How Sign Language Interpreters Prepare For Festival Performances


Ever since American Sign Language interpreter Amber Galloway Gallego went viral after signing Kendrick Lamar’s Lollapalooza set in 2013, more attention has been paid to ASL interpreters at festivals. But Brooke Chambers, the ASL program manager for C3 Presents (the promoter behind Lollapalooza and the Austin City Limits Music Festival), asserts, “Really, we’ve been there all along.” Ahead Lolla in August, Chambers — who graduated with a degree in deaf studies from the University Texas at Austin — fers insight on the training and research her team does and how the popularity hip-hop headliners has posed a new challenge.

Assembling the team: “Signing music is a niche skill. There’s an application to submit details about work experience and a video submission. I take that video and send it to a panel evaluators that is typically made up six to eight people — deaf people, working interpreters and also interpreter-training pressors — for feedback. I decide who and how the team will work. There’s everything from an intern level that works only a couple shows to maximum nationally certified, highly experienced veterans who can handle potentially four shows a day.”

Giving assignments: “We determine what shows get interpreted based on patron requests submitted online] — we’ve always done headliners unless it’s a DJ who doesn't have words — and after, we fill in blanks to provide as much coverage as possible. I take those shows that are going to be interpreted and tell my team], ‘Rank them from one to 10.’ I base assignments] on interpreters’ requests; usually that means they’re connected to the music. I have people who are skilled in hip-hop, so they, by default, will be on that show]. I do wish more people were more skilled in hip-hop and rap, but it is one the hardest because obviously there is a cadence, a rhythm, and it’s very fast.”

Preparing the show: “My team researches the last year an artist’s setlist and does a probability equation that says how ten a song has been played in the last year to determine a pseudo setlist. There are other interpreters I’ve come across that do a more spontaneous interpretation, but I think some practice always makes for] better work — especially with hip-hop. Even some the old rock material is harder. After they decide who’s going to do what songs, they watch interviews the artist to facilitate the intended] communication so they don’t deliver their own] interpretation.”

Balancing the workload: “I used to call Lollapalooza ‘my beautiful beast’ … We don’t interpret every single act. We average eight to 10 shows per day. This work is so grueling that after a certain number acts, the quality work can degrade. I don’t let interpreters] do more than four shows. Now that Lollapalooza] is four days Aug. 2-5], we average 30 shows total]. My focus has been providing the highest-quality interpreter services that focus on the deaf-patron experience. If I get one deaf patron smiling, then my job is done.”


Though Cardi B canceled her Panorama set, the Bronx rapper will soon be back onstage. Interpreter Amber Galloway Gallego breaks down one the four common ways to sign lyrics to Cardi’s “Bodak Yellow,” in which “I make money moves” roughly translates to “Me success money get.”

This article originally appeared in the May 5 issue Billboard.

How Sign Language Interpreters Prepare For Festival Performances