This coming weekend, on Friday August 21 to Sunday August 23, we will be tuning into one of the most intriguing and inspiring livestream events of the year: Inclusion Festival, a virtual music and wellness event that seeks to raise awareness and support for inclusion of people of all disability types into the live music scene. The three-day event will run from 5PM to 11PM each night of the weekend, and will see live virtual musical performances from bands and artists, as well as unique workshops, panel discussions, and more. Viewers will be able to tune in via the festival’s website: https://inclusionfestival.com.
In our anticipation of this great event, we talked with festival co-founder Amy Pinder, who is executive director of Accessible Festivals, the “501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to making music and recreation accessible to all people” (from inclusionfestival.com). Check it out below!
Inclusion Festival saw its first event in 2017 after being co-founded by Pinder along with Leah Barron. This year, they transitioned to holding the three-day event completely online, making sure that the livestream is available and easy to access by all viewers, including those with any type of special needs or disability.
Musically speaking, Inclusion Festival has cultivated a pretty incredible schedule of performers. Headlining the musical side of things will be a set from the collaborative improvisation project Everyone Orchestra, which will feature as participators Al Schnier of moe., Aron Magner of The Disco Biscuits, James Casey and Jennifer Hartswick of Trey Anastasio Band, Brandon “Taz” Niederaeur, Bridget Law of Elephant Revival, Kai Eckhardt, and Weedie Braimah. Greensky Bluegrass mandolinist Paul Hoffman will also be hosting his own collaborative set, and will be joined by Holly Bowling, Lindsay Lou, and Fruition’s Jay Cobb Anderson. Also making live virtual appearances will be a plethora of other artists, such as Jesse Bardwell and Elliot Peck of Midnight North, Tikyra of Southern Avenue, Talking Heads tribute act Start Making Sense, and many more.
In addition to raising funds for Accessible Festivals, proceeds will also be donated to all artists performing and to crew helping to make the event happen.
There are also perhaps just as many non-musical offerings making up Inclusion Festival’s schedule this weekend. Across all three days, the festival will host special workshops, including everything from hula hooping and juggling to yoga, as well as panel discussions from experts in various fields, many of whom have disabilities about which they will be sharing personal experiences and insight.
For just one amazing example, Temple Grandin, a seventy-year old woman that was one of the first people with autism to be an outspoken advocate of awareness of the disability, and who is now currently Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, will be hosting a discussion about autism, play, music, and inclusion. Sabeerah Najee, a DJ and a member of the radio program Soulection, will be talking about normalizing conversation about race and disability in the music industry. These are just a few out of the many professionals that will contribute their gifts and knowledge to the festival this coming weekend.
The Poke Around was lucky enough to talk personally with festival co-founder Amy Pinder earlier this week, getting some of her insight as to the inspiration and the forces making Inclusion Festival the great program and community that it is.
The Poke Around: Amy, thank you very much for taking a bit of time today to talk about Inclusion Festival and all that goes into it. I’d love to start by getting a little background as to what inspired the creation of a program like this?
Amy Pinder: Yeah, absolutely. I’m a speech language therapist, I’ve spent my whole life working with people with different types of disabilities, with a particular focus on people on the autism spectrum. All the while, I’ve also been involved in the live music and the festival scene—that’s a place where I’ve always felt comfortable and at home, and where I could express myself. Going to festivals, I connected with a woman named Leah Barron, and we realized we had similar life experiences, and some of the same ideas brewing. She was a special education teacher at the time, and now she teaches special education yoga. We realized we shared a similar vision, how beneficial it could be to bring people together around the universal language of music, to connect, share music, and to better understand one another.
For someone like myself, who has been going to concerts and music festivals forever, this feels like something I should really know about a lot more, and be conscious of.
Yeah, for sure. That’s really our goal. For everyone who loves live music, and feels like it’s an integral part of their life, to know about what we’re doing, and to see the value of including all people in this experience that we all love so much. Not everywhere in society is inclusive, and I know that that is a buzzword right now. There’s a lot of different ways that businesses and organizations are striving to be more inclusive, and that’s absolutely wonderful, and we see that and want to be a part of that conversation. But, I think that in recreational spaces, especially spaces where there’s music, it’s a particularly powerful platform or possibility for social change. Because it’s not work, it’s play. It’s what fills us up in a different way. So I think that in those spaces of live music and festivals, people can see the value in a way that they might not see as clearly in a different setting.
So, looking at the festival’s schedule, it seems it has not only an amazing list of musicians scheduled to perform, but also a ton of really great workshops and talks. How did the curation of all of these different things work out?
So Leah Barron, with whom I co-founded Inclusion Festival, curated all of the music, and that’s her passion. She’s really good at finding artists that are going to align with this vision, that will not only really fit the theme but also really connect with the cause. And I curated all of the workshops and panels.
There are so many, but which workshops and panels you are particularly proud or excited, to see happen this weekend?
