How to Make a Music Festival Sensory-Friendly

Music festivals are fun, often outdoor events. They involve the local community and visitors, enjoying music from special guests over a series of hours or days. Music can be anything from classical to country to rock and roll! Depending on the size of the event, they may include food vendors, rides, and other attractions. These events let a fans and their favourite musicians connect. They are busy, noisy, and bright by nature and people with sensory sensitivity, sensory overload, and sensory processing disorders likely avoid them. Music festivals can include bright lights, loud music and crowds of people that overwhelm people with sensory differences. Read on to learn how to make a music festival of any genre sensory-friendly, more accessible and inclusive.

The infographic title is “Ways to Make Music Festivals Sensory-Friendly". The Sensory Friendly Solutions logo is attached in the bottom right corner.

Advertise it as a sensory-friendly event

If you are creating a sensory-friendly, more accessible, inclusive music festival, let people know! Share what sensory-friendly, accessible and inclusive changes are being made. Let people know what to expect. Communication, in advance, will help festival-goers who want sensory-friendly experiences find your event! It will also help everyone understand more about accessibility and inclusion. Here are some ideas:

  • Create a blog post about your sensory-friendly music festival.
  • Share sensory-friendly features you are planning in a Facebook post.
  • Ask followers on Twitter what sensory-friendly changes they’d like to see happen.
  • Host a short interview discussing the accessibility and inclusion changed on YouTube.
  • Offer to be a guest on a music-oriented or accessibility-oriented podcast.
  • Write a letter to the editor for a community newspaper.
  • Send out a press release.

Educate the Team

It is important to teach the team about how to be more sensory-friendly, accessible and inclusive. Teach them about the changes at the festival. Solicit their ideas! Experienced team members, including volunteers will likely have great ideas on easy strategies to implement that make people comfortable. Let them know what to expect from people who have sensory sensitivities. The following is a quote from Grace Kim, a concert pianist and a mother to a child with sensory needs. She talks about the importance of educating the team on-site.

“I think genuine understanding and education goes a long way. It would be beneficial for any musician or organisation to seek education and training from professionals in the field. In the case of concert venues, the staff – including front of house, stage managers, and door persons – so that they are equipped to assist if needed”

Grace Kim – concert pianist and a mother to a child with sensory needs

Allocate special seating

It is important to allocate special seating in a crowd. For instance, provide designated seating both at the front, the back and the sides for people with disabilities, and/or people with sensory sensitivities. Consider adding different types of seating too. Think about chairs with and without arms. Or comfortable seating like a couch as alternatives.

Since some music festivals are long, consider providing, loaning or renting sensory kits with sensory tools. Add fidgets, noise cancelling ear muffs and weighted lap pads.

Crowd reduction

Since music festivals can be large in size, it is important to reduce the number of people or manage crowds to be sensory-friendly. For example, have a sensory-friendly time earlier in the day, when the number of festival goers is limited. One way to limit the crowds is thus by allocating only a certain number of tickets at special times. Alternatively, provide a special space where there are fewer people for people with sensory sensitivities or people who experience sensory overload.

Create calm areas

Furthermore, it is important to create calm areas away from the crowds. Calm areas, sometimes called fun names like chill-zones, are spaces that are less busy, noisy or bright. For example, the music may not be as loud. Shade is provided outdoors from sunlight. Alternatively, if indoors, the lighting is less bright. Comfortable seating is on hand. Food, and/or at least water are accessible.

Calm areas allow people to take breaks from the crowds, the noise and the light. They let more festival goers enjoy the experience, too!

Hire sign language interpreters

Sign language interpreters are key to creating accessibility and inclusion at a music festival. Key information: there is no universal sign language. Different countries use different sign languages. So if you are expecting festival goers from different countries, be sure to indicate which sign language you will use. There are also regional differences in sign language, similar to dialects in spoken languages. When there are sign language interpreters present at an event, it allows people who communicate with sign language to be included.

Hire professional sign language interpreters. And know that you will need multiple interpreters. It is also important to ensure that every aspect of the event is interpreted, from songs to speeches.

The following is a quote from a festival-goer about sign language at events.

“When I go to festivals, with an interpreter signing the songs, it certainly makes me feel like I know the songs, understand what the singer says in between songs, and I am able to feel part of the audience”

A concert attendee’s opinion on signing (Pennick,

Adjust lighting and noise level

As mentioned earlier, music festivals are sensory-rich also because of noise and light. Therefore, it is important to make sure that the space either reduces noise and lights, or has special times with reduces noise and lights or has special places with reduced noise and lights. Light and noise sensitivity has a huge impact on many people. If performances include light shows, let people know in advance. Ensure the sound quality is the very best possible. Furthermore, create sensory-friendly times when the sound is not so loud. Or create sensory-friendly spaces where the sound in that space is not so loud.

Record the event

Organizers should get permission from the performers to record the event. Recording the event will allow fans to watch it later in the comfort of their home. It is important to also provide detailed information on where they can find the recording.

Recording the event will also help with reducing the crowd since there will be a second option for attending the event! Find an example by Canadian singer-songwriter Christina Martin, who offers replays of her virtual events that have accessibility features.

Group of friends enjoying their time at an outdoor music festival

Allocate time for sensory breaks

Allocate time for breaks throughout the schedule of performances. In the book titled, “The SAGE Encyclopedia of Industrial and Organizational Psychology”, the chapter on Micro Breaks by Wilkinson and Demsky (2016), shares that microbreaks play a role as self-regulatory strategies to promote recovery from an overwhelming event 1. Breaks are important for festival goers, performers and the team onsite, alike. Let people know when they will occur. Manage food, attractions and toilets to ensure that long lineups do not impede access. Provide visual cues for lines and attendants to keep things moving. Plan entrances and exits to spaces. Make sure everything has good, easily understood and visible signage.

Create novelty with break. Be inspired by baseball’s Seventh Inning Stretch. Lead a movement break for the crowd with a dance-off, a meditation movement, or a group yoga challenge. Make it fun for the festival-goers.

Provide attendees information about the changes

It is important to provide information about all the sensory-friendly, accessible and inclusion changes that are made. Things to include are:

  • Detailed map. Include the sensory experience. Where is it loud? Bright? Crowded?
  • Start and stop times for every thing that will occur.
  • Contact information for accessibility questions.

Have a debrief session

It is important debrief with the team after the event, or even at the end of each day. Helpful feedback is what when well! And critically, what could be improved for the next day or the next year.

Being sensory-friendly, accessible and inclusive is becoming the norm and not the exclusion. Make people comfortable and bring music to more listeners.

Check out the following blog posts to learn more about ways to be sensory-friendly at events that often involve music:

Create a More Welcoming World and Tame Sensory Overload

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  1. Wilkinson, M. & Demsky, C.A. (2016). Micro breaks. In S. G. Rogelberg (Ed.), The SAGE encyclopedia of industrial and organizational psychology, 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE
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