On this special episode, we speak with a group of deaf and hard of hearing fans and interpreters about their experiences at Phish shows and their experiences with music in general. Special thanks to Joel Gershon, a lecturer at the Communications school of American University, who has done research on this topic and who set this up for us.
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Helping Friendly Podcast
Episode 171: “Inside This Silent Scene”
RJ Bee: What’s up, everybody? Welcome to The Helping Friendly Podcast, this is episode 171. This is RJ, I’m here with Matt and Matt and I are very close geographically, but so far away. I know it’s amazing.
Matt Dwyer: Like we’re usually way further apart from each other and now we’re, what, maybe about a mile from each other and forbidden from seeing each other.
RJ Bee: We did plan on potentially standing across the street from each other with beers and yelling bad Phish opinions at each other. We should do that.
Matt Dwyer: We could actually. It’s kind of a ghost town out there, so it wouldn’t be too weird if we did it.
RJ Bee: So, Matt, everything’s like our lives have changed dramatically over the past two weeks. It’s crazy. And I assume it’s going to change more. We talked about this on the pod last week and we’re working on some stuff that we’re hoping to do during this period, like some virtual concerts and things like that. But what’s your take on sort of where the music industry is now? Like what’s going to happen over the next several months, in your opinion? And how should music fans be be taking this all in?
Matt Dwyer: Yeah, it’s a shame, because I think that the big problem right now, as far as we can tell, is we don’t have an understanding of how long this is going to go on, right? And once things kind of normalize again, what it’s going to take for the concert and live events industry to kind of ramp back up for things to get scheduled, how it’s going to impact if there’s gonna be like restrictions on, you know, crowd sizes and stuff like that. So nobody knows. I mean, my heart goes out to all the artists and everybody and related jobs, people that work at venues, people that work at bars near the venues, all that stuff that’s affected by this. There’s a lot of artists that we know and love who…This is a disappointment and they’re gonna lose some revenue and stuff like that. But there’s a lot of other people that this is going to be pretty devastating for because they really rely on every penny that they get out of creating great live music experiences. So, you know, when you see some of these live streams that people are doing, if they’re taking donations, if they’ve got Patreon accounts or anything like that, you know? What I’m doing is I’m taking the money that I would have spent going out to concerts, you know, for the time being and putting it into that stuff, into buying albums on Bandcamp, you know, anything that we can just to kind of keep keep these folks, you know, in some money and eating and whatnot.
RJ Bee: Yeah, that’s a good point. After I after I bought out the entire nation’s stock of toilet paper [laughs], then I started giving money to two musicians. That’s not a good joke now, but it’s interesting. Like, there are people like agents and managers and others who work on totally on commission. So, some of the artists like, you know, they get merch money and other stuff. And obviously there are splits with some people and all that. But there are people who will like not have any income until concerts start happening again. I mean, same with the service industry at restaurants in many, many, many other industries.
Matt Dwyer: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So. I mean, one of the things that I’ve seen that could be helpful that I’d love to take advantage of if the opportunity comes up, seeing some musicians offering opportunities for lessons over Skype calls and stuff like that. So that’s another good way to support some of your favorite artists. And also, you know, maybe learn a little bit something from them. But yeah, I mean, just just think about how you can help everybody out in general right now. If we all kind of work together, the impact won’t be too bad.
RJ Bee: Yeah. And I think by the time people are listening to this, it’s sort of sunk in that the recommendations about social distancing and not gathering in big groups is pretty legit. And you know, from a Phish perspective, like the my take is the more we adhere to the rules, the more likely it will be that we’ll see Phish sometime soon.
Matt Dwyer: Yeah, yeah. It’s a bummer. And I mean even if it comes down to summer tour being canceled or something like that, you know, if that’s the thing that has to happen to make sure that summer tour can happen for the next 20 years, then then let’s do it.
RJ Bee: Also, if you want updates and news about shows that are canceled, about coach tour shows, about virtual shows and any other updates, you can check out Jambase.com/Coronavirus. And they’re also bringing in news from around the Web on this as well, not just about what’s canceled, but about what else is happening and how things are going to develop. So check that out. So Matt, we have a pretty cool episode and we’ve dealt with some kind of big issues on this podcast, you know, aside from all of our joking and bad opinions. And I think this is one of those really important episodes that came together through a connection that you made a long time ago.
Matt Dwyer: Yeah. So, shout out to my friend Jen Horan. I saw her at Merriweather last summer. And when we got in the parking lot and found her, she’s immediately said, you know, you’ve got to meet my friend Joel. He’s been working on a really cool research project. You’ve got to have him on your podcast. So I met I was introduced to Joel Gershon, who did a research project that he actually presented at the Phish Studies Conference in Oregon last year. And it’s all around the experience for deaf and hard of hearing fans in the community. Mostly these are all Phish fans that we talked to, but they shared their experience with Dead and Company and some other bands as well. Joel’s research not only kind of talked about what the experience is like for deaf and hard of hearing people at shows, which in itself I actually think is really, really fascinating. The part that I wasn’t expecting was to help us understand how the experience is sometimes not great just for reasons of logistics and you know, the actual experience in the venue like where they get placed, the kind of interpreters they have and things like that. So as we were talking to Joel, it became very obvious that this is an important story to share, because I don’t know that the fan base in general is aware of what the experience is like for these fans who, as they pointed out several times, you know, pay the same amount of money that we have to pay and go through the same hoops dates and sometimes way more difficult to get tickets. And how that experience is a little bit lacking sometimes.
RJ Bee: Yeah. And if you’re listening and you’re thinking some things like I was thinking like, wait, so how do people who are deaf or hard of hearing, why did they go to concerts if they can’t like hear the music? And we did ask our guests about that. And we had some really enlightening conversations about how people experience music, which I thought was really fascinating. But also to me, to your point Matt, not just that they pay the same price, but sometimes they pay the same price and then can’t even be in a situation where they can see an interpreter or even have an interpreter. So I didn’t realize that the Dead had like totally addressed this like decades ago. So, I learned about that, too.
