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Music Makes It Better

Kelly Berger loves the inclusive atmosphere and behind-the-scenes access of music festivals.

By going out of her comfort zone, a young woman finds her happy place in the alternative music scene

Whether it’s through headphones, blasting out of the van speakers or playing live right in front of me, music has been my constant source of happiness. 

After years of misdiagnoses, I was recently diagnosed with a form of congenital muscular dystrophy called collagen VI (with a bunch of letters and numbers after it that make me sound like a robot). Through the ups and downs of medical woes and lifestyle changes — from walking to using a wheelchair — the one thing that has consistently put a smile on my face is music in any way, shape or form.

No matter what I faced, I could press play on my iPod and instantly escape. It’s brought such a healing release for me to just get lost in a song, album or entire discography and forget all the daily struggles or what may come down the road. I can also turn to my ever-growing collection of ticket stubs, guitar picks, set lists and confetti from the concerts I’ve attended and get lost in the memories, reliving each one over again in my mind with the cheesiest grin plastered on my face.

Living Loud

There’s always been something about live music that truly captivated me. Seeing a band in action onstage, feeling the bass pump through you and kick-start your heart, singing along with complete strangers in the moment — there’s simply nothing like that connection to music. That post-concert adrenaline high is hard to even put into words. Such a freeing feeling — like I can do and conquer anything — that I wish lasted forever. It makes me forget about the wheelchair and any other annoying daily medical matters and be at one with the music, if only for a couple hours.

I remember back in my early teenage years persistently bugging my mom to let me go to an alternative rock show, a genre outside of my normal comfort zone. After finally wearing her down, I went to my first rock show in 2004. It was an arena show with designated ADA accommodations, so I knew my wheelchair and I would be safe. I was amazed to see the sense of community within the stadium, the craziness of crowd-surfers and mosh pits breaking out, and yet everyone was taking care of each other, still having the best time. There were endless high fives, fist bumps and hugs from embracive fans. I was hooked, and I still have the same feeling of excitement every time I go to a show.

I decided to push the boundaries of what I felt comfortable with at a live music show. That summer I attended my first ever VANS Warped Tour. Boy, was I in heaven. I got to get up close and personal with tons of bands all at once in a sweaty, action-packed day. This touring punk rock music festival mainly takes place around arenas or in parking lots and campgrounds, making the terrain a challenge for a wheelchair. My biggest fear was navigating the crowd without getting trampled or entering a spontaneous mosh pit. Again, I was pleasantly surprised by how positively receptive the alternative scene was toward me. Strangers were happy to lend a hand when my chair needed an extra push or clear a path when things got insanely cramped. The VANS Warped Tour was what I looked forward to most every summer. I’ve seen some of my favorite bands play, interacted with them and met the most amazing lifelong friends over the years. I’ve gone now for more than a decade and a half.

I’m also extremely lucky that my wonderful city of Cincinnati has Bogart’s, an iconic, welcoming music venue that feels just like home immediately as you enter. The staff has always gone above and beyond my needs, clearing crowds, securing patrons in the ADA section and assisting with drink orders. It’s a really tight-knit group that I can graciously say is like my second “concert” family.

Pursuing Happiness

I know it can be scary or overwhelming to get out and find a public venue that you feel confident in or talk to people about your specific needs. With every instance, what I was so afraid of turned out to be easy to overcome, even if it required a little help from strangers. And to think of all the concerts and festivals I would have missed had I not ventured out...

Kelly Berger

Sometimes the biggest thing holding us back is our own fear. I encourage you to break down those walls that may be keeping you from trying something new, wheelchair or not. Go outside of your normal comfort zone — I promise you, it’s not as terrifying as you’d think. Find a release that helps put you at ease and allows you to forget all the hardships. Who knows — you might just discover your new favorite activity or meet new friends with similar interests.

Whatever the case, pushing ourselves even when we can’t actually physically push ourselves leads us to the happiest place of all. I’ve found my happy place in music.

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If you have “From Where I Sit” story idea, email us at You can read more stories from around the MDA community on the Strongly blog.

Kelly Berger, 29, lives in Cincinnati and freelances in social media and public relations. She’s an avid music festival and concertgoer. Catch her at a show or follow her journey at

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