Festivals can bring together communities, but for those with sensory difficulties, all that fun and games can be a bit overwhelming at times.
That’s a problem the Inclusion Festival looks to solve.
Now in its second year, the sensory-friendly music and wellness festival looks to again provide a comfortable atmosphere for people of all ages with and without special needs. Set for Friday, Aug. 9, through Sunday, Aug. 11 at the Mountain Sky festival grounds in Scott Twp., the festival will mix entertainment and education by offering live music, workshops, therapies and more.
“Over the course of the weekend, there’s over 50 educational and play-based workshops spanning a really wide variety of topics,” said Amy Pinder, a speech language therapist who cofounded the festival with Leah Barron, a special-education teacher. “There’s really something for everyone. We’re really hoping people will tune into their passions and their interests and maybe find something they enjoy that they didn’t know (before).”
The festival aims to offer a healthy atmosphere for people with sensory-processing issues — such as autism, ADHD and anxiety — by playing music at a lower volume than most festivals and by using a layout that reduces crowding, among other accommodations. Guests can participate in mindfulness activities, and people can take breaks at various quiet, peaceful spots if they need to.
“The idea (for the festival) came from the kind of positive and welcoming environment that we noticed at music festivals where people are there for the purpose of recreation and leisure,” Pinder said. “Music really brings people together and tends to put people in a positive state of mind, so we felt that was a great environment to educate and empower and have people with and without special needs share space. … Throughout those shared experiences, it’s a really powerful platform for learning.”
Advance tickets cost $30 for a one-day pass and $50 for a weekend pass for general admission, $15 for a one-day pass and $25 for a weekend pass for ages 13 to 21, and are free for children 12 and younger. Camping is included with admission.
Those who want to attend but need financial assistance can visit the festival website, inclusion festival.com, and apply for help. People also can nominate someone they know to receive free tickets, Pinder said, and donate to support families at gofundme.com/inclusionfestival.
The inaugural festival last year resulted in “overwhelming support” with numerous people stepping up to volunteer, including people with special needs, Pinder said. The organizers received “tremendous feedback” about how the festival positively impacted people’s lives, she added.
Guests will find a community resource fair, vocational opportunities and various vendors, and they can participate in group exercise, yoga, theater, nature walks, arts and crafts, storytelling, musical activities and more.
Entertainers include headliners Start Making Sense, a Talking Heads tribute band; rock group Hayley Jane and the Primates; family trio the Pretty Crazies, whose daughter has Down syndrome; funk and soul group Swift Technique; Brooklyn’s Cousin Earth; local musician MiZ; the Especially Everyone Ensemble and others.
“I think that we have a really exciting music lineup this year,” Pinder said. “We have really, really talented artists that are nationally touring acts with a regional draw. … Everybody that we’ve assembled has some kind of connection to the cause and is really excited to be part of it.”
Pinder hopes the festival shows people that everyone has a purpose and that, with the right support and strategies, people can contribute their strengths and talents to their families, something she believes fosters self-esteem.
The festival’s reach has grown beyond just the weekend as well.
“In the grand scheme of things, this year has been a lot of growth for us in creating other initiatives and programs that support health and wellness for all abilities throughout the year,” Pinder said. “We started creating inclusion dining events, a sensory-friendly dining experience at local restaurants.”
At those events, guests use picture menus to help them order. Lights are dimmed, music is played at a lower volume, and therapists are on site alongside an activity station with tools and games.
As for the festival, Pinder called it “a really excellent value for all that you get.”
“There’s so many types of bands and high-quality music. … The workshops alone are an enriching, complete day of programming,” she said. “The vibe — we’ve built a really loving community that is embracing of people with special needs. I think you can feel it when you get there.”
If you go
- What: Inclusion Festival
- When: Friday, Aug. 9, through Sunday, Aug. 11
- Where: Mountain Sky, 63 Still Meadow Lane, Scott Twp.
- Details: One-day passes cost $30 for general admission and $15 for ages 13 to 21 in advance, and weekend passes cost $50 for general admission and $25 for ages 13 to 21 in advance. Children 12 and younger enter for free. Camping is included with admission, and families in need can apply for scholarships. For more information, visit inclusionfestival.com.
Caitlin Heaney West is the content editor for Access NEPA and oversees the Early Access blog in addition to working as a copy editor and staff writer for The Times-Tribune. An award-winning journalist, she is a summa cum laude graduate of Shippensburg University and also earned a master’s degree from Marywood University. Caitlin joined the Times-Shamrock family in 2009 and lives in Scranton. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5107; or @cheaneywest