Matt Dwyer: Yeah. So it’s a really interesting discussion. I was disappointed, unfortunately, I had a family thing come up and I wasn’t able to join you guys the day that you did this. But in listening back to the conversation, it was extremely enlightening. We should talk a little bit about how the recording process, and experience for the listener, is going to be slightly different than a normal episode here. RJ, since you were in the room with everybody, maybe you can explain the way that we were working with the fans as well as interpreters that we had there.
RJ Bee: Yeah, sure. So we were at American University where Joel, the guy who set this up, that Matt mentioned. He’s a lecturer in the school of Communications, so he set up this conference room and we had four fans and four interpreters two fans and two interpreters on the phone and two fans and two interpreters in the room and then me and me and Joel. And it’s interesting because you’ll hear people talking. You’ll hear me talking and Joel and then you’ll hear the interpreters speaking on behalf of the people they are interpreting for. So you might hear if you hear the person say, “This is…” and then a name, most likely that person’s interpreting. We do have an interpreter, Donnie, who kind of speaks for himself at times. And he’ll he’ll clarify between. “This is Donnie speaking for myself” versus this is Donnie speaking for Aaron, the fan he was interpreting for.
Matt Dwyer: Yeah. Exactly. So, you know, don’t be surprised. For example, one of the fans, Mike, was being translated by a woman named Meghan. So you hear Meghan say, hey, you know, this is Mike, you’ll understand what’s going on. The other thing that I wanted to point out is whenever we have these types of conversations, there’s obviously a bunch of editing that has to happen just to make the conversation flow really well. Usually that’s me taking out something dumb that R.J. said which is where he texts me and says, “Hey, people can’t hear me saying that.” [laughs] So I take out things like that or awkward silences. This was a little bit different. What I did was I wanted to try to keep in really every word of the conversation because I thought that it was all extremely important. The nature of the conversation and the process that RJ just described means that there were a lot of pauses in the audio where, for example, maybe RJ asked a question, an interpreter had to, you know, interpret that to sign language for the responded. They started to sign their response and the interpreter starts to speak. So I did kind of tighten up some of those gaps just so that the podcast listening experience here flowed pretty well for you. But you will hear actually at times some spots where I left it in where you can…It sounds like people are talking in the background. That’s actually communication between the question respondent and the interpreter and then the interpreter back to to the mic. So, you know, you’ll hear a little of that as the as the episode goes on.
RJ Bee: Yeah. I just I should say that the people I introduce everyone at the beginning, but you’ll you’ll hear from several people. And hopefully this will all make sense when you start listening. But, you know, you should just pay attention to who’s talking. And I should say about the transcript as well – We’ll have a transcript of this so that deaf and hard of hearing fans can follow along and enjoy the episode. And we did that with FREAK FLAG FLYING per the request of Steve Silberman, the host. And we’re hoping to do that a lot more with a lot more a lot more of our podcasts just to make it more inclusive and make sure that people can enjoy podcasts, not just in listening form. So I guess we should get in so we get into it, man.
Matt Dwyer: Yeah, let’s share the conversation that you had with everybody. Once again, I think this is a very important topic. We’ve covered some heavy topics in the past, but this is one that came out with kind of surprisingly, I don’t think this was on a lot of people’s radar. And it also ends with a lot of really, really good recommendations about how the experience can be made better for for these fans.
RJ Bee: Cool. And of course, if you like what you hear from us, give us a review on Apple podcasts or where you get your podcast. That would be helpful for us. And yeah, we’ll get you guys on the flip side, we’ll keep bringing this stuff to you as much as we can and we’ll talk to you soon. Let’s get in on the conversation. Keep on rockin, everybody.
[Audio: “The Vibration of Life”]
RJ Bee: All right, so I am here at American University on a Sunday with I think there are 10 of us total. So, this is an experiment and something really important that we want to do and that we’ve never done before. So, I’m going to introduce everyone and then we’re gonna talk a little bit about what this episode is about. So, I’m RJ. I think most of you listening know that. And on Skype, we have Donnie, who is an interpreter with Aaron. And there’s Beth also on Skype, who is an interpreter for Chris. Chris and Aaron are both Phish fans who are going to participate in the conversation. And then here in the room, I have Joel Gershon, who you’ll hear from him in a second. He’s the reason that we’re all here today. And we have Katie, who is interpreting in the room. And Meghan, who is interpreting for Mike. And then Mike and Brian are also here, two Phish fans. So thank you guys all for joining us, guys and ladies. So, I guess first for people listening, Joel, can you tell us a little bit about how we ended up in this room and why we’re all here today?
Joel Gershon: Yes, I definitely can. It it all started when, I teach here at American University at the School of Communication, and I saw online that there was the Phish Studies Conference that took place last May at Oregon State University. And since I teach here, and research is an important part of being a professor, I knew that there was no way I could let this opportunity to potentially present, or be a part of that Phish Studies Conference, go. I couldn’t let it go without trying to at least submit something and see if it got accepted. So I was thinking of topic or was trying to think of topics, and I was at New Year’s at the New Year’s show last year and this year as well, but this all happened last year, and I was walking out on New Year’s and right in front of MSG, I saw two people having an American Sign Language conversation. So it kind of just hit me as soon as I saw it, I was like woah, that’s pretty interesting — maybe I should introduce myself. Maybe that could be a topic. So I did, I went up to them, introduced myself, got their information, and I pretty much from there spoke to those two. You know, I reached out to them and learned as much as I could and then kind of step by step, person by person, organically, I got to know a bunch of people who are deaf or hard of hearing as well as interpreters, and I put in an abstract to the Phish studies conference, it got accepted, and then I really dove in over the next several months to learn everything I could about what it’s kind of like to be a deaf person and Phish fan and the issues that kind of come up and I presented last May at the Phish Studies Conference, which was an incredible experience. And I can say that I learned a tremendous amount thanks to the people that we’re hearing from today. And, you know, I ended up meeting Matt, your co-host, who’s not with us today. And I met him at Merriweather last summer, and I was just telling him about my research. And he seemed to think it would be a great idea for a show. So here we are several months later and very excited about the opportunity to kind of let your listeners know a lot about the things that I learned. And of course, to hear from these deaf Phish fans and hard of hearing Phish fans for themselves.
