Sunday, May 15, 2016
Every year, I attend a popular music festival here in New Orleans. I buy my tickets as soon as they go on sale and count down the days until I can pack my bag for the day and go. I’m sure someone out there is thinking… Why would a person who can’t see or hear well want to go to a music festival? I get asked this question all the time. After all, the tickets aren’t cheap, and the conditions at the festival can be problematic with weather that can range from unremitting heat to violent rain storms. So let me tell you why I go. Sometimes I feel like I’ve lived two lives. There was the life before, and then there is my life now. Dividing these two lives is an event I like to call “The Big Quiet.” AKA when I lost my hearing. I grew up blind and hearing. I had one goal and one only— to be a musician. I played in the band, I sang in the choir, I took music lessons and when I was not singing, or thinking about singing, I was listening to other people singing. Obviously, I don’t do that any more. About ten years ago, I moved back to New Orleans after being evacuated to Memphis, TN. after hurricane Katrina and the subsequent failure of the federal levee system. Six weeks after my return to New Orleans, I became profoundly deaf. There was quite a bit of mold in the city at this time, and my immune system didn’t handle that so well, and my body basically ate itself— damaging my inner ear which is responsible for both hearing and balance. So, obviously things changed for me… Back to Jazzfest… As part of an effort of accessibility, a person who is deaf— or deafblind can request ASL interpretation for performances. I wait with great anticipation for the announcement of who will be performing at Jazzfest. This year, I went for two days. On Friday, I was going to see Irma Thomas and Paul Simon. Saturday was Big Fredia and Stevie Wonder. I have been going to this festival for so long that I know most of the interpreters. I arrived on Friday and went to chat with folks at the access tent. After grabbing lunch— half of the fun of Jazzfest is the food, I went with one interpreter to the stage where Irma Thomas was performing. I sit right next to the stage, in front of a small table, upon which my interpreters and I can rest our elbows. Soleil had a tarpaulin to lay on which kept her out of the mud. Irma was great as always and Soleil had a nap. Thankfully, her snoring could not be heard over the music. Next came the highlight of my experience— Paul Simon. I grew up listening to his music— if my childhood can be said to have a soundtrack, a great deal of the music on it would be his. The interpreters don’t just interpret the music. They describe the artist, the stage, the audience, and anything else that is happening. He sang all of the good old songs, and during the concert, with my hands atop those of my interpreters, I felt like I stood upon a bridge connecting my former life to my current one. I can be deaf and still have music. Here are three videos showing me with my interpreters: 50 ways https://youtu.be/g80oOYmgLGc The Boxer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YCVDZlh5Ko The Sound of Silence https://youtu.be/WGMJDLbLrQk It’s not just the interpreters that make the experience for me. There are smells— food, perfumes, and of course someone’s joint. The wind blows and I can feel the sun upon my face. All of these things together make a wonderful sensory experience. The next day was scheduled to pour down rain. I packed my bags again and headed to the festival. The first event of the day was a trip to the art exhibits with one of my interpreters. There were so many things there to touch and I bought some items to send home to my family, so I can’t write about them here! Needless to say, there were many different kinds of art and artists, from sculpture to clothing. Then of course, more food! By that point, it was time to head to the stage for Big Fredia. I didn’t know who that was before attending the concert so read the Wikipedia article about him. My coworkers said I would need to learn to do the Twerking dance which I learned, involves much shaking of your rear end. My SSP, always up for a challenge, decided to teach me this dance… I really should have gotten a video of this because it was hilarious. We arrived at the stage, got Soleil comfortable on her tarp, and then it began to rain. One of my interpreters, thinking quickly, took a heavy duty trash bag and turned it into a poncho. I was in high bag lady fashion, let me tell you. It started to rain even harder, so my braille display, iPhone and Apple Watch all went under the trash bag on my lap. This prevented me from trying out the twerk dance moves I had learned! It rained and rained and rained some more. My hands got all wrinkly— like they do after a bath, or a load of dishes. I said it was the Deafblind version of singing in the shower. After the performance finished, we took shelter in the grandstand because there was a great deal of lightning. While we were there, we learned the rest of the day’s acts had been canceled, so no Stevie Wonder for me! I went home early, and had to do a massive load of laundry including Soleil’s harness, all my soaked clothes, and my backpack which is thankfully waterproof, but which got muddy on the outside. Over all, it was a great experience, and Soleil did amazing outstanding work. I’m so proud of her. I should give her trainer a raise! (her trainer is me!) Now, only 50 more weeks until the next Jazzfest!