Swallow Hill Music is happy to once again team with Developmental Pathways for our next sensory friendly concert in Daniels Hall at our Yale Avenue location.
The free concert takes place on June 1 at 1 p.m. with doors at 12:30. The show features music from The Raven Tarts, who are Andrea Pares and Olivia Shaw of Denver’s own bluegrass-infused Americana band Avenhart.
While the last ten years have seen a proliferation of sensory friendly concerts and events, the concept remains new to many concertgoers.
The Kennedy Center defines sensory friendly performances as being “designed to create a performing arts experience that is welcoming to all families with children with autism or with other disabilities that create sensory sensitivities.”
In practical terms that means we turn the lights up and the sound down so individuals and their families can move around, dance, and sing along in a fun, judgement free environment.
In recounting his first sensory friendly concert in 2015, beloved songwriter Dan Zanes told The Washington Post “Within five minutes, I realized this was the future of family entertainment.”
Swallow Hill’s involvement with sensory friendly programming began in 2016, and we partnered with Developmental Pathways from the start.
“The previous Outreach Director at Swallow Hill, Chris McGarry, invited Developmental Pathways to partner after attending a Sensory Friendly Training at Lone Tree Arts Center,” Andrea Morales, Program Administrator of Project Coordination for Developmental Pathways, told us. “Swallow Hill then applied for a grant to cover five concerts over a year and half.”
“That was a success,” she continues, “and we decided to continue to partner on the concerts again.” Morales credits the Autism Society of Colorado for playing a pivotal role in launching the programming.
“They provided a Sensory 101 class for the Swallow Hill staff prior to initial concerts. The Autism Community Store in Denver continues to provide sensory backpacks for the break room for anyone needing a support item such as noise cancelling headphones, a fidget toy, a weighted shoulder wrap, and more,” she said.
When asked why it is important to hold sensory friendly events, Morales says holding sensory friendly events is important because “sensory sensitive environments allow accessibility for people of all abilities to enjoy fun events and programs. Communities are inclusive, but not all communities are accessible, being sensory sensitive requires simple alterations, but creates a great impact.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Olivia, who will take the stage as The Raven Tarts with her friend and Avenhart band mate Andrea Pares.
“In the concert scene in general, there are not a lot of options for people who are easily overstimulated by lights and sound,” Olivia says.
She adds that concerts don’t always start at convenient times for those who benefit most from sensory friendly events. “I think that it’s important to have these events so that communities that have sensory issues have options to go to these shows, and get more involved in things that are available to everyone else but not usually to them.”
The June 1 concert will be Olivia’s second for a sensory friendly audience. She played in Daniels Hall in 2018 with, you guessed it, Chris McGarry, who asked her to join him. “My initial involvement with Chris and doing a duo show with him sparked my interest in doing it again, and when I was approached by Swallow Hill I was totally on board with the idea,” she says.
For Olivia, who is a gigging musician with a very active performance schedule, the experience was transformative. “I was reminded of the power of music to create an environment where people can play, laugh, and express themselves in a safe way,” she says.
She was also reminded of “the healing benefits of dancing and being able to connect with other people that love music.”
As she and Pares prepare for the concert, Olivia says preparing the set is only part of it.
“You have to think about the banter and the playfulness of the set,” she says. “We’re trying to create a light-hearted, playful atmosphere. We’re being intentional about what we’re going to say in-between songs, and how we’re going to interact with the audience in order to best engage them and make them feel safe, at home, and free to dance, play and run around!”
For those attending their first sensory friendly event, Morales offers the following advice: “Please let concert staff know how we can help better assist you prior to the event. The more we know the better we can plan.”
In addition to that, she says “Relax, have fun, and get to know the other attendees! Most attendees are very familiar with sensory sensitivities, you don’t have to worry about explaining what’s happening to others, others probably have been where you’ve been; you’re in good company!”
To that Oliva adds, “See you at Swallow Hill!”
Some Common Elements You Might Find at a Sensory Friendly Concert
Andrea Morales of Developmental Pathways shared with us what she thinks are some common, and essential, elements of a sensory friendly concert.
- Dim lights instead of bright lights or the lights being turned off off “This helps lessen light contrast sensitivities.”
- Medium or lower volume levels instead of high volume “This helps help mediate abrupt or overall loud noises. This also includes finger snaps instead of clapping because they create less noise.”
- Flexible outside open space like a corner or a side room is provided. This helps provide a break area so one could calm down if they get overwhelmed, or not worry if they’re too loud.
- Wider space between rows or aisles This helps everyone maneuver in and out more easily.