RJ Bee: Thank you. So I want to go around and maybe have each participant, so we have four Phish fans. Well, we have actually 10 Phish fans here. But four Phish fans that we’re going to get the perspectives of: Chris, Aaron, Mike and Brian, and maybe we can start on the phone, or on the video. Aaron and Chris, I’d love to hear from you all. Just so our listeners know: How do you describe yourselves in terms of how, and how should we describe you all in terms of deaf, hard of hearing and what’s the right way to describe and talk about people like you?
Chris: This is Chris. I’m 42 years old. I’m from Boston, Massachusetts, just to introduce myself. I am deaf, but I do wear hearing aids on both ears. I do use my voice when I choose to. I grew up being educated orally. But I did go to school for the deaf, and then I was mainstreamed. But my love for music didn’t really show up into my life until I was about 12. I bought my first CD, Beastie Boys and Arrested Development and then needed more access to music from there. So I kept adding to my musical preferences.
Aaron: Hi, everybody, this is Aaron speaking. I’m from Seattle, Washington, and I am consider myself hard of hearing. So what that means is I have a lot of hearing. I have a lot of access to sound. I do wear hearing aids and I go to a lot of shows. I go to a lot of Dead and Company, any Grateful Dead-related shows. And I’m really blessed to have the amplification, that I have, the access to my hearing through hearing aids. I do feel the music in addition to not only what I can hear, but through the vibrations, the rhythm and the beat sounds that I feel through the arena. So that’s kind of where I’m at.
RJ Bee: Thank you, Mike. Can we hear from you?
Mike: OK. So my name is Mike. I went to a mainstream school for elementary through high school, and I was one of the only deaf people in a hearing classroom. I do remember my first experience with music probably was with Pearl Jam. One of my old favorite bands, and when it comes to calling a person deaf or hard of hearing, it depends on the person’s cultural sensitivity to the culture itself. For example, I call myself deaf, but other people could call themselves hard of hearing or whatever they prefer because of the cultural context. But it’s important to keep in mind that when a hearing person approaches a deaf person, you’ve got to make sure, they have to make sure they call them the appropriate name. You can say deaf or hard of hearing, but the word hearing impaired is not used anymore at all.
RJ Bee: Thank you. How would a hearing person know, like you’re just saying use, hard of hearing or deaf, either, if you don’t know.
Mike: Yes. That gives the option then to the person of how to call them the appropriate word for whatever they choose. You know, for example, I could tell anyone that, you know, Brian is deaf, but in his eyes he might be hard of hearing. Right. So it really depends on how the person reacts based on their experience is because all deaf and hard of hearing people are not all the same.
RJ Bee: Got it. Thank you. Thank you for that, Brian. Can we hear from you?
Brian: I’m Brian. I’m hard of hearing. I grew up in a mainstream environment with support services from the school. My first real deaf experience was actually in Rochester Institute of Technology, Deaf School. My first music experience probably goes all the way back to the days of U2: “Under A Blood Red Sky.” Went to that show at Joe Louis Arena, ever since that I’ve been hooked into music, go to more and more shows whenever I could. Through the years, I picked up all kinds of music venues rock, alternative, hip hop, jazz, industrial. If you can name it I probably heard of it, liked it or didn’t like it. Not sure what else to say.
RJ Bee: So you’re from Detroit?
Brian: Actually, yes. Flint, Michigan, actually, yes. Born in Detroit. Grew up in Flint, went to school in the township of Flint, not the city of Flint. All the water is still pretty bad out there.
RJ Bee: Well thank you, and Brian, maybe we can just stay with you, because I do want to talk about Phish. What what was your first Phish experience or a memorable Phish experience that made you realize that you wanted to be here, however many years later, still following the band?
Brian: My first Phish experience actually was 2014. It was the night before the Tweezer fest. My buddy Mike and I were just kind of, “Hey, want to go to show? Sure, why not?” We went to the show, at the show was just kind of like, woah, this is awesome. We tried to get tickets for the second night. That was already sold out, but that show was pretty much the rabbit hole. Three months later, we went to the shows in Miami, Florida. That was pretty what did us in. Ever since that it’s been: Phish is coming, when are the shows? Okay, we try to see if we can make it to the show.
RJ Bee: Amazing. That’s great. And Mike, was it the same experience, first exposure a few years ago?
Mike: Yeah. It was the same experience with him. But I did hear some Phish a couple of years before that. But I didn’t really understand the meaning behind that until I actually went into the concert. But I do want to add when we went to Miami, that was the first time that we experienced a big issue with the interpreters, because when we arrived there, the setup was not great. The seating and we were second floor and the interpreters that were there to interpret there were not music interpreters and they kind of freaked out and some of the songs were not appropriate [laughs]. So that was my, you know, my my memory of that piece of it, too. And then yes, but that did get me into the same rabbit hole.
RJ Bee: Wow I was at that Tweezer fest show and the night before and the Miami shows, too. So those were all, those were good ones to see. I mean, the night before the Tweezer fest, I think was a really good show, even though it doesn’t get as much recognition.
Joel Gershon: Yeah, this is Joel here, the guy who did the research. And I would say I would love for Brian and Mike to expand a little bit about the inappropriate song, because I think that that’s a really funny story that I included in my research.
Brian: This is Brian. Some of you guys know there’s a song called Sleeping Monkey that refers to…something else. During the lyrics, the interpreters that we had, one of them was kind of cringing when she was interpreting the song. That just kind of made it like, don’t do that. Because you’re supposed to just interpret, not show your facial expressions in disgust. It was just a little off. Other than that, it was a great show, but it was just, you know, someone I saw they really don’t agree with the lyrics and it was just kind of like…don’t do that.
RJ Bee: Yeah. I can see how that could be a little bit of a buzzkill to be…
Brian: Exactly. Yeah. Yes.
RJ Bee: Aaron, can we hear from you on your first Phish experience or what turned you onto the band?
