Earlier this month, Kanye West received a great deal of bad press after a misunderstanding where he tried to get everyone in the crowd to stand up, during a concert in Australia. After pointing out a couple of fans in the audience, Kanye later realized that one of the individuals was in a wheelchair and then continued the concert by performing his hit ‘Good Life’. After a number of misleading headlines, incorrectly suggesting that Kanye shamed the disabled man, Kanye performed a hometown surprise set at Chicago’s AAHH! Fest, just a few days later. In the audience was another very special surprise guest, but he wasn’t there to perform, he was there to enjoy some good live music.
Thirty-six-year-old, Rick Guardino (known by many as Rollin’ Rick) was born with cerebral palsy and used to sit in the designated handicap areas at concerts to enjoy the music. But ever since Lollapalooza 2013, he decided to change things up and go into the crowd directly, something that many in his position never experience. After two strangers in the Lollapalooza crowd asked Guardino if he wanted to go up and crowd surf at the show, despite safety worries, Rick decided that you only live once and to take the chance. Although he thought his time crowd surfing wouldn’t last long, he surfed all the way to the front and up to the photo pit. Ever since, Rollin’ Rick has crowd surfed at shows and made the most out of his concert experiences.
Last Sunday, at Kanye’s surprise Chicago performance, was no exception. Rick again decided to join the crowd and enjoy the music to the highest degree, and we caught up with Rick to talk about his experience Sunday night. “As soon as Kanye came on, I’m like ‘we gotta get to the redzone.'”, Rick told us. As Rick moved deeper into the crowd, he told people around him that he wanted to go up, and Rick’s friend Tim got the helpful fans around them to help pick Rick up. Soon after, this is when Kanye first noticed Rollin’ Rick. After Rick began to crowd surf, Kanye looked into the Chicago crowd and noticed Rick’s effort and gave him a salute that Rick will never forget. “When I first heard about (the wheelchair incident in Australia), I thought (Kanye) was probably a dick head, but after I crowd surfed and he saluted me and pointed me out, I changed my mind totally around.” Rick also told us how the the incident in Australia was likely a misunderstanding in his opinion, as the press “likes to dig into stuff” and “blow things out of proportion.” Rick finally told us that he both likes Kanye’s music and Kanye as a person, and that crowd surfing at his show was “a rush like no one could imagine.”
When we asked Rick if there was anything else that he wanted to let our readers know, he wanted us to touch base on a recent a YouTube clip, which recapped AAHH! Fest and described Rick as a “troll” who was trying to piss Kanye off. Rick certainly was not trolling. I first had the pleasure of meeting him a month ago at North Coast Music Festival, he simply has a unique love for music, has been crowd surfing ever since Nine Inch Nails at Lollapalooza in 2013, and his wheelchair is certainly no prop. As Rick told us “I was not trying to piss Kanye off. I was just trying to show him some respect and I think I showed him that.” As Kanye’s salute would suggest, the respect was definitely well received.
It is rare to find a story more inspiring than Rick’s. When the media sensationalizes artists in a negative way, it seems that all anyone wants to report about that person is negative. Too many editors will choose the headline of “Kanye shames a man in a wheelchair” over “Kanye tries to get his crowd hyped for his performance”, no matter which is more accurate. While many love to hate Kanye, many forget that he is an artist who puts everything into his craft and dedicates his life to making sure his fans enjoy the best quality of music. Rick is certainly someone who appreciates Kanye’s effort and live music in general. While crowd surfing in his position is very dangerous in ways, and definitely is not for everyone, Rick makes the most out of his situation. In Australia Kanye wanted everyone to stand up, which was simply impossible for some. Sunday night, Rick did the impossible. Despite his disability, he stood up at a Kanye show. He just had to be creative about it. Music is for everyone, whether you are black or white, tall or short, disabled or not. Rick is living proof that despite the circumstances, you can always ‘Touch the Sky’ at a Kanye West performance.
Thanks to Rick Guardino and Tim Rodriguez for their time and for talking with us. Check out our pictures of the Kanye performance and a fan image of Rick crowd surfing below.