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ACL Fest scene report: ACL Fest with a broken leg

Staff Writer
Austin 360

By Erin J. Walter

Editor’s note: This article was originally published October 12, 2013

If you broke your leg in the weeks leading up to ACL Fest, would you still go? Would you haul off to Zilker Park with your ibuprofen and the wheelchair or crutches that you may still be learning to use? Would you brave snaking lines and sloping fields, rain and mud, all for the sake of some—hopefully great but let’s face it, no guarantees!—live music?

Would you?

Well, look around Zilker Park today, festival fans. A noticeable number of you seem to have faced those very questions and answered with a resounding “Let’s rock!”

James Guenther, 26, a San Antonion and DIY martial arts enthusiast, bought his ACL Fest ticket back in April. That was long before he broke two bones in right leg while practicing roundhouse kicks in his backyard. “I slipped on a rock,” he said. “Why couldn’t it have been my arm instead? I would’ve even traded it for breaking my dominant arm instead of a leg.”

But Guenther refused to trade in his ACL wristband. After surgery to insert a metal plate into his leg, he came to the fest prepared with a cast, crutches, a wheelchair, three friends, and his sister to help him navigate the grass and mud.

“I went back and forth about it—do I really go?” he said, sitting in the wheelchair on Friday, healing leg propped up on his opposite knee, waiting for Jimmy Eat World’s set to start. “But I already spent the money. So I got this wheelchair, and everyone says they’ll push me around. It’s my first time at ACL.”

Harrison Stewart, a 13-year-old from Burnet, Texas, joined his parents at ACL Fest on Friday despite a broken foot, which he inched along on a scooter. No. This is the world’s only music festival with a “Keep It Weird Cam” on the jumbo screens! Let’s make that a scooter with a plush horse’s head on the handlebars. Yes. That’s more like it.

Harrison Stewart said he was getting around just fine on Friday afternoon.

“I was worried about the crowds, but everyone’s been great,” mom Shannon Stewart said.

“We’re just waiting for the mud,” dad Chad Stewart added.

Of course, festival organizers are experienced at providing services for attendees with all types of needs. Diana Owens, a volunteer at the accessibility risers, said things have been going smoothly in her department. ACL attendees may register for accessibility assistance when they buy their tickets or—say, if you broke your leg the week before the show—you can request a wristband for accessibility services at a table just inside the festival gates. Folks with those particular wristbands may sit on the risers and bring one friend or family member along.

“It’s real easy, real accessible,” Owens said. “We try to be as hospitable as we can be so everyone can enjoy.”

However, the risers are only available near the four main stages: Samsung, Lady Bird, Bud Light, and Zilker. Top priority is given to attendees in wheelchairs, Owens said, and plus-ones who don’t need accessibility assistance are asked to give up their space if a riser fills up. Owens said those instances are rare.

Perhaps unexpectedly, neither the injured James Guenther nor Harrison Stewart were determined to overcome their injuries out of love for a particular band on the lineup.

“I just want to hear some good music,” Guenther said.

And though Stewart’s parents were excited about Fun and Grouplove, their son simply smiled and said, “I’m up for anything. I’m just glad to be here.”