Kings of Leon are my favourite band. I’ve seen them so many times, but it never gets boring, only more amazing. When they announced their UK tour I knew I had to get tickets for the Glasgow show, but I didn’t expect to end up getting Newcastle and Liverpool tickets as well. What can I say I love Kings of Leon and a good old road trip. The first stop on our KOL road trip was the Utilita Arena Newcastle where I had never been before so I was excited to find out what the accessibility was like for disabled gig-goers.
Booking Accessible tickets at Utilita Arena Newcastle
Usually, I dread the moment gig tickets go on sale, especially high demand shows. The accessible ticket line gets bombarded with calls resulting in being left on hold for over an hour to then be told there are no accessible tickets left. Frustrating.
The moment general sale was announced for Kings of Leon at Utilita Arena that same feeling of dread kicked in. I was already getting my plan of action for that morning in place. I also decided to make an enquiry beforehand so after sending a simple email to the venue to enquire about booking accessible tickets we were informed to email our requirements, e.g. how many tickets, wheelchair spaces, full address details and a contact number to Newcastle.Accessibility@eu.asmglobal.com on the morning of the general sale. The tickets would then be booked in as soon as our email was received.
To be honest I thought this sounded too good to be true. I’ve never been able to book accessible tickets like this before but liked the sound of it and if it worked it would solve a lot of problems disabled gig-goers face when trying to get hold of accessible tickets.
Thankfully it did work and was without a doubt the easiest gig I’ve ever booked accessible tickets for. Why can’t it always be this easy? We soon received an email confirming our reserved tickets and order number. Someone then called us to confirm the booking and take payment. It couldn’t have been easier.
Getting to the Utilita Arena Newcastle
We were staying at the amazing Hilton Newcastle Gateshead, which was only a 5-minute drive to the Utilita Arena. As we turned the corner onto the street the arena is on, we were surprised to discover that the disabled parking bays were right there. It was easy peasy. There were around 20 disabled bays that ran along the side of the arena.
Luckily we managed to get the second last bay, which turned out to be directly in front of the band’s gear and tour trucks. Pretty awesome! There were also four Mercedes vans with blacked-out windows lined up. One for each band member. I couldn’t help but think that they might have been sitting inside them at the very moment we went past. Unlikely, but you never know.
Arrival at the Utilita Arena Newcastle
Once we parked the car, we walked a short distance to the entrance where a helpful steward let us through a separate door so we didn’t have to join the long queue. Everything was going well. Until we got inside and seen the sea of people crowding the foyer. Where the heck do we go? Being so low down I couldn’t see a thing and we could barely move. It seemed like everyone was queuing up either at the bar or for food. There wasn’t any arena staff visible to ask for help, which I found quite strange.
Before the gig, I had made a decision that I was going to buy something from the merch stand. I really wanted to get something to remember our run of Kings of Leon gigs and the road trip. The merch stand had a massive queue, but that wasn’t stopping me from getting that band tee I wanted. We waited and waited and waited! Eventually a nice woman and a man in a wheelchair who were already being served seen us waiting and made the merch guy aware that we were there and to serve us next. It was really nice of them to do that. So we squeezed in after them. There was a lowered section at the merch stand so I position myself there to be served.
With my awesome new band tee and £25 skinter, we braved the crowds in order to find the block where our seats were. Once out of the busy crowds we headed down a narrow corridor, which reminded me of a sports centre. There were toilets and more people standing about.
When we got to our block a steward pointed to a door for us to go in and then walked away. First impressions of the staff were not good. They were either non-existent or seemed uninterested and unhelpful.
Venue Accessibility & Accessible Seats
We continued through the set of doors, which we had to open since there was no one staffing this area. If I had been on my own then I wouldn’t have been able to get through the doors. It was pitch dark as we entered and the support act was still on stage. We approached one of the two stewards that were standing near our section and handed our ticket to him. The steward shone his torch on the ticket and then pointed to the ramp with zero intention of taking us to our seats, let alone explaining where we would even find our seats.
