For Chuck Graham, a former state senator who uses a wheelchair, attending live music festivals was often more of a hassle than enjoyable.
“I didn’t even enjoy the music because I was so irritated with just the struggle of being able to get there,” he said.
Graham, the accessibility director for the Roots n’ Blues n’ Barbecue Festival, which took place from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, was determined not to let that happen at Roots n’ Blues.
“I just wanted to make it as easy as possible for other people to get here and just really enjoy live music,” he said.
Golf cart shuttles were a key part of the festival’s accessibility plan. Each equipped with accessible ramps, they helped disabled people navigate the spacious festival grounds.
Graham and volunteer Josh Wexler hammered in signs marking shuttle stops throughout the venue, including at stages, food areas, and the beer tent.
“We get the carts out to them, and drive them right through ticketing, and drive them down to whatever stage they want to go to, or if they want food we’ll drive them there,” Graham said.
The shuttles weren’t restricted to people in wheelchairs. People who use walkers, including elderly attendees, were able to ride in the carts. They were also available for attendees that were temporarily disabled, like people recovering from a knee or hip surgery.
Graham also made sure the festival had enough accessible parking close to the festival entrance, and enough accessible porta-potties. He said these problems were two of the biggest issues he encountered when attending other festivals in the past.
Graham said the festival has a reputation among attendees for being accessible and that it won't have some the accessibility issues present elsewhere.
Like many initiatives of its kind, the accessibility program at Roots n' Blues is still a work in progress.
Though the golf carts can manage traveling over the grassy terrain at Stephens Lake Park, laying down mats for them to travel on would make things easier, as well as making the land itself more accessible for people using wheelchairs and walkers.
According to Director of Columbia Parks Recreation Mike Griggs, mats wouldn’t just be useful for Roots n’ Blues.
“We could use those mats in other parks,” he said. “We could have them for other events, like Heritage Festival, Fourth of July, some of those other areas where you have a lot of people in a small, confined space.”
The issue with the mats is expense. Griggs said there’s a good chance the temporary mats would cost more than putting in a permanent walkway – though that option would be less flexible than the mats.
For Graham, the inclusion of mats is just one of the goals he has to improve accessibility at the festival. For now, he's happy with progress Roots n' Blues has made.
“They can come here and have a great event, and having a disability’s not gonna be a hassle because we got you covered,” Graham said.