Before I even knew how to advocate for myself through Half Access, back in 2014, at the now-extinct Alhambra in Portland, I was attending a Real Friends show in the front row and the band worked with security to make sure I was placed side-stage—safe from the crowd and with a good view of the show before their set began. Fast forward a couple of years and they did it again at the Wonder Ballroom—one of the venues that was a catalyst for me to start Half Access. Just recently, I caught them on their headlining tour in support of their new record, Composure, and was able to chat with bassist and tour manager, Kyle Fasel about their willingness to help their disabled fans.
Real Friends’ approach to things is a little different in the sense that they are more hands-on than some bands—they look at their own social media and emails and Kyle is their tour manager—which makes it easier for them to take care of certain situations quicker. Kyle says, “There is less of a filter, sort of, between us and the needs of fans. So if there’s something that we want to do, you know, like for you, to make sure that you have accessibility, and can see the show and still have a good time, it’s a little easier for us to accomplish. And I don’t need to tell anyone that we need to do things, I’ll just do it. Also, when things are passed down through a manager or tour manager, or someone else, things can get watered down, and people can forget things because they have all these other things going on.”
As previously mentioned, the Wonder Ballroom had continually been unaccommodating for me—they’ve since made bigger strides in accessibility—but last year I almost gave up on going to shows there entirely, until Real Friends was able to make sure I was accommodated at the venue. This moment made me realize that bands and artists have more power in these situations than I do—the venue wouldn’t help me when it was me they were in contact with, but when an artist asked for accommodation, they complied. It’s so important that artists realize this leverage they have and are able use it for those in need.
With venues, they’re dealing with so much every night, that it’s easy for them to either ignore those asks or let them fall to the wayside. The band really wants everyone to be able to have a good time, and I’m sure the venue does too, but they probably would rather have everything run smoothly rather than be fun, so their focus isn’t always on everyone’s needs, but the event itself.
This perspective that Kyle offered is a good point, not enough to invalidate my needs or the responsibility of the venue to provide accommodations, but enough to make me think about the relationship dynamics in play between artist, venue, and audience. “Venues should listen to fans that need access and accommodation,” Kyle says, “because like us—our fans are the reasons why we’re able to do this—and with venues, it’s the same thing.” He goes on, “But at the same time, it’s hard to blanket it under one statement. Every venue is different and some are harder to work and communicate with than others. It’s hard to say whether they just don’t care or what.”
Ultimately, everyone should be able to enjoy the show, no matter their circumstance. Everyone is able to listen to us and connect with us, so everyone, no matter what, has the right to come and do that in a live environment as well.
Kyle and Real Friends get it, and they care about their fans. When I asked him what other bands could be doing to help with accessibility at their shows, his answer was all about awareness. “People just need to be aware of what they’re able to do. Whether that’s disabled fans thinking they might not be able to reach out to a venue or band, or whether it’s a band not thinking they can help with a fan’s needs. Your organization is great from a fan’s perspective,” Kyle answered. “I think in this music scene especially, all these bands are open and really do care about their fans, it’s just more about awareness: taking the time to know that disabled fans exist and just listening to their fans. Some bands are a little too disconnected from their audience, and every band is different and there’s no right or wrong answer, but it’s important to be able to listen to your fans and their needs.”
There’s no denying that things are getting better as far as safety, inclusion, and diversity goes in the music scene. Bands are talking about racial and gender inclusion, sexual orientation, and of course, mental health. On the ability spectrum, mental disabilities are being talked about probably more so now than ever, which is undeniably important. But it begs the question: why is physical disability almost entirely left out of the conversation? It goes back to awareness. “Three or four years ago, bands weren’t really talking about mental health, but now, you see it all the time. I think there’s a lot more organizations now that helped spark that conversation,” Kyle says.
It’s true that many people don’t really recognize a problem unless they see it for themselves. A lot of people don’t even think about physical disabilities, maybe because they don’t see us at shows, which is maybe because we either don’t go because they’re in inaccessible or unwelcoming spaces, or we’re tucked away in a spot where we can’t see and are excluded from the experience. It’s why now is the time to start the conversation that we are people too, and we deserve to be able to see shows safely.
The Hawthorne Theatre in Portland, Oregon (the venue this show was at) has been an absolute pleasure to work with as they have made changes to their setup to ensure a safe ADA section. A formerly no-barricade venue that has now added a barricade with a safe haven on the side for wheelchair-users. I can now safely see every show at the venue and have a good view of the stage.
The fact that Kyle took the time to talk with me about accessibility and that Real Friends have made accommodations for me several times shows how much they care about their fans. They’re also setting a great example for other artists just as the Hawthorne Theatre is a leading example for increasing accessibility in general admission venues. Accessibility accommodations can often be made out of preexisting resources, it just takes awareness and people who care to make it happen.