For a very long time, whenever someone said that they were doing boutique camping or staying in a B&B for Electric Picnic, I’d think that they weren’t cut out for festivals. What is a music festival if you don’t roll out of a clammy tent into a pile of empty Bavaria cans and the dregs of regret? I thought that they weren’t hard enough. This year, I stayed in a B&B because last year’s Picnic experience made me feel like maybe I wasn’t built for it anymore. The long treks from my tent to the main stage, the rough ground catching my wheelchair and hidden dips in the grass causing me to fly out of my wheelchair all added up. That on top of three days of music and sessioning was just difficult.
So, along with three pals, I booked a B&B in Athy, 10km away from Stradbally and €20 in a taxi each way. Other than being away from the immediate action, I thought it would be a pain in the arse to get to and from the festival site or we would be waiting for hours for a taxi to rescue us from the cold, our drunken armour failing us at the unholy hour of 6 a.m. I was wrong. It was so easy. Too easy. So that makes me ask, why is it easier for me to travel 10km twice a day for three days than to use the camping facilities provided for disabled festival goers?
The disabled campsite at Electric Picnic is placed beside the campervan area, beyond the Janis Joplin campsite. If you come across anyone who camps in Janis Joplin, you’ve heard how it took them hourrrrrrrrrrrrrs to walk in. It’s not just far away from the arena but it’s far away from food stalls and all the paths that lead there are rocky and uneven. You also have to cross through the woods and if it’s raining, the mud there is thicker than the rest, leaving a wheelchair user relying on three or four people to pull the chair through. The official line for having the disabled campsite so far out is that it’s the closest point that cars can drive. In the disabled campsite, you can park beside your tent, which is really handy but you use your car twice when you camp; when you arrive and when you leave. The bits in between are what really matters.
Coming in and out of the festival through the main entrance was easy and the facilities within the main arena this year were great. The toilets were kept remarkably clean this year – especially in the Body & Soul area – and the stewards were incredibly sound at the viewing platforms, letting me bring as many friends as I wanted up. This meant that I could have the bop with friends that you’re meant to have at MS MR, the nostalgic sing-a-long with Blur and the clear view for FKA Twigs’ mesmerising performance. The only time I felt under pressure was when the crowd was being herded like cattle through the search point. It was a crush of people in narrow queues knocking the brunt of their booze back before they entered the main arena. Luckily, if I was spotted by security, I was whisked aside through a quieter queue.
The difference between Electric Picnic 2015 and last year’s was huge. I looked for an easier way to do the festival and had to go elsewhere and pay for accommodation rather than use the ones provided with the ticket I bought. That’s not on. Music festivals aren’t easy. Everyone knows that going in and that is perfectly fine. We take the rough and tumble with the fun and frolicks but better planning can actually make Electric Picnic easier for disabled gig goers without removing the good and bad elements that make a festival what it is. As the Picnic grows bigger every year (50,000 people this year), they have made improvements in so many ways. We have better food, bigger distances between the stages so there’s no sound interference, onsite off licenses and beauty parlours, more portaloos and more phone charging stalls. The kids’ entertainment areas are even improving so why is that disabled adults who have paid for their tickets aren’t getting much of a look in? Every other area seems to be becoming more Guardian-esque but the experience for disabled people isn’t.
As with every other festival, we are informed on the website that we are to expect rough ground and great walking distances but where the smaller festivals are making big efforts to fix that, the attitude with Ireland’s biggest and most expensive festival, is it will do. It should never do. The disabled campsite should not be plonked at the furthest point and we should not have to go to Athy to lighten our load. I had a great time at the Picnic this year but in 2016, things will undoubtedly become bigger and better in other ways but let’s just hope that they remember everyone in the upgrade.
UPDATE: LHP, who look after the PR for Electric Picnic, have been in contact and they say that they have spoken to the production team and hope to improve the accessibility issues – especially in the campsites – for next year.