What Is The Music Festival Experience Like For A Deaf Person?

We spoke with Joseph Hill, a deaf attendee who his enjoying his first time at Bonnaroo Music Festival.

MANCHESTER, Tennessee — After noticing American Sign Language interpreter Jenn Abbott at the front of SZA's set at Bonnaroo, we spoke with her about what's required for effectively interpreting music for deaf patrons, how she prepares for shows, and so much more. After our chat, Jenn was gracious enough to connect us with Joseph Hill, a Bonnaroo attendee taking full advantage of the awesome services offered by Jenn and the organization she works for, Everyone's Invited.

We caught up with Joseph and Jessica Minges, another one of the interpreters at Bonnaroo—who you can watch in action below—after Hozier's set, where he shared what his Bonnaroo experience has been like and so much more.

MTV: Why did you decide to come to Bonnaroo?

Joseph Hill: Well, I had heard about Bonnaroo because an interpreter friend of mine told me about this and said I should come because they know I enjoy music. Growing up, I listened to a lot of music—even though I’m deaf I do still listen to a lot of music, and I might not know all the lyrics, but I definitely feel that. And so my friend said, "You should really come," and so this year, I decided to come, and I’ve really enjoyed the experience. I’m happy to be here with the access program and the artists and, you know, the interpreting team. Everyone has their own individual style, and that’s awesome. Between my personal preference and the interpreter’s style, I feel really connected to the experience.

MTV: Have you been to other festivals?

Hill: Oh, yeah. Last year, I went to Summerfest in Milwaukee. I’ve gone to concerts, like, for specific artists, but as far as festivals, I think just here at Bonnaroo and Summerfest.

MTV: Why did you want to see Hozier, in particular, today?

Hill: Really, I like his songs, especially “Take Me To Church.” I’ve heard that several times, and I’ve heard several of his other songs, so I just felt like I wanted to see him in person. And his music is awesome and, I don’t know, I just enjoy listening to his music, seeing the lyrics, feeling that same emotion, feeling that connection with him. So, I came for that reason. Plus, you know, there are other artists I want to see, too.

MTV: What other artists are you looking forward to seeing at Bonnaroo?

Hill: Tonight, I’m really looking forward to watching Childish Gambino. He’s one of my favorite artists, and I always look forward to seeing him because he’s way out there. I’m sure he’ll be really visual—it’s like he becomes almost alien. There’s that video where he’s singing with Jhene Aiko and at the end he becomes an alien and so I saw that and was like ‘Whoa, really? That’s kinda odd, but I like it.’ Yeah, I enjoy his music, I follow him. Another is Mumford & Sons and D’Angelo, of course. I like him, too, I’ve liked him for years.

Maeve Keirans/MTV


MTV: Is there a specific style of interpreting you're drawn to?

Hill: Hmm. I’ve seen a lot of the different styles on the interpreter stand and I really like them all. It depends on the music itself and it really depends on the song, the meaning of the song, and how that song can be portrayed—it’s a big package. It’s about the music—really they’re here to create an experience and create access for the deaf patrons like me. For example, if it was rap or dance music, then I want to see more body movements and certain behaviors that mimic the artists, so like, you see that a lot with rap or hip-hop. I want to see that within the interpretation, I like that. Or with love songs, I want to see more facial expressions, I want to feel connected to the music, I want to feel that emotion. I want to feel that connection.

I love music, and that’s all. I like to read lyrics, and I listen to music on my own, and I just really enjoy it.

MTV: Do you tend to be drawn to lyricists more?

Hill: Oh yeah, of course. I’m a thinker, so I really like to read the lyrics and consider what it means. I like music that shows that the artist is really introspective and expressive—I like that kind of artist.

MTV: What is your experience of going to a music festival like?

Hill: I know you’ve heard a little bit about the interpreting, and for deaf people, it really depends on their needs and interests. For me, I can hear the music OK, and I see the lyrics that are signed, so I’m able to go between the two, but for other people, if they’re profoundly deaf, that might be a different experience for them. So, I know that some interpreters will add actual music through sign—they’ll add the actual instruments through sign, plus the lyrics and others don’t—and I like to see the difference in interpreters and how they create an experience for the deaf patron. It’s important that we have communication. We’re just people—we’re cool, and friendly, and everyone high-fives.

I really feel like I’m involved in the experience, I don’t feel isolated or anything, and so, I think it’s a great experience for deaf people.

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