A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I and some friends went to the Bluedot festival at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire. I was slightly daunted to be having my first festival experience in nine years, and my first with mobility issues, but all went (almost – of which more later) smoothly and it was a really great experience.
I’ve tried and failed to get tickets to see Kraftwerk a few times, and though they seem to tour constantly I was resigned to never having the chance to see them live until an enterprising friend noticed that they were playing at Bluedot and suggested we go.
The Bluedot festival is held every year in the shadow of the Lovell telescope at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire. There are many and varied entertainments at the festival – as well as music there are talks on science and tech, comedy, films and this year (which coincided with the 50th anniversary of the moon landings) a range of events celebrating the moon and space exploration.
I knew I’d need assistance so that I’d be able to enjoy the performances at the festival – I’m not able to stand for long and didn’t fancy trying to sit down in the crowd – so I was glad to find out that Bluedot has been awarded the Gold level of Attitude is Everything’s Charter of Best Practice and that they provide a viewing platform at the main Lovell stage that people with accessibility needs could use. I filled out a form online, submitting some evidence of my MS, and I was told I could pick up a wristband and lanyard for someone accompanying me so that we could gain access to the viewing platform.
On the day we were attending the festival it rained all morning, though by the time we arrived the sun had come out. Something I’d unfortunately forgotten in my festival hiatus, however, was the sheer volume of mud that tens of thousands of feet can generate after even a small amount of rainfall. My festival rustiness meant I’d completely failed to remember that trainers won’t really cut it in a muddy field. My friend and I observed that every single other person at the festival appeared to have got the memo telling them to wear sturdy shoes, as we slid our way into the festival and I accepted that my white Adidas might not ever be the same again.
My experience of Bluedot was almost completely positive but there were a couple of niggles that if fixed would have made it perfect, and the first occurred as we entered the site. I’d been told that I could pick up my accessibility wristband and lanyard from just inside the main gate, but this turned out not to be the case. We had to trudge (and slide) for some time around the site until we found where we could get these. It was too far for me and I ended up sending my husband on ahead to get them – luckily he was allowed to pick them up without me. I wasn’t sure why the accessibility wristbands couldn’t have been given out on the main entrance – given I’d arranged this in advance and they could be matched up with my ticket number.
I was a bit worried about the viewing platform, as only I and my husband had access to it. I was unsure whether we’d have to go onto it straightaway to bagsy a place and have to spend the day split up from our friends, who didn’t have access. However, I needn’t have worried. Around the viewing platform was a fenced-off area, where I could put a fold-up chair and sit whenever I needed to without worrying about being stood on – as it was only open to those accompanying people with disabilities. In the end, I didn’t feel the need to go on the viewing platform at all – I just sat in my chair when needed and stood when I could.
Some people, when they are tired and run-down, restore themselves with an exotic holiday. Others go to a spa. But it was then, in a field in Cheshire, under scudding clouds, music whipped by the wind from the stage speakers, plastic glass of beer in my hand and listening to my friends chat and laugh I realised that this is where I restore myself. I’ve been away too long from festivals and I intend to correct that in the future.
The musical lineup the day we went to Bluedot was eclectic, to say the least. We arrived just as the Easy Star All-stars were finishing off their dub version of Dark Side of the Moon, then saw KoKoKo, a Congolese electro-techno-punk collective who don’t sound like anything I’ve ever heard before and who I’m going to try and see again when they tour Britain in the autumn; and Omar Souleyman, a Syrian wedding singer with relentless, thumping, hi-energy synthesiser backing. Next Jarvis Cocker in his new incarnation JARV IS opened with ‘Space’ (of course, given the setting) – a 1992 Pulp b-side and one of my favourite ever Pulp songs. The space-rock wig-out didn’t quite work in the open-air, with the sound getting whipped around a bit. I love Pulp, but didn’t quite get on with Jarvis’s solo stuff. Then Kraftwerk which lived up to all my expectations. We were given 3-D glasses so that we could appreciate the graphics, which came into their own once it was dark.
From the fenced-off enclosure it was possible to really enjoy the first few bands, I felt safe sitting when I needed to and though not on the viewing platform, I could just about see the stage from my chair. However, when Kraftwerk came on the field got very busy and soon people cottoned on that they could get closer to the stage by coming in to the accessibility area. Because there were no professional security guards preventing entry to the area for those without wristbands/lanyards, just volunteers, people weren’t prevented from coming in and I found myself surrounded, my view blocked and my stick – which I was leaning on when standing – kicked out of my hand a couple of times by people dancing enthusiastically. Sadly this left a bad taste in my mouth when leaving the festival, and though it didn’t ruin it for me it did make me feel a bit sad about the lack of respect for accessible spaces and those who use them from a minority of people. Beefing up the security for this area would ensure it benefits those who really need it.
So thanks, Bluedot, I really enjoyed your festival. But a couple of tweaks would make it even better!