Kudos to Deer Creek & the Dave Matthews Band
Last Saturday Irena and I had the pleasure of attending the Dave Matthews Band concert at Deer Creek (Ruoff Music Center...but I'm from the time when it was called Deer Creek, as is Dave Matthews, and I'm pretty sure we both refuse to call it anything corporate) with our close friends Scott & Phoenix. A few months ago I reserved our tickets over the live nation app on my phone. While selecting lawn "seats" I didn't see any option for selecting wheelchair accessible lawn seating, and though there was no mention of rules regarding accessible parking, I opted not to purchase the "premium parking" with our tickets...assuming our disability parking tag would get us as close to the front as possible.
As always, whenever going to a venue like Deer Creek, I called ahead to be sure I understood all of the options. A very knowledgeable customer service person answered all of my questions.
Yes, there was wheelchair accessible seating in the lawn. Two "concrete pads" were set up for people with disabilities. We should have been able to reserve space on them when we reserved our tickets, but because I used an app on my phone I didn't see all of the options that I would have seen on my laptop...lesson learned.
No, the fact that I didn't reserve wheelchair accessible lawn seats for our tickets wasn't an issue. get there early and try to be near the front of the line when the gates open and we should be able to get seats in the wheelchair accessible area...you can reserve seats in those sections, but they're mostly first come, first serve...sure, if my family and friends want to lay on a blanket near the accessible seating they can, but they should be able to fit all four of my companions on the "pad" with me. They didn't mention that there would be folding chairs for companions and people with disabilities who don't need wheelchairs, already available in the accessible section, but that was a nice surprise! It was really more of an extension of the seated pavilion sections than part of the lawn. Scott has his own disability that impacts his mobility too, though he needs a cane rather than a chair, but being in this ramped section at the front of the lawn was a huge benefit to accommodate his experience as well!
No, I didn't need to purchase premium parking. My accessible parking tag would get us all the way up to the parking closest to the facility. The only issue was that they didn't tell me to be sure to park on the front side of Deer Creek. There is a back entrance that goes directly into the top area of the lawn. Due to where we pulled in, we were directed to the accessible parking on the back side. When we got out of the vehicle someone from the parking team told us that they had called for a large golf cart to come pick us up. That person moved on as quickly as they spoke to us, back to directing the parking lot. The sloped que for the line on that side wasn't too far away, though it would still require going a short distance on a gravel road to get there. After waiting for a little bit and watching the line start to grow, we decided to walk/roll to the line without waiting any longer for the cart. By the time we claimed our spots in line we were only a short distance from the gates. We sat in the sun and chatted for about 40 minutes and then the line started to move. At that point a member of the staff, Erica, spotted me in the wheelchair and stopped us from proceeding. Apparently on this side there were stairs inside the gates, and I didn't have my prosthetics; we would need to move around to the main entrance, where the line had been forming for some time, and the gates wouldn't open for another 20 minutes or so.
Erica was very clear that she would return momentarily with a cart large enough for the five of us to drive us around to the other side. I was using my rigid frame chair, which doesn't fold in the normal "flattening" way that folding frame chairs do. My chair didn't exactly fit in the cart, so Irena and Phoenix sat on the back and held my chair up off the ground as we were chauffeured to the front of the facility...I just want to point out that the wives of men with disabilities prove their equality, and sometimes superiority (yes, I said it, and I mean it) on a daily basis. We moved at a quick pace through parts of Deer Creek that I had never seen before; the areas where the tour busses park, press areas, staff areas, etc. As we came around the north side of the facility and the main entrance came into view I was distraught at the sight of the growing sea of people. There was no way for Erica to get us through them, not even to deposit us at the end of the line.
We parked in front of what Erica referred to as the VIP gate, off to the side of the main gates, where no one appeared to be waiting to enter, and no staff appeared to be ready to open. Erica radioed the staff working that area and explained our situation, to which they replied with instruction and a commitment to take responsibility for helping us from there. From a professional customer service perspective, Scott and I were both impressed when we heard Erica reply "what I heard is that you want me to leave them at the VIP gate and you'll take responsibility for letting them in when the gates open and help them from there, is that correct?" We waited for a while, watching as different lines of ticket holders with special status were let in, which had me concerned, as there was no place for anyone else to sit while we waited and I knew Scott's disability causes it's own unique brand of fatigue, but he's stronger than he knows and fought through it. Ultimately, as the main gates were opened a staff person whom we believe was named Abby approached, personally did our security check, and then sent us into the throng of people searching for the perfect spot to enjoy the concert.
As I said, the accessible seating for the lawn at Deer Creek is really more like an extension of the seated pavilion, just at the front of the lawn off to either side of the stage, instead of under the pavilion roof. It's ramped up so that you're not sitting right on the pavement in the main walkway, which gives you a pretty much unobstructed view of the action on stage as well as a conveniently positioned big view screen...and a great place to watch the crowd! There was a constant dance obstacle course to cross the main path just to our left and below us; so much fun to watch! They also positioned a beverage vending station right on the opposite side of the walk from the front of the ramp and had more than one vendor walking around selling pizzas, cotton candy, etc...you just needed to get their attention to get them to come up into the section.
My only issue with this section, which is separated from the rest of the lawn by metal fencing, is that the obvious intended openings to access the lawn from the accessible section were closed off with sections of metal fence zip-tied over the openings...cutting people with physical disabilities off from the rest of the lawn. I know that this was done to prevent people in the lawn who didn't need to take up space in the accessible area from abusing that space, but it was also disappointing to not be able to access the lawn if I would rather lay on a blanket in the grass instead of sitting in my wheelchair. I should note that we did see a group of people with no obvious physical impairments among them take up a lot of seats in the accessible section before the concert started. After a while a member of the security staff approached them, spoke with them discreetly, and then they left.
All things considered, it was a great concert experience! We had a wonderful time with beautiful weather and a great night with our dear friends! The Dave Matthews band was performing at a level and intensity that I've never seen before, and I've been to more than one of his concerts going all the way back to when Ruoff Music Center was simply Deer Creek! Scott is a bigger fan than I am and he was blown away by the musical master class that we were lucky enough to witness. He said it was the best concert he'd ever attended! Kudos to Deer Creek and the Dave Matthews band for ensuring a great accessible entertainment opportunity for all people of all abilities! #DMB #RuoffMusicCenter #DeerCreek