It was so dark that I couldn’t see where the ramp was. By this point, the steward had already turned his back on us so Allan had to ask him where our seats were and if he could show us. The steward reluctantly took us up the ramp but marched ahead of me and I still couldn’t see where I was driving my wheelchair. He didn’t shine his torch to light up the path, so I had to struggle to pull my phone out and turn on my torch so I could see where I was going. Once at the top of the ramp and before we were able to find out where our seats were he had walked away from us. His customer service was non-existent.
On the plus side, our accessible seats were great and gave us an amazing view of the stage. We were the closest we’ve ever been to the stage at an arena show. It was fantastic and I couldn’t wait for Kings of Leon to arrive on stage. It was so exciting that we were going to be able to see them up close.
We were at the end of the accessible row, which allowed me some flexibility and freedom to position my wheelchair to face the stage straight on since there was no one sitting on my right side. If I wasn’t seated at the end of the accessible row then I would have been restricted to how I could position my wheelchair due to the awkward layout of the arena.
The layout means that seats are facing away from the stage at a 90-degree angle, which is very straining on your neck and back. This would not be good for my condition and would cause me a lot of pain and discomfort if I was to sit twisted the whole night looking at the stage. I think most people would struggle with this, but more so for wheelchair users who aren’t able to shuffle and change their position while sitting in their wheelchairs unlike someone sitting in a standard seat.
Kings of Leon
One of the last times I saw Kings of Leon, I was sat on a disabled platform in the rain wearing a poncho at the Glasgow Summer Sessions in Bellahouston Park. This time we’re warm and dry inside and more excited than ever to see them perform.
As the drums to the opening track begin, the whole stage fills with smoke and the red velvet curtain rises slowly to reveal the band’s silhouettes against a red glow of the lights.
Their set began with a lot of their older songs and after the 4th or 5th song, Caleb finally speaks with a simple “Thank you guys”. Before starting the next song he utters those trademarks words “We are Kings of Leon” in that dry husky Southern voice that I love.
For the first 45 minutes, they had the whole crowd going wild until the Nathan, Jared and Matthew left the stage to allow Caleb to perform an acoustic set, which was amazing. The boys then joined Caleb again for a fantastic acoustic version of Comeback Story before leaving him again to perform a broken down version of ‘Walls’.
Halfway through the track, the curtain rises to reveal a much larger stage in all its glory with a full band, instruments, lighting and screens. Kings of Leon then transform the mellow ‘Walls’ into a much more rocky version. It was so good!
The set kept getting better as the night went on and they performed all the popular fan favourites like ‘Use Somebody’ and ‘Sex on fire’ as well as tracks from their new album Walls, including ‘Find Me’, ‘Muchacho’ and ‘Waste a Moment’. The band are on top form and Caleb’s voice is just insane! The light show and visual graphics made for a really impressive show.
Thankfully exiting Utilita Arena was a lot easier than entering as we didn’t have to fight our way through the massive crowds or have to deal with unhelpful staff. We left our accessible seats, headed through the set of doors into the corridor and then through a side door. This took us outside away from the crowds of people. We walked around the building passed the band’s tour buses and to our car. It was very easy and before we knew it we were in the car and quickly left the carpark before it got the chance to become blocked with queuing cars trying to leave. We were back at our hotel within 5 minutes where we then relaxed in our lovely accessible hotel room for the rest of the night.
Being the largest concert and exhibition venue in the North East of England, Utilita Arena has both good and bad points in terms of accessibility. I can’t describe how much I loved the easiness of booking accessible tickets, but I feel more could be done to improve the venue accessibility and that includes staff attitudes and disability awareness. I was lucky to get a good accessible seat, but I don’t like the overall layout of the seats unless you like leaving a gig with a stiff neck and sore back. The staff were very ignorant and unhelpful to me as a wheelchair user, which makes me wonder how they treat people with invisible disabilities. Sometimes all it takes is a friendly smile and approachable manner to make a big difference, but I didn’t experience any of that.
Stay tuned for more posts from our Kings of Leon road trip!