Aaron: Yeah. Hi there. This is Aaron speaking. Well, I come from a background of a lot of Grateful Dead music and probably been to 40 plus Grateful Dead shows even with Jerry and the band. So, you know, I’ve kind of met a bunch of friends in my younger days at college and friends of mine told me, you gotta listen to Phish, gotta check out Phish if you’re into this than you might like that. So I went out, checked it out, I said okay. And at first I thought it was, it sounded okay, I do remember my first show. It was 1997 and that was the first show at Gorge. And I have to say in hindsight that experience was absolutely amazing. You know, if you want to compare and contrast that going to a big Grateful Dead show, it was like, it was like going to a circus. A Grateful Dead circus. No, I’m sorry. Scratch the circus. What I meant to say, it’s like going to church. It was like having a reunion with my church community. So, you know, going to Phish on the contrast was more like going to a fun house. And I absolutely love it. I have a great crowd, a great vibe, great group of friends. And of course, Trey really knows how to play to the crowd. He really plays to me as an audience member. I think I’ve probably been over at least 50 shows for Phish.
RJ Bee: Excellent. Thank you. So, Chris, I know you’re from the Northeast, so you, I wonder how long your history is with the band.
Chris: So after I bought my first two CDs that I was mentioning, I definitely felt like I needed to explore more albums. I bought three for 11 cents at the time. It was like a book club where you could get CDs for a penny and you know, you could get them for eleven cents each. So these CDs did not cost an arm and a leg, but Phish it was like the best deal of all time, or Hoist. It was a bargain. So I bought that. And I was checking out the lyrics of Phish and what they were all about and I knew that I needed to get myself more of that, but it was hard to find. Back then, it was hard to have access to the music. I went to a store called Newbury Comics and they had Junta and I bought that and I got it home. And I lit up and hot boxed in my car and checked out Fee and I was trying to listen to the lyrics and You Enjoy Myself. I think I was hooked after I heard that, it was a done deal. I had to have more Phish. So I went to my first show in ’95. And I was blown away by the experience of seeing the spinners and the crowd and the vibe there was definitely something I was into. And then Clifford Ball pretty much blew me away. And I was, that was it, I was in ever since.
RJ Bee: Chris, how many shows have you seen, do you think?
Chris: I say to date, 58.
RJ Bee: Really cool. So, Chris, I wanna stay with you for a second, because you were describing the first time that you listened to Junta. So for the people listening to this podcast who are wondering, how do you hear music and what is listening to music mean to you and how, I think most people listening might feel like they’re misunderstanding or like where we’re ignorant, or least I feel ignorant about it, so what does it mean to listen to music to you and how and how does that actually work?
Chris: Well, you know speaking of Phish specifically, at the shows, I definitely am watching each of the members of the band. I’m familiar with each of them and their work, so sometimes I’m just watching the band and seeing who’s jamming enough, who is shredding at that moment. I also love jazz as much as I love heavy metal, so I can follow the different signs.
RJ Bee: Well, I do want to get more feedback on that part. Maybe Aaron, if Aaron has thoughts on, you know, listening and hearing the music and experiencing the music live, what does that mean to you, Aaron?
Aaron: Well, the experience of a live show is, it’s remarkable. It’s just remarkable. And, you know, to be able to interact with people who are also doing the same thing. People who love the music. People who are jamming involved in the vibe. It’s just a beautiful experience. And I’m glad to be a part of it.
RJ Bee: Thank you. Thanks, Aaron. Mike, do you want to give your input on that? Just what hearing the music is to you and how you experience the music?
Mike: Well, it depends on the individual. But for me, I wear hearing aids and a cochlear implant so I can hear most specific, more specific levels of music. But I’m never able to understand the lyrics 100 percent. So I had to train myself to learn the lyrics, you know, myself. And then that helps with, you know, like with Twiddle, or I’m sorry, Twitter and to identify the song if I look on Twitter and then I can see what song it is. And then, you know, instead of just having, you know, doing that, the guess and try to guess to see what song it is next. So when I hear the music, I can actually it’s real and I can feel it. It’s like when Page plays and he does the famous synth thing, I can feel it and I can hear it. But with deaf people in general, I think that we feel more a little bit more sensitive to the sounds than we actually are hearing and trying to understand. So we always see them live, it feels like it’s it’s real. It’s where we’re close to the speakers, we you know, we can see how they’re reacting, you know, to what we are feeling or listening to as opposed to if I’m listening on a CD or, you know, on my iPhone or something, I can feel it somewhat, but it’s not loud enough to, you know, like it is in the arena.
RJ Bee: Thanks, Brian.
Brian: My turn. To sum it up, you know, without making it sound too complex. When I go to a show, I immerse myself into the music. Lyrics are hard for me to understand at times, but there are some songs you can pick up on a lyric. Like Tweezer, you know, it is easy to pick up some other songs are very softer. At the same time and watching people play, I’m sorry, the band members play. I can see who’s playing what if I look at them. Like if I see Trey, I can focus on what he’s playing on guitar. Fishman the drums, Page what he’s doing, you know, whatever he’s doing, which is piano, it’s mind boggling at times. And then we have Mike. For example, Colorado I think it was two years ago, Mike did the Squirming Coil outro. That was really nice. Just seeing him up there by himself and you can actually feel the music. Also, when Mike drops the bass bombs, usually I place myself closer to the front in front of the speakers. When he drops those bomb everything just shakes. And sometimes I feel bad for the interpreter too, dude is just like, “My ears!” Too bad, you’re paid to do this work anyway. But for the most part, I enjoy the music more. It’s easy to recognize and pick up. Also, I tried to pick up some of the songs that I can recognize with the intro. You know, like everybody knows the opening to Tweezer or they recognize the riffs. Another song, Fluffhead, with the slow intro it draws it in when everybody hears the intro. I also used to Twitter feed for Phish for the songs providing the cellular reception in the area when it works. But basically music in a light, everything is a pretty immersive experience.
RJ Bee: Thank you, Joel. Do you want to jump in?