The conversation with Temple Grandin is really exciting to me. Temple Grandin is a seventy year-old woman that was diagnosed with autism when she was a child, and autism was even more misunderstood back in her time than it is now. Temple was really one of the first people that advocated for autism while having autism themselves. She was able to articulately and clearly express her experience of the world. She went on to earn a doctorate in animal science, and she’s an award winning author. I read her books, when I was early on in my career, and it was the first voice I heard from someone with autism, as I was working with all these kids on the autism spectrum that didn’t have the ability to clearly express themselves and what was going on in their minds and their bodies. And I was able to get some really amazing insight from her. And I got to talk to her this year, in putting on this festival, so that was really awesome.
In addition to that, Taraleigh Weathers is someone I’m really proud of, and someone I’m really proud to call a friend on the festival scene. She has a program called Rocking Life, and written a book called “How to Rock Your Life,” about taking the joy and magic of live music and putting it into your everyday life. She was at our in-person festival last year, she’s teaching a yoga workshop this year. Another is Benjamin Barry, he’s a teaching artist and he’s teaching inclusive hula hooping and juggling workshops. He’s really awesome about tailoring things to all abilities.
You mentioned Leah handled the music curation. But, being a music news site, we’d love to get some thoughts about that in particular. Are there any artists on the lineup that you have worked with before? Which ones are you personally most excited to see take part in the festival?
There’s many that we’ve worked with before. Haley Jane was there in person last year, she collaborated with us to teach a workshop where people learned moves and some sign language to one of her songs with The Primates, “I Know That I Can Do It.” That was a really beautiful moment, so we’re really excited to have her back. Some of the bigger names, the collaboration acts, like Everyone Orchestra and Paul Hoffman supergroup, are first timers with us.
I’d say that we’re both especially excited about Everyone Orchestra, as the concept is inclusive in and of itself, bringing together people from different bands, and then improvising. We’re pretty optimistic that Matt Butler and everyone involved is something we’ve like to have again. It really really resonated with him, and he’s been really helpful, so that’s been a really great relationship to build upon. Zach Gill, from ALO and Jack Johnson’s band, is someone I know Leah is really excited about.
James Casey, who is performing with Everyone Orchestra, is also doing a set on his own. He’s contributed a recorded video to the festival with a really amazing introduction where he talks about his connection to this cause and why this matters to him. That’s just one example, but to all the artists that took the time to do this, to share these messages, we’re both really grateful and excited.
You have hosted Inclusion Festival in person for two years, but now will be hosting it completely virtually. What was the transition into bringing it online like?
So, this is presented by a non-profit called Accessible Festivals, of which I am the executive director. Accessible Festivals has been doing work in accessibility and music space for six years, and from all the relationships we’ve built we’ve been able to connect with people that were able to support the production aspects—the captioning, the sign language interpretation, the things we didn’t know how to do ourselves in this online format. It’s always a lot of learning as we go. We were only two years into the festival, so year two was a lot smoother than year one in terms of organizing and planning. Year one was all creation, so we did find ourselves in this creation mode this year. And in a way, it seemed easier to not do an in-person festival, but there was still a lot of work to do in creation, and getting the concept together, and what it would look like.
And viewers can donate funds to both Accessible Festivals and to artists, which is really awesome. But beyond donating, what can viewers do to get involved with the causes behind the festival?
Particularly with Accessible Festivals, we have a volunteer sign-up, which pre-Covid meant volunteering at events. This year, we’ll be looking at other ways to utilize volunteers behind the scenes with other projects that we conceptualize. Accessible Festivals also has a really cool program called The Fiscal Sponsorship Program, where if anybody has an idea that is related to music and accessibility, they can work with us to make their project a reality, and receive funding for their project without having to go through the whole process of becoming their own non profit. There’s information about all of that on the Accessible Festivals website, and we’re always looking for individuals who have their own ideas and who are motivated to be a part of this vision.
I think it is fair to say right now that the current pandemic will be continuing for some unknowable amount of time. In terms of the future, particularly even just the rest of the year, is there anything in the works yet as what other things you would like to do?
In addition to being a great event with a great vision, we also hope that this represents what is possible in the world of digital accessibility. We’re a small organization, we don’t have a huge budget, and we were able to produce a completely accessible festival. Any person with any type of disability should be able to access the festival optimally. We’ll take feedback, I’m sure we’ll receive some. We hope to send the message that this is not that expensive nor that difficult to do, if you put accessibility in the forefront of your planning, for an online event or in-person event. It’s not as easy when you don’t think about accessibility in the beginning, and then tack it on as an afterthought. We’re also looking to rebroadcast Inclusion Festival online at some point, and we’ll probably be putting together other kinds of digital series that are related to our vision and voice.
Be sure to tune in on Friday starting at 5PM to view Inclusion Festival, and for more information, head to their website here.