Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well Shows a Hit With Deaf Fans Too
Located about 60 yards from the stage at the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well shows at Chicago’s Soldier Field was a dedicated section for the band’s deaf and hard-of-hearing fans. A new report describes what the nights inside the “Deaf Zone” were like.
According to The Wall Street Journal, three interpreters took turns translating songs’ lyrics into sign language from a podium, reading the words off a tablet, while a 55-inch video screen allowed fans to read the musicians’ lips. One of the interpreters, Molly Wilson, said that the job involved more than fluency in American Sign Language.
“Everybody approaches the task differently,” she said. “First you have to study the skeleton of the song, where it’s going and what it’s trying to say. You have to unpack the meaning, and yet you can’t give it an exact translation, because there are some parts of the songs that aren’t really meant to be directly translated. You have to give enough of the idea, then step out of the way.”
The “Deafheads,” as they call themselves, started in the ‘80s around Galludet University, a school for the deaf in Washington, D.C. On previous tours, they had to work with the band’s sound man, Dan Healy, for space. But for the Fare Thee Well shows, promoter Peter Shapiro got involved after being contacted by Mark Dorsey, a counselor at a school for the deaf in California. He coordinated with the stadium to set up the zone to the fans’ specifications and made sure that deaf fans all had special passes to enter.
Dorsey called the experience “amazing. Just a major double thumbs-up.”
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