Joel Gershon: Yeah. So they touched on some of the things that I came up with in my research, but specifically, as Brian just alluded to, you know, obviously the light show, Kuroda, is something that I’ve heard a lot from my respondents as one of the big draws. And when I was doing my research, I uncovered a quote from Chris Kuroda where he said, “More than just watching musicians play, you see a visual mood,” and then he’s saying, “I’m able to enhance or augment a certain song with the right colors to create the same mood that the music itself is trying to project. You can tune in people in yet another sense, so to speak.” So I think that kind of like is the perfect quote from Chris Kuroda himself, to kind of, I mean, I don’t want to speak directly for deaf people, but like I said, this is something I heard over and over again when I was interviewing people and getting information. And other things that they mentioned were lip reading, and, you know, just seeing the band’s emotions onstage are, you know, it seems to be major, majorly important things for the deaf and hard of hearing community. And of course, there’s the glowstick wars and things like that. And it’s kind of more of a thing with deaf and hard of hearing Grateful Dead fans who are also known as “deaf heads.” I don’t know if anyone here, saw Long, Strange Trip, the documentary series that was aired a couple of years ago at Amazon, but [it showed how it] was kind of a precursor to the Phish deaf scene. And one thing that I think is seems to be more popular among “deaf heads” than maybe the Phish deaf and hard of hearing crowd are holding on to balloons for that extra kind of vibration. I’ve seen some Phish fans do it, but it was sort of like I think part of the “deaf head” community more to hold on to balloons to really feel those vibrations. And I’ve tried it myself. And yeah, you really do feel it.
RJ Bee: Thanks, Joel. And I think Mike or Brian wanted to add something.
Mike: Yeah, I wanted to add something to what Joel was saying. So when Brian and I tend to go to concerts, we rely often on, you know, visual. You know, the lights are very important because with Chris, you know, when he does it, it’s magic what he does. It always fits the lyrics and actually makes us feel like we’re actually kind of hearing the music through our eyes, I guess. So when is the balloon or something like that that we can feel the vibration through the balloon. I don’t mean I inhale it [laughs], I feel it. And sometimes, for example, in Miami or any indoor arena, the sound tends to echo and that actually helps us feel it even more. So, for example, when me and Brian went to see JRAD at Red Rocks, and that was one of the best experiences in terms of actually feeling the music there because it’s inside and the echo as well.
RJ Bee: Off the rocks, too.
Mike: Right. Right.
RJ Bee: Amazing. Well, I want to ask. I think, Brian, you mentioned an experience at Miami that wasn’t good because you are on the second level. So it seems like maybe in general, is it just better to be as close as possible? And, you know, as visible of the band as possible, is that sort of a general rule in terms of where you try to be at shows?
Brian: This is Brian. Each person has their own preference where they want to sit or stand. Normally, being up in front, it just easier to see the band play, I can follow them playing instruments. Some people think, oh, you just need an excuse to get up to the front of the stage and like, no, it’s just for visual. Sometimes I like to be in the back and watch a visual light show, for example, Miami: The seats we had were far back, first row of the 200 level. The light visuals were great, but trying to pick up what the band was playing at first was a little more complicated. We didn’t know the music that well. We were, so you know, 3.0 noobs, that’s what we are. Other venues they put us up in the front. Colorado, Dick’s for example, they have their reserve spot every year. It’s nice but sometime you get people trying to sneak in, lurk in and find a way, “Hey, I know this person come on in,” it’s like no just get out it’s a reserved spot for disabled people. I think Aaron is one of the people who knows what I’m talking about also.
Mike: I want to add something to this comment, too. We go through the normal procedure to get the tickets, but it becomes more of a headache because when we get the tickets. And then we have to look and find, you know, the ADA department and find the contact. And Brian tends to be the one who does this, I’m very grateful for that, but the problem is, you know, we contact the ADA department, and basically, they’ll tell us something different sometimes. Then, you know, then Ticketmaster or Live Nation might have said. And so then we have to figure out, okay, well, where and how are we getting these tickets? And then it becomes a bigger problem when we find out than we have to actually exchange the ticket, because sometimes we might not get the same barcode to download, you know, for the music later. So that a lot of people have a misunderstanding, that we pay less than any other people. We don’t. It’s the same price we pay the same price. And as a regular fan, it’s just another level of accessibility that has to be equal. You know, and when we go up front, it’s more of a visual accessibility reason as opposed to just favoritism. We do walk around sometime in the back if we see better light show or whatnot. We want to feel the music differently. So we will sometimes move around that way, too. But specifically in Miami…So we’re in the upper level and then the interpreters were, I guess, on some kind of platform and the light was on them, but we couldn’t understand or try to figure out the concept behind that. So, after the show is finished, we contacted the arena, but their response was not very knowledgeable of the setup. So that’s why I think it’s very important for us as deaf people when we’re looking for accessibility to venues just to make sure that they understand what we’re looking for before, you know, they actually put it in action.
RJ Bee: Got it. Thank you for that. Chris, do you want to talk about either the venues or anything else? Because we’re going around and haven’t talked to you in a few minutes.
Chris: Actually, I would. Something related to that. I have definitely seen a bunch of times where I have reached out to venues and they’re like, “Ahh, a deaf patron. Let’s see. I’ll give you this phone number and you contact this person”. But this person usually ends up not being available for weeks at a time. So then I have to go back to the original person and navigate this and every venue is different in terms of their process. Some of them are experienced and seasoned at getting interpreters and some are rookies at getting interpreters. MSG, you definitely really have to start at the top and go to the managers. And do the managers really want to provide accommodations for deaf fans? I think often they don’t, actually, because it takes a lot of time and you have to sort of schmooze these people. There was one year where I really went at it with MSG because they had a terrible system at the time. And there are some folks in Boston, there are a lot of venues where they really know what they’re doing. They’ve been around. There’s one person who really was a trailblazer with a lot of these venues and said, I want access, I want these things in place and I’m really grateful. I would just like to recognize Gary Alford has really been a pioneer for access for deaf people in the musical venues here in Boston. So he’s really made things a lot more easy for folks like me to be able to navigate that process and get interpreters, where there are other venues where I’m not sure what’s going to happen. Atlantic City, I tried to reach out through their website to request interpreters and tried to reach out to their box office about summer tour and trying to figure out how I’m going to get access for those shows, trying to reach out to Phish, trying to reach out to the venue. And you really have to finagle things sometimes to get a hold of the right person and actually provide you with what you need. So not all of them know what to do.
RJ Bee: Thank you, Chris. Aaron, can we hear your perspective on this, because I know that you said that you saw a lot of Grateful Dead shows and from what I hear, the Grateful Dead had this figured out pretty well. So can you talk about the difference between seeing Phish shows and Dead shows and any other thoughts you have on the venue discussion?
