Disability advocate Melissa DiVietri launches the Still Loading festival with a mission to make electronic music and art accessible to all
By Jamie Ludwig
After more than a year without live music events, the announcement of a weekend-long music and arts festival might sound unbelievable, but Still Loading event is set to become reality May 22-23 at Detroit’s Beacon Park.
Presented by DI Techno, a Detroit-born, women-run creative collective of electronic-music marketers and event producers, the festival will feature art installations, including Los Trompos, an interactive, 3-D installation from Mexico City, plus live artists and 24 DJs who will spin house and techno music across two tents.
The festival is the brainchild of Melissa DiVietri, 32, the founder of DI Techno as well as a DJ, artist and disability advocate. The convergence of self-empowerment, music and art is central to the Jackson native’s life: She was born with sacral agenesis, a rare condition characterized by the absence of part or all of the sacrum and lower spine. “I’ve had 14 surgeries and spent half of my life in a wheelchair,” she says. “People would tell me ‘You’re never going to walk.’” She now uses arm crutches to move around.
The concept of acceptance has served as an inspiration for DiVietri — who’s organized house and techno events from Detroit and Chicago to Colombia — since she launched DI Techno in 2018. She’s subsequently assembled a core team of five women and a network of nearly 60 volunteers worldwide, some of who also live with disabilities. “We only know what we’ve experienced because of challenges faced from accessibility, and by taking away the barriers, there is a lot more opportunity for everyone to feel welcome,” says DiVietri, who also aims to employ women who live in places that may not afford them equal rights. That includes her agency director, who lives in Pakistan and applied to the job under a man’s name. “She told me, ‘I didn’t tell you [I’m a woman] because women in my country can’t have jobs like this,’” DiVietri says.
The idea for Still Loading was born last spring, after DiVietri — who splits her time between Detroit and Medelin, Columbia, where she goes to escape the cold winters that exacerbate her condition — was playing music for her neighbors at Capitol Park. “One weekend security came out and made a big stink about it,” she says. “Everyone watching was booing them.” She reached out to Detroit Downtown Partnership, who manages the park, about her experience and connected with CEO Eric Larson. He recognized DiVietri from a TEDx Detroit talk she gave about finding empowerment through living with a disability and asked if she’d like to host an event in one of the city’s parks. “Getting in trouble by security turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” she says.
Citing her personal experiences navigating clubs and music events with limited accessibility, DiVietri says that it was crucial that Still Loading be ADA-compliant, down to the bathrooms. “There’s going to be a platform for wheelchairs and crutches and folks that want to be elevated for being short, and LED walls specifically designed for folks with vision impairment,” she says. “We really want to be the leaders for making everyone feel accepted.”
DiVietri estimates Still Loading will draw approximately 3,000 people to see Los Trompos — which features eight colorful, large-scale spinning tops that people can sit and swing on — plus work from local artists including Danny Pachman, Sanda Cook, and Justin Cinquemani (at press time, the complete artist and musical lineup was TBD), a tent showing films and food trucks. The event will be free and open to attendees 18 and up. “We are not simply putting on a festival,” says Jenny Cameron, DI Techno’s artist relations manager. “We’re bringing in people from all over the world to share an experience that we have all missed so much during the past year.” Adds Beacon Park manager Meg Heeres, “Beacon Park is committed to highlighting and supporting all types of artists, from local to international and performative to visual makers. We’re excited to host a festival that is truly accessible for Detroiters and beyond.
”DiVietri, who will also be DJ’ing under the name DJ Missy DI (“I’ll be on the lineup with some deep house vibes,” she says), stresses that inclusivity and connection are as much of the point of Still Loading as the music and art. “No matter what differences you have, use your unique differences as your opportunity,” she says. “I want to change the game so that other ladies can break the barrier.”