Music festivals come in all shapes, sizes, and sounds. This year’s Maplewoodstock is about to explore the boundaries of just what a live audience will be able to hear.
The free annual music and arts festival right of passage takes place Saturday, July 8 and Sunday, July 9 between noon to approximately 10:00 p.m. Headliners this year include East L.A.’s renowned Los Lobos and Austin-based blues and soul guitarist Ruthie Foster.
Plan on enjoying 24 bands, local arts and crafts vendors, a beer garden and food court, a KidsZone, and thousands of enthusiastic attendees. Community members have been putting on this impactful neighborhood event since 2004.
Maplewoodstock recently announced that the festival will be offering sign language interpreters for Deaf and Hard of Hearing attendees this year.
The entire audience, however, may very well be in for a fascinating experience which has become immensely popular at major music festivals.
“A sign language interpreter from the local community reached out to us last fall and asked us if we’ve ever considered sign language interpretation for the festival,” explained Jim Robertson, who manages Maplewoodstock’s website and social media channels and is one of the 10 committee members for the event.
Laurellie Jacobs Martinez, an RID Certified Sign Language interpreter, is the Maplewood neighbor who approached the festival organizers. “I have some deaf friends from Edison who want to come,” she said. “Deaf people enjoy music and want to see both the lyrics and how the music sounds. Interpreters interpret the poetry of the lyrics into sign language while showing physically how the music sounds.”
Before beginning her work as a sign language interpreter for live music, Jacobs Martinez’s career involved teaching at St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf in Brooklyn. “When I became an interpreter full time after I moved to New Jersey, I worked in mostly educational, legal, and hospital settings,” she said. She and her family moved from Park Slope, Brooklyn to Maplewood in 2003. Since then, she has interpreted at various live music festivals, including the Clearwater Festival, a music and environmental event founded by Toshi and Pete Seeger in 1966.
Jacobs Martinez has interpreted for the likes of Josh Ritter, Tom Chapin, Bon Jovi, as well as Maplewoodstock headliner Los Lobos.
“Music is something that many sign language interpreters want to do, but it can be very challenging,” she said. “You have to have a lot of confidence because you’re interpreting poetry on the fly.”
Sign Language interpretation has become a staple at large music events, including Bonnaroo Music + Arts Festival, Austin City Limits, Jazz Fest in New Orleans, and Lollapalooza.
And the music styles are rather diverse. Well-known interpreter Holly Maniatty has signed for the likes of Snoop Dog, Wu-Tang Clan, Phish, and Marilyn Manson. It has become de rigueur for her signing performances to go viral on social media.
Many news articles have been devoted to the live concert signing experience, often describing the interpreters as “stealing the show.”
When asked about the challenges of signing live music, Jacobs Martinez explained that “sometimes you get the lyrics in advance and have a chance to prepare. But when you don’t you really have to work to hear the vocals, unless you’re previously familiar with the music.”
The Maplewoodstock interpreters will be using a system that plugs directly into the soundboard which will allow greater ease in hearing the lyrics. Jacobs Martinez, who is borrowing the system from her colleague and friend Jody Prysock, said the system is akin to a “Bluetooth piece that goes onto our hip.”
Robertson explained that the idea of sign language interpretation synchronizes with the values and goals of Maplewoodstock. “We’re an inclusive place and live in a progressive community,” he explained. “Laurellie wants to bring this to the festival as a contribution. Her idea is consistent with the spirit of what we are trying to do.”
In addition to providing vital accessibility to concert goers who have experienced a range of hearing capability, the interpreter serves to enhance the nuanced performativity of the event.
“It’s more about putting the mood and rhythm into our bodies and expression and also delineating the different percussive, instrumental and vocal components,” described Jacobs Martinez.
Maplewoodstock will surely impress with the slate of bands and musicians who will perform. In addition, it may also provide an opportunity to consider how the audience hears and interprets a live concert event.
Maplewoodstock posted the following information about the sign language interpretation logistics: “We are tentatively planning for this to be oriented Stage Left / House Right (aka the right side of the stage as looking from the audience). Due to logistics, we cannot mark off the lawn as any reserved space for the hearing impaired, but we may make some announcement and perhaps plant a sign in the vicinity appealing to the better nature of our attendees to yield some space to those who need the sightlines to our interpreters.” More information can be found on the Maplewoodstock website.