Aaron: Dead and Company, they have a routine setup. That set up has been in place since, I don’t know, going on 20 years. And they use consistent interpreters. They bring in interpreters who are familiar with the music. It’s a really goodwill setup for the best experience possible. With Phish, you know, it really depends. Phish is newer and I hope over time that they can improve. It’s not, you know, with Phish it’s not, the music is newer and it’s harder to find the right interpreters in most venues.
RJ Bee: And Donnie, I think I saw you at Pittsburgh in fall tour. I was in the section right above the kind of zone where you were interpreting. And it seemed like that was. I don’t know how much you’ve been doing that, but can you just give a little bit of perspective from on the interpreters and on the Dead versus the Phish thing and how you’ve been involved?
Donnie: My work with the Dead and Company has been fabulous, to say the least. They’ve made sure that we’ve had an appropriate deaf zone. They’ve made sure that we’ve had an appropriate interpreter for each night. They made sure that it was non-negotiable with each venue. Most of the time we are negotiating with each and every venue. Each and every venue is a separate negotiation. In terms of payment, placement, access privileges, seating, lighting and sound access, sightlines, everything has to be renegotiated when we’re doing the Phish tour. But with Dead and Company, everything goes to their rider and it becomes standard practice for each and every show and the deaf fans can come to count on that. So, when it comes to Phish, we’ve had a real mixed bag. We’ve had venues that we’ve worked with in the past many times and those venues tend to go very smoothly. They understand what’s needed and what works. But other venues, newer venues, venues we’ve never worked before, it’s like the Wild West. We have to start from scratch each and every time and sometimes the product is left less than adequate. That being said, we have some terrific venues that we work with, places like The Gorge and Dick’s, SPAC, Fenway, they know how to do it. They know how to do it right. And they don’t blink their eyes. But venues that have zero experience with it, they tend to go with their default fallback ADA accommodation, which is usually somewhere in the back. Usually substandard in terms of what the Dead and Company provides, Aaron would like to jump in right now and make some comments.
Aaron: I’ve had a number of shows at the Worchester Centrum in Massachusetts, which is kind of the home of Donnie and Chris, and they have some of the worst accommodations out there. They tend to set us up very far back in the stadium. You know, literally, you can’t really see the show worth anything. And it really is not the best experience for an ASL user. Somebody who’s going to watch the interpreters and see a Phish show. It’s like watching Phish on your TV screen, except you’re in the back of the living room.
Chris: I would second that.
Aaron: It makes a big — being close makes a big difference.
Joel Gershon: Yeah, so this is Joel, the researcher. One of the things that I learned a lot about is, you know, all this is happening because of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA basically was signed into law in 1990 and then really went into effect in 1992. And what it says is that it mandates that deaf people are legally required to be accommodated in ways that prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation and all public and private places that are open to the general public, which would be a concert. And then there’s a specific requirement that a public accommodation provides effective communications. So effective communications doesn’t necessarily mean good communications. And that’s the reason why each venue kind of has its own way of providing what it considers to be effective communication. So you’ll have some places that do a great job and then some places like Madison Square Garden, which is, you know, a favorite venue of Phish every New Year’s that apparently really doesn’t provide very good accommodations and kind of puts people up in the 200 level, which, you know, as you’ve heard from some of the other guests here, is not close to the stage. And I probably should let the other people speak for themselves on this, but there are ways to trade in those tickets to get down onto the floor and to get closer. But then if you do that, they don’t have specific kind of guardrails that are giving the deaf people some protection against, you know, random people who are coming up to them. And, you know, at a Phish show, random people do tend to come up to you sometimes. I’ve had the opportunity to be in the deaf area, at the deaf zone at three different shows. And I can definitely tell you there are a lot of people who come up. Some of them are very well-meaning. They want to say how great it is and this and that. But a lot of times that’s not necessarily what, you know, if people are enjoying the show, they don’t necessarily want to be interrupted and especially the interpreters who are busy working…they want to be able to do their job and to provide the right communication. So, you know, a lot of times people think that they’re, you know, just paying tribute to, they want to connect to the deaf fans or to the interpreters. But, you know, really, that’s not the most helpful thing. But, you know, I should probably at that point let our fellow deaf guests speak for themselves on that.
Chris: I just went to New Year’s at MSG it was my first time since 2014. I was going in 2014 with two of my friends and they already had set up interpreters. At that time I didn’t know who they were. I went and they were two random interpreters, not folks that I was used to. They were okay. The setup was horrendous. And this was 2014, at that time, it was in section, I believe, 114, but we’re looking at the floor from section 114. Interpreters were not in the direct sightlines. They were off to the left, about 25 feet to the left. But we’re watching the interpreters who basically get whiplash when you try to look at the band. I have objected to that setup for quite some time, really for years. And it got to the point where I was pretty much done dealing with MSG. Basically they got to a point where they were done dealing with deaf people and they were trying to force deaf people to watch interpreters who were in a separate video studio and watch the interpreters secondhand on closed circuit televisions even further in the back. Basically, people were locked out of the experience and stuck in the back like second class citizens. Since that time, everything really has changed. I’ve seen some small areas of improvement with MSG, I think this past New Year’s and the person I dealt with from the ADA department was more accommodating. She was more attentive. I felt like she really listened to me. Like you have some hope that there is this possibility of change in the next few years. But, there are other venues where what they consider to be a reasonable accommodation is giving you a tablet. I’ve heard that they have written and say, here, here’s a tablet. You don’t get a live interpreter, here’s a tablet. You have to just deal with that.
