variety of clothes for changeable weather, one thing to consider is the size of your all day carry bag, especially as you need to keep one hand free for your white cane.

My suggestion is to take a lightweight and waterproof back pack to help disperse the load evenly across both shoulders. Carrying too much ‘baggage’ while you navigate all the different textures on the ground can really weigh you down. Over time, the weight can create a nagging ache that spreads to your neck and lower back which will distract you from enjoying the music.

What works really well is sharing one back pack between the two of you.

Use different pockets for your individual things to reach with ease. By taking turns, you both get to enjoy several breaks from carrying anything.

3: Slow Down Time

When traveling to distant places, on one hand it is important to keep track of time so you don’t miss your train, bus or plane. Yet on the other hand, part of the enjoyment of travel is going at a slower pace.

Once you arrive at the music venue, try not to rush but get into a sauntering rhythm with your companion.

Being in unfamiliar surroundings heightens all the senses, so, to orientate yourselves in the throng of music lovers, take some time out to sit down and study the program. These days, most large festivals provide an app with helpful information downloadable to  your smart phone.

Personalize your preferences by not only choosing the acts you have come to hear but also make a note of important areas such as water stations for filling up drink bottles, the information tent and first aid area, toilet locations and food stalls.

Perhaps most importantly, decide on a safe spot in case you drift apart and get lost which is like investing in a temporary emotional-insurance policy.

4: Pack Rose-Tinted Glasses

What you will notice immediately is that everything is different, new sounds (often loud ones), exotic fragrances all mingling in the air with hot body odors and many ‘strange’ scents. In short, you can feel well out of your comfort zone.

Along with your sighted companion, you must both work hard to protect your walking space as you make your way through crowds of distracted folk who have forgotten all normal pedestrian rules.

Be aware that it is easier to see the negatives first, those annoying things you don’t like, or those things that cause you discomfort. The key is to stay focused on the positives

Quickly let go and forgive. Your experience of how much you enjoy the festival will be more about how easily you adjust to the crowds rather than expecting the crowds to adjust to you. Criticism repels people but politeness under these conditions often brings random acts of kindness.

5: Getting the Best Seat in the House

Would you like a tip on how to get the best seat once inside a music marquee? Get ‘parked’!

I mean this in a nice way—where you allow your sighted guide to ‘park’ you on a seat and reserve one for them by placing your folded cane on their seat, at least 15 minutes before the scheduled gig.

Your friend now has a little free time to race off and purchase food or a refreshing drink. This gives them a reprieve from the stress in trying to guide you past hundreds of people’s feet sprawled in between narrow rows of chairs.

The other benefit is that if they want to listen to a different music band, they can take some time out, knowing you are quite OK. Just have your mobile phone switched on and arrange to meet back at the same place as usual.

6: Do Dummy Checks

When you want to move on, be aware that no matter how obvious it may seem to check you have all your belongings in your bag, check everything anyway—for both of you. It gets incredibly hectic when one band ends and the crowd suddenly begins to jostle to get to the next concert stage.

Just sit tight. Gather up the loose items you may be holding, like a drink bottle or a program and zip up your bag. By doing a ‘dummy’ check every time you leave your seats, you avoid the potential for a headache when you reach the next marquee only to find you may have left something behind.

7: Is that a White Cane or a Magic Wand?  

Whether you are new to using a long white cane or have accumulated many miles stepping out wielding your carbon-fiber rod as your preferred method of being independent, now is the perfect time to unleash its ‘magic’.

Make sure that, when you are in a long line and your sighted partner is busy or their hands are full, people can see your cane. It will bring much needed extra assistance or understanding, especially when people get tired over several days of camping on hard ground. Folk can get a little impatient—even friendly, music-loving ones.

While in close proximity to fellow punters, don’t be too shy—be open to conversation.

You may have some wonderful things to share about music, travel, hobbies, or notes to swap on the music acts, especially to learn which bands are headlining and worth seeing.

It is often the moments of brief connection with other fans that makes the festival experience a real treat.

8: Have Fun Getting Lost

The beauty in being visually impaired is that you are already used to dealing with detours—going out and ending up in the wrong location or having to backtrack to find a doorway, etc. With this natural ability to wander off course, being at a music festival is the best place to show your sighted friend how much fun detours can be.

Most of us are not in the habit of saying, “Let’s go out and see what happens.” But when you take a random stroll and abandon your plans to rush to the next concert stage, and go along with what captures your interest on the way, you will be well rewarded.

Not only will you hear the music billowing out from the various stages, but you may also encounter interesting people to chat to, a market stall to explore, a guided tour to join or a delightful food stall to indulge the taste buds.

At Womadelaide, When we went right off course, we discovered an adult jumping castle, shaped as a replica in the same configuration as the iconic standing stones of Stonehenge!

9: Freshen Up and Lift Your Mood

Some festivals can go for several days so it really is important to pace yourselves. If you happen to wake up tired and aching, spend time taking care of your basic needs. It really isn’t worth skipping these.

If you need to miss a music gig to shower at a less busy time, do it. Take a refreshing blast of hydrotherapy (shower) to soothe the nerves, revive the senses and freshen up your mood. Both you and your sighted guide deserve it because every step you take during the many long hours of a music festival to skilfully navigate around a million obstacles is a focused one, requiring much more energy and concentration than usual. It will be mainly a mixture of pleasurable rewards and deep sharing, while, at other times, situations will require patience and practical solutions.

But, with these 9 survival techniques as a practical guide to enjoying a music festival in spite of being visually impaired, your stay will be less stressful, allowing you and your sighted companion to have heaps of fun. Perhaps the biggest buzz in rocking your way successfully around a music festival with a sighted companion is the awesome sense of accomplishment for both of you and looking forward to planning the next one…encore!

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