Music is meant to bring people together, not push them apart

ABOVE: The wheelchair-accessible platform at RBC Bluesfest left OLM contributor Ryan Lythall feeling like a second-class citizen.  (PHOTO:

On Friday night, I went to Bluesfest. I went for two reasons. Reason number one was to see Rage Against The Machine. In case you’re wondering, the show was amazing.

The second reason I went to Bluesfest was to check out how wheelchair accessible the site was this year.

Let’s start with the positives.

Getting dropped off and picked up by Para Transpo went much smoother than in years past. The Para Transpo stop was located on the corner of Booth and Vimy, down the hill from the main entrance. As soon as we pulled up, we were greeted by The Accessibility Team, who gave us our wristbands. The A-Team volunteers were all very friendly and helpful. As a former A-Team member, I wasn’t surprised at all.

At this point, it was shortly after 5 pm. I wanted to check things out early before the crowd showed up. The site itself, including the War Museum, are all very accessible. Like in previous years, the bathrooms inside the museum were open. I was glad to see that because those are the only bathrooms I can use.

Along with bathrooms, the museum again had a bar and places to sit, and you could watch performances inside the Barney Danson Theatre or on TV while having a drink in an air-conditioned building. I’ve always enjoyed the setup there—one of the few places at Bluesfest where you can have a chat without needing to yell.

Afterward, I checked out the River Stage, where The Commotions were on stage. The crowd was small, so I was able to get up close without issues. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to check out the SiriusXM stage due to time.

I also dropped by the merch and the beer tent during my travels. The people I dealt with were very nice and spoke directly to me instead of just talking to the person I was with.

My last stop on my tour was the wheelchair-accessible platform. Full warning: This is where things will become a bit negative. Before that, I want to point out once again that all the volunteers were friendly, helpful, and positive.

As for the platform itself, that’s a different story.

Now, I do like the fact that the platform was on the right side of the stage, and the entrance was accessible from the main road in front of the museum. That’s a good idea in the event that a PWD needs to leave or wants to go to the museum.

My main issue once again is how far away the platform is from the stage. If I’m paying $150 to see Rage Against The Machine, I expect to actually be able to see the show and not by having to see it on a TV screen. If I wanted to, I can watch concerts online at home for less money.

I understand that some PWD need to take extra precautions to feel safe at a live show. Also, if they have a medical condition being near a bathroom can be quite beneficial. There are certain situations where being far from a crowd and the hustle and bustle can be a good thing.


As a person with a disability who is a regular concert-goer, sociable, non-fragile, and pays good money to see a show, having the platform that far from the stage offends me. I know for a fact that many also feel the same way.

Bluesfest, it’s unfair that you continue to place the wheelchair platform near the back. Yet, all of the VIP-raised platforms are right near the stage.

Just because most PWD can’t afford VIP tickets doesn’t mean we should be relegated to the back.

We’re not shut-ins or monsters that should be hidden away or pushed to the side. We enjoy music. It’s not just about the music, but about the experience. We want to see the show, but we want to be a part of the show.

I need to feel the energy of the crowd and the band. When I wake up the next day, I want to be able to still feel something from the night before.

I chose to be in the crowd on Friday night for those reasons. Several PWD in the crowd were also doing the same thing.

Bluesfest, it’s time for you to think outside the box, or in this case, the platform. Please stop placing the platform near the back of the park. Allow the platform to be near the front so that PWD can have that experience while still being in a safe space.

As I mentioned to Bluesfest in 2002, if you have a raised platform so people in wheelchairs can see the show, more people with disabilities will show up.

Twenty years later, I’m telling you that if you place the platform used by PWD closer to the stage, more PWD will show up.

More people equals more money.

After all, money is the true music to their ears.