Brian: OK. Some venues when I’ve dealt with them, they believe ADA laws say you must provide the interpreter and that’s good enough. If you will, they comply with the ADA law. It’s up to them. I don’t speak for venues, but when some people request interpreters, it’s not always the venue. It’s also sometimes with the promoters. The promoters actually are the ones that are paying for the event. Promoters are also responsible for deciding who they want to hire. It’s not, I want this person, they can decide they have the final say on that. No insult to Donnie, I know you love doing the shows and everything, but the process for ADA itself is, it is it is complex. For example, Atlantic City…social media, if you go to the website and you try to see contact information or on the Ticketmaster site, you click on it to takes you to the webpage and all you see is the picture of Phish playing. There’s no lead for contact. No ADA information, there’s nothing listed. Still, I tried today, no luck for trying to find interpreters for the show. Reached out to Phishtickets.com. I e-mailed them and said I have tickets for one night. My friend has tickets for the other night. We need interpreters. They said we can’t find your name, please have the other person contact us. It’s kind of like, “OK, can you give me a contact name?” They didn’t respond to that. So now my buddy had to get the tickets, get the interpreters for the show. In regards to accessibility. It would be great if Phish actually had a dedicated person, you know, or a specific contact or an email to make it easier to request interpreter not just for interpreters, but for everybody. It’s just a little more complex when you try to get tickets for a show and reach out to them and they say email this person, email them, three weeks later we’re going to respond back. “Oh, we don’t have any interpreters,” like, oh well, the show ended last week, thanks anyway. You know, it’s just like the response time was a little ridiculous at times. Myself, I prefer to reach out to the venue and explain to them. This is what I would like if possible. You know, if you have seats over on the side or on the stage. I try to work with these venues. Some venues it just, you know, you show up and they’re not prepared. Like, “Oh, we’re scrambling. We’ll get someone here as soon as possible for you,” or they don’t have a place reserved or section a reserved, nothing. You know, you’re on this little side seat like the two chairs and a little chair in front of you and it’s like okay, thanks. A little bit of a buzzkill.
RJ Bee: And Mike if you want to jump in. I did want to ask, like, what do you think Phish can do? Because it is complex, like you said, both of you guys have said it’s complex. Like there’s multiple people involved in multiple layers. There’s promoters, venues, the band management and lots of others. So what would you say Phish could do to help make this better overall?
Mike: Well, a couple of things. First of all, you know, I don’t I’m not trying to talk bad about Phish, but, you know, specifically when it comes to each concert, each venue or, you know, each band, they should have a dedicated person who is very familiar with the ADA, not just some random person that got stuck in there, like somebody who’s actually has expertise with ADA who can accommodate what our needs are. And I’m okay with, you know, getting the ticket through the normal procedure. But if the venue could, you know, hold some specific tickets for people who are disabled and we can get those tickets, once we got the confirmation that we got the tickets, then we then we can actually start to work out the interpreters. But the biggest, biggest problem, which is with each venue, a lot of times they look for a cheap way to save money by hiring an unqualified interpreter or just some random company that’s nearby to that area. For example, when oh, when we had the wash out with Colorado at Dick’s, you know, they had it already was set up. So we got the tickets and then we had to go to customer service to get special wristbands. They did allow us to go down to the ADA area. And it was awesome, as opposed to when we went to Camden recently and we had the same plan as Dick’s. But they got confused trying to understand why we had a regular general admission ticket and then why would we need wristbands. So then we had to contact Donnie and he was on the other side of the venue, had to walk all the way over just to show security, to get them to let us down there. So it’d be nice if Phish had, you know, one designated person who can work out all of the logistics for each venue instead of us, you know, trying to scramble around to, you know, barely make it. As you know, we have a hands-on experience with, you know, with venues who don’t hire the interpreter to the last minute, you know, which we appreciate. But, you know, you can you can see in their lack of skills, you know.
RJ Bee: Thank you, Donnie or Aaron. Do you do you want to weigh in on this?
Aaron: Yeah. Hi, this is Aaron speaking. This is 2020. Really, you know, some of the techniques and approaches from the arena feel like 1950s. You know how we get better access, it’s through education every single day. And that’s what we do. And to put it, quite frankly, it becomes a hassle and a burden upon the deaf people to continuously educate all the time, you know, to just ask for the right interpreters, to ask for the right accommodations, to ask for right logistics. It’s like we’re paying top dollar for our tickets. It’s not like we’re getting it for free or anything. If we buy a ticket, we want to make sure that we have an interpreter that knows all the music. And if they don’t know the music, like, why are they even providing the access in the first place? It’s like garbage. It’s a garbage accommodation, when you try to band it in that way. That’s why the deaf people are very hard on the venues. They’re very, they want to demonstrate that deaf and hard of hearing people have a legitimate gripe. It’s not like we’re trying to prove a point, but we’re deaf concert-goers and this is what we need. And lastly, every venue is still in need of education. If it’s basic ADA laws, what access means for deaf and hard of hearing people, they really should know better.
RJ Bee: Thank you, Chris. Any thoughts?
Chris: I would say that it would be nice to have a point person to work on the Phish end of things. Someone where they would be able to review things daily and say, what about deaf folks? Are there any deaf patrons coming to the show tonight? That would be so nice to have that luxury, to have one point person who is sort of always keeping us in mind and making sure that deaf folks are getting the right accommodations. Just that one person.
RJ Bee: Thank you. And Donnie. Do you have thoughts on that? On the Dead vs. or Dead and Company or Grateful Dead versus what Phish is doing or what other bands are doing? Is there a simple answer or is it pretty different depending on the band?
Donnie: Yeah, this is Donnie speaking as an interpreter. I’ve been very fortunate to have a working relationship with Live Nation and Dead and Company production who do keep their deaf fans in mind. They do make sure that there is something within their rider. That enables a deaf zone and consistent sign language interpreting hiring practices. They don’t permit other venues to hire their own interpreters. They want to screen and place their own interpreters. Phish has really never had that. However, I’ve had some positive experiences with Phish as well with the festival’s Curveball and Magnaball. They went out, screened and hired their own interpreters based on resume and experience. They do take care of us when we are on site and we do have appropriate accommodations. However, they don’t necessarily intervene when venues are making their own decisions, independent of what is standard practice in our view or what is standard practice in previous experience. They just kind of defer to the venue, and that’s a lot of time where we get stuck. So for MSG to have a standard practice of putting their interpreters in the 200 level. That doesn’t really jibe with the standard practice of other venues, but they just defer to MSG in those situations.
RJ Bee: Cool. Thanks, Donnie. And Joel, I think, wants to jump in and then we’ll do like a couple more minutes because I have one more specific question. But go ahead, Joel.
