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GURNETT: Ryan goes to war with Montage Music Hall

I’m disabled. I have a disease called Mitochondrial Myopathy, which causes chronic pain, fatigue and a bevy of other symptoms. I try not to be too needy about asking for accommodations because of my disability. The occasional handicap parking spot and somewhere to sit at concerts seem like reasonable requests.

Any local venue that I have contacted with a request for somewhere to sit at a  concert has been nothing but helpful. Mohawk Place is fine with me stealing a barstool and moving it over to the right side of the building. The Tralf has great seating, and I make it a point to get to concerts there early so I won’t have to bother anyone at the venue because of my disability.

Standing room venues are a problem, but thankfully, places like Town Ballroom are more than happy to help me with seating. They have always been nothing but polite and kind, and their handicapped section goes above and beyond what they need to offer.

Then there’s Rochester’s Montage Music Hall.

Yes, the same Montage Music Hall where 27% of their reviews on Google are one-star. The same place that has a paltry three stars on Yelp.

I bought tickets from Montage Music Hall to see an Andrew WK concert on March 15th. Andrew WK is a severely underappreciated performer. His music might be simplistic and cheesy, but the fervor and joy in which it is performed and his message of inclusion is something I can truly get behind,. I had not traveled outside of Buffalo in six years due to ongoing health problems, but Andrew WK inspired me to give it a try. To make sure that I was capable of doing this trip, I got an AirBNB in Rochester for two days so I wouldn’t  have to worry about traveling the same day as the concert, which can take a lot out of me.

The day of the concert, I called The Montage Music Hall to speak with someone about accessibility. First, I try the phone number on their Facebook page. It’s no longer in use. What?! OK, let’s try again. I find a second phone number for Montage online, only to hear the message,“This Verizon customer does not have voicemail set up.” Who the hell runs this place?

Finally, I give up and send Montage a message on Facebook. I hate using Facebook for things like this; I’d much rather speak with a live person.

In my message, I briefly explain my situation: I have a disability that doesn’t allow me to stand for extended periods of time, and I’d like to request a seat for the Andrew WK concert. The Montage Music Hall’s response? “This is a standing only show Ryan.” No “we’re sorry we can’t help” or anything like that, just a straight-up “no.

First of all, this is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Secondly, it is the most cold and callous response I’ve ever received from anyone regarding accommodations for my illness. (And I’ve heard plenty of awful responses.)

I wrote back and asked if there was no available seating anywhere in the venue. It seemed unlikely that a concert hall with a bar wouldn’t have one chair or barstool lying around somewhere. I got no response. I sent Montage a second message explaining that they were in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and asking them how callous they could be. Again, no response.

Well, I didn’t travel two hours and get two nights at an AirBnB to not see Andrew WK. So I decided to contact the only person who could help me: Mr. WK himself.

Andrew WK has the kind of Twitter presence every artist wishes they could have. He’s amusing, insightful and responds to almost all of his fans (including me a couple of times). At about 2:30 p.m., I tweeted him the situation, then took my regular, medication-induced afternoon nap. I woke up and found a tweet on my phone. It wasn’t the message from Andrew I was hoping for, but it was from After Dark Presents, who was promoting the show, telling me that the venue had been contacted and I was all set.

When  wife and I arrived at The Montage Music Hall, one of the venue workers grabbed a barstool and set us up in the back by the sound guy, where we wouldn’t be disturbed by moshers. It took maybe five minutes. I considered taking a picture of this stool and tagging Montage on social media with the question, “WAS THAT SO FUCKING HARD?” I’ve resisted this urge (primarily because I forgot to take a picture of the stool), but I’m not afraid to write about this incident here, because it’s not the first time someone with a disability has been discriminated against by those who don’t understand and don’t try to understand.

To all of the venues who’ve been awesome about helping me over the years, thank you for not being assholes.

To After Dark Presents and Andrew WK, thank you for helping keep the assholes accountable.

To anyone with a disability, don’t be afraid to stand up and advocate for yourself when you come across an asshole. It’s the only way things will change.

And to Montage Music Hall? Fuck you. Maybe think twice next time before you shoot off a rude, thoughtless response to someone who’s paid to go to your venue.


Ryan Gurnett has a B.S. in Music Industry from The College of St Rose. He has worked as a studio engineer, live sound engineer, producer and sound editor and has been a musician for 25 years. He is currently the co-host of The Struggle is Real Buffalo Music Podcast and bassist for The Lady, or the Tiger?. Email him at SirWilliamIdol@gmail.com or find him on Twitter @SirWilliamIdol.