Every year, when the Galway International Arts Festival rolls into town, they put up a circus Big Top in the Fisheries Field, practically at the end of my street. And every year, they get in a pile of Big Name Acts. Going to see one of these is always the highlight of the festival for me. Though, if I don’t get to go, I can usually hear the concerts if I open my bedroom window!
Previous years, I went to see Blondie and Chic. Which I enjoyed an awful lot. Except, with each passing year, I’ve found the concerts have taken more and more out of me. The fact that I’m so short, so struggle to see the stage, hasn’t helped. And I also have to be wary of people not seeing me, stepping on me, almost knocking me over.
So, this year, when my husband bought us tickets to see Elvis Costello, I was filled with both a sense of excitement and anticipation but also a sense of dread. So, I decided to check the Arts Frstival website to see what they had in terms of accessibility. The website mentioned a raised area for the Big Top, specifically mentioning it was for those using wheelchairs and mobility scooters. I don’t use those. I use a cane at times, but my issue was less of mobility, more of needing to sit down if I got tired or dizzy.
There was an email address and a phone number, so I decided to email (as making phonecalls terrify me). I penned a friendly and polite email, but got no reply. As time was running out at that stage, I phoned. The lady told me that, yes, I was eligible to sit in the raised area, there would be seats provided, but it was ‘first come, first served’, with no booking possible so I’d better go there early.
Relieved, but also nervous at having to be early, I decided that yes, I could go ahead and book a babysitter. As our usual babysitters were away on holidays, our lovely neighbour filled in at short notice. It’s situations like this that make me happy to live in Galway and actually know most of my neighbours.
As luck would have it, computer issues at the last minute meant my husband could not finish work as early as he’d hoped, so we were a bit late setting off. As you can imagine, this made me very anxious, due to the ‘no booking’ policy.
We found the raised platform, and I approached the lady manning the gate to it. ‘Have you booked?’ What?!!! I explained that I’d emailed and phoned and was told I couldn’t book. ‘That lady was obviously misinformed.’ Phew. She let me in, but told me if it got full then those who booked would have priority. They put out a seat for me, and also my ‘plus one’, though he declined a seat. My seat was at the edge of the platform, so he simply stood beside it, which he preferred anyway.
The Undertones were the support act. I wasn’t too impressed with them. So I took the opportunity to look around, watch the crowd. Which I never get to do as I’m so short, usually all I see are people’s backsides! I wasn’t at the very front of the platform, so I had a few heads in front of me, but not enough to block my view. And again, I was astounded at being able to see the stage. This must be what it feels like for a tall person at a concert! The fact that I had room beside me, and nobody could bump into me, added a lot to my sense of comfort.
The raised area soon filled up, some with manual wheelchairs, some with the powered variety. One person had a wheelchair that clipped into a bicycle front, which really impressed me! A few people were on crutches or with canes, like me. Some were simply old and in need of a seat. I did seem to be the youngest there, but the concert seemed to attract an older crowd anyway.
[image of a blurry stage in the background, lit up by blue lights. Although you can’t make it out, The Undertones are performing on it. In the foreground are the backs of several people sitting in a raised area. The bars of the railings surrounding the area are visible.]
I also took the opportunity to go to the toilet. The disabled toilet was located just off the ramp that leads to the raised area. I was a little disappointed when it was occupied. But, there was only one disabled toilet so to be expected. I was highly unimpressed, however, when the person who came out of the toilet happened to be a non-disabled member of staff.
And then it was time for the main act. Elvis Costello was amazing. My husband had heard him many times before, including in Galway over thirty years before! I wasn’t as familiar, but had heard a lot of the songs. It was a wonderfulexperience. And even though I spent the whole time seated, with my husband disappearing off into the crowd every now and again, I didn’t feel I was missing out. I did a lot of dancing in my seat. More than a lot of the audience in fact. But that’s me, I can’t go to a gig, any concert, even classical music, without moving my body. I really rocked out this time. At least this way I didn’t tire myself out.
So, in future, I’m going to go to more concerts in the Big Top. And book a seat in the raised area. Being able to sit during the concert made all the difference.
I’m going to end this with a photo my husband took of Elvis Costello. He was able to get a bit closer to the action, so his photos turned out much better than mine.
[image is of a stage, lit with a blue background. In the centre is Elvis Costello, playing a guitar. Behind him are his band, the Imposters, playing guitar, drums and keyboard.]