Joel Gershon: Yeah. So at the end of my research, I basically have a few recommendations or I guess if Phish was interested in kind of making some improvements and the thing that I’ve heard from pretty much most people involved is similar to what Donnie just said, is that they could just put something in their rider. It’s not, you know, the simplest thing out there, but it wouldn’t be that difficult to just sort of emulate what Dead and Company are doing. And then also Widespread Panic happens to have quite a good policy when it comes to their deaf and hard of hearing fans where they have one main interpreter. Her name’s Edie Jackson, if any Widespread fans are out there. She doesn’t do all the shows, but she does most of their shows and she’s very familiar with the music. She gets onstage sometimes even. And, you know, that’s considered to be kind of best practices. So, you know, Phish might in my opinion or, you know, I don’t exactly know. They probably just aren’t necessarily aware of what they potentially could do. I actually have sent a copy of my research just recently to Phish management. I’m hoping they take a look and, you know, maybe they’ll make some adjustments. I can’t say. But it’s in my estimation that they probably just don’t know what they could do because they’re busy putting on concerts and doing a million other things. And they don’t you know, they’re not experts when it comes to deaf and hard of hearing fans and the accessibility and accommodations necessary. I’m hoping maybe after this podcast and if they do take a close look at my study, that maybe they might make some improvements. I think if we make a big difference to the people that you’re hearing right here on the show.
RJ Bee: Thanks, Joel, and thanks everybody for your input. So I have a question just from a fan perspective. People who are listening and people like me, hearing fans, how can we interact with you all at shows without, you know, ruining the vibe or experience? Because like Joel said, a lot of times random people come up and want to say hi and chat with you. So just curious, like, what’s your, and it’s probably different for everyone, but what’s your personal preference on sort of interacting with people at shows and making new friends?
Brian: Don’t talk to me during the show when the band is playing
RJ Bee: Okay. That’s good for anyone.
Brian: Some people they still talk to me during when the band is playing. Talk to me before, during setbreak or after the show. You know, if a great song comes you might to tap me on the shoulder or nod your head in agreement. That’s cool. If you’re trying to have a conversation with me, I’m going to just ignore you. That’s what’s going to happen.
RJ Bee: That’s best practice for everybody.
Brian: Yeah, yeah. That’s what I do. The only other thing is when I go to show how sometimes some people who are dancing in front of me, they kind of keep moving back and bumping into me. They get annoyed when I say, hey, you’re stepping on my spot. Some people need like 25 feet of space. Some people need enough room to spin. But, all in all, really if you just cool with everything, you enjoy the music that’s what everybody is there for, that’s fine. Just don’t disrupt anybody during the music. That’s they’re there for the music. That’s pretty much, I think the gist of it.
Mike: I wanted to add to Brian’s comment. I agree with everything. And I’m more, I would like it more if hearing people actually approached us and asked us why we’re there as opposed to asking the interpreters and ask the other hearing people. For example, every time I go to Colorado and my brother will join us and people ask you, why are you in the front? Like, how did you get tickets like this? Blah, blah, blah. And my brother feels, you know, like it doesn’t want to be burdened to answer for me. So it’d be nice if they actually approached me. Yeah. When we go to other venues and we see the same fans and we talk with them, you know. But it’s something, because it’s something new, a lot of times people are just kind of in shock to see, you know, people in the front signing and then they feel that, you know, that they need to know now. Why are you there? But it’s important to understand that, you know, we’re enjoying the music at a different level. And sometimes we do like to be left alone until, you know, set break or after the show. And then we talk just like everybody else.
RJ Bee:Cool. Thank you. Thanks, Mike. Aaron, do you want to do and weigh in on that. And then and then we’ll hear from Chris last.
Aaron: Oh, yeah. Mike’s point is very, very poignant. Yes, I agree with him wholeheartedly. I can’t tell you how many times that people have just gone right up to the interpreter to strike up a conversation without ever really acknowledging who is the primary audience. Dude, do you know even why these people are here? They’re here for us. And we are here, we are here enjoying the show as participants, just like you are. But they said they tend to circumvent us and go straight to the interpreter. One of the worst things is bothering interpreters while they’re interpreting. That’s even more annoying. If you can imagine, like jumping on stage and interrupting Trey while he’s doing his solo. It’s like almost it feels almost as bad when they interrupt interpreters while they’re interpreting.
RJ Bee: Thank you. Chris?
Chris: This is Chris. I would echo what everyone else is saying. I totally agree with Aaron. I’ve seen so many people hounding the interpreters and wanting to engage with them. And I’m like, simmer down, people. Wait until after the show, after in the parking lot. Buy them a beer. Go right ahead. You don’t have to hound the interpreter while they’re working just to try, what do you want, their autograph? You know, it’s a little much. I’ve also seen hearing people try to fool the ushers to get into the deaf zone. You know, maybe they know the alphabet. They try to spell their name to pretend to be deaf, to get into the ADA section and take advantage of a system. That really irks me. And I will boot them, I will personally say something. But it’s really not my responsibility to do that.
Joel Gershon: Yeah, this Joel here, the researcher, I had to say one of the funniest things I found in my research was actually it was Aaron that said it to me. But he explained how knowing ASL can actually reverse the disability because the deaf people can totally communicate using ASL when it’s super loud. So, you know, he said to me that he can be a chomper during sets, but only with his fingers. And because, you know, hearing people, they’ll have the interference from the loud music. But the deaf crowd, you know, they can communicate with each other a lot easier during a show. So I thought that was kind of a funny reversal of kind of situations.
RJ Bee: Thanks. Well, I do want to say thank you to to the interpreters. Donnie, Beth, Katie, Meghan. Thanks for spending time with us today. And thank you, Aaron and Chris, for getting on the video with us. And thanks, Mike and Brian, for taking time out of your days. I learned a lot today, and I’m hoping that our audience learns a lot as well. So thank you guys all for doing it. Let’s do it again at some point. And I’d love to buy you guys a beer in the parking lot at the next show. And thanks, Joel, for all your research and getting us all together today.
Joel Gershon: Definitely my pleasure. It’s amazing that we pulled this off.
RJ Bee: Cool!
[Audio: “The Vibration of Life”]
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