Attending Concerts When You Have RA

Although many RA sufferers avoid large events such as concerts; believing it is not possible due to the risers involved with stadium, coliseum, and theater seating.  However, many of these venues offer handicap accessible seating that allow for wheel chair accessible and companion seating, so you don’t have to allow this disability to keep you from missing out on seeing your favorite artists in concert.

Tamikka and I have been to 2 concerts in the last year.  We attended the Journey concert in Austin and most recently attended the Babyface and New Edition concert here in the Dallas area.  Through both experiences we have learned some survival tactics that concert goers with Rheumatoid Arthritis will find helpful when attending similar events.

Call or visit the website of the concert venue to make sure they offer handicap accessible seating. 

We have seen venues that have accessible seating and some that don’t.  While it is disappointing that there are venues without such a provision, they do exist and the last thing you want to do is commit yourself to an event that you won’t be able to attend after showing up.  Make sure the seating meets all of your needs.  If you will be traveling with a companion who is not in a wheel chair.  You’ll want to make sure they have companion seating.  Along the same lines, if you can not climb stairs, you want to make sure their is accessible seating for those not in a wheel chair and possibly a companion.

At the Journey concert, the seating was 1 wheel chair accessible space next to a companion.  There were never to companion seats together, which means that someone who is not in a wheelchair, but can’t climb steps, would have to sit by themselves since there were not two seats together in the accessible area.

There are a couple of solutions to this type of seating.  First, the disabled person to rent a wheel chair or scooter for use at the concert.  This is perfectly acceptable and is also helpful since these event venues can be quite large and taxing on a disabled person to trek through.  Another alternative is to try to get seats in the first row of the section above or below the accessible seating.  This will involve climbing one step, so it won’t be an option for everyone, but for those that can handle one step it would be the next best thing to accessible seating.

On the other hand, at the Babyface & New Edition concert, there were wheelchair accessible spaces next to a cluster of two companion seats, which made it possible for a disabled person who is not in a wheelchair to sit with a non-disabled person.  It was also convenient for a concert goer who is in a wheel chair to go with two companions as opposed to one.  However, some venues only allow for one companion so as to leave the other seat available to the companion of another wheel chair attendee on the opposite side.

Do not Uber to an event if the parking lot is closed off to car entry once the event starts. 

This happened to us at the Journey concert.  Even though we drove to Austin, we didn’t want to drive to the concert, and thought it would be a good idea to Uber, so that we could get dropped off as close to the entry doors as possible.  Well this worked out well before the concert.  However, what we didn’t realize was that they close off entry to the venue parking before the concert lets out and you have to walk about a half a mile or so to get to the taxi and Uber pickup area.

Tamikka had an electric wheel chair, so it wasn’t so much an issue for her as it was for me with having to walk that far with a bad back.  Luckily, an Angel sent shuttle bus driver, noticed us and asked us if we needed a ride to the pickup area and thankfully the bus was wheel chair equipped.  So the lesson here is to call ahead and ask if the parking lot is closed off before the event is over and find out how far you would have to venture to get to the pickup area if you intend to take an Uber or taxi.  If the distance is discouraging, then my advice would be to take your own car.

Call and find out handicap accessible shuttle buses.

As you learned from the previous tip, we were not aware of the handicap accessible shuttle buses.  Never even thought to ask.  After that experience we learned that it was a good idea to find out if the venue offers shuttle service.  You should call ahead to ask about such a service and find out where the shuttle’s pickup and dropoff points are as well as if it is accessible to wheel chair and mobile challenged riders.

Call and find out if they have guest services for the disabled

Upon visiting the Verizon Theatre to research the accessibility, we learned that they offer disabled services for disabled individuals that were not mentioned in the accessibility section.  These services include assisting disabled guests with getting to their assigned seating area.  While we did not need this service, it would be helpful for that adventurous RA survivor who is comfortable going to concert venues by themselves.

However, if you decide to brave it alone, I do recommend you call ahead and request that all parking lot attendants be made aware of your coming, so that they can anticipate your special needs.  Often times, attendants are so preoccupied with ushering cars through the parking lot they can often be oblivious to your needs and many are not trained to give you the direction you will likely need as a first time concert goer to a particular venue, which can be quite discouraging and scary.  If they are made aware of your coming, they will be better prepared to direct you appropriately, which will ensure things go smoothly.

Scope out the venue ahead of time

Event venues are designed for the masses.  They can are huge spaces and can be both confusing, and intimidating.  Anything you can find out about the venue before arriving will help to eliminate uncertainty and anxiety, so take the time to look into it before hand.  The key things to look into are the parking, entry points, seating, and bathrooms.

You can typically learn about all of this on the event venue’s website; however, if you are extremely anxious about the process of getting into the venue, I recommend planning a trip to scope out the venue a few days before the event.  Drive through the parking, making note of the layout, where you will likely be parking, and how far it is from the entry point.  You should also check for wheel chair ramps and try to park as close to it as possible.

Reach out to guest services, let them know your circumstances and concerns, and ask if it will be possible for you to get a guided tour of the inside of the theatre.  Guided is preferable because you will be able to ask questions such as what is the best entry point to your assigned seating section as well as where the bathrooms are located in relation to your assigned area.  If you can’t get a guided tour then the next best thing is an unguided tour.  However, if that is not a possibility, then another approach would be to call guest services, tell them your assigned seat, and ask about these things and hope they provide a helpful response.

If you can’t make it to the venue to scope it out, or if you aren’t able to speak to anyone helpful, then see what you can dig up on the venue’s website.  They often have maps and diagrams that can be helpful in gaining insight about what to expect.  If not, another suggestion would be to go to Google Maps and view the area from a birds eye view and see what you can find out (that’s the Internet geek in me talking).

Call ahead and ask about parking rates and payment options

Perhaps one of the most frustrating things about the last concert we went to was the fact that they didn’t have the ability to accept credit cards for the cost of parking (really?).  If you didn’t have cash, you had to leave your drivers license with the attendants at the entry to the parking lot and either return with cash or pick it up at the admin’s office after the concert, both of which were daunting tasks due to the overwhelming amount of traffic flowing through the venue.  I ended up leaving it there and deciding to just go back and pick it up on a non-event day.  Mobility is hard enough traveling with or being a disabled person, but to have to do extra all because a company has not joined us all in the 21st century is extremely frustrating.  The best thing you can do is be aware of their policies, no matter how lame and outdated they may be, and be prepared.  It will save you a major headache in the end.

Hopefully, these tips have been helpful.  Those living with Rheumatoid Arthritis have enough uncertainty in their life each day.  I hope this article helps to remove some of the unnecessary uncertainty of attending concerts and helps to encourage you to get out and have some fun every now and then.  Attending these concerts gave Tamikka and I some great new memories to add to an already amazing catalogue of memories together and I want you to experience that as well; whether it is with a partner, friend,  or family member.

And with all the planning that has to go into attending a concert venue with a disability, there is an upside, aside from the memories and getting to see your favorite musician.  You get pretty good views.  Here is a little footage from Babyface’s set at the Babyface and New Edition concert.

This post is the first of many to come of survival tips aimed specifically at enjoying life in spite of having a debilitating condition.  It is our hope to inspire, motivate, and encourage other RA sufferers to continue living and enjoying the same pleasures of life those who are not disabled get to enjoy.  We hope to make this a movement in the RA community and hope you will join us.

Tamikka & Michelle

Tamikka Brown-Green is an RA survivor, and her wife Michelle is one of her biggest supporters. As co-founders, they are on a mission to discover and share survival tactics for living and enjoying life with Rheumatoid Arthritis.

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