- Associated Press - Saturday, July 5, 2014

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) - For the past 10 years, Country Stampede fans might have noticed a group of men and women who stand off to the side of the stage on a platform and use American sign language during the performances.

“(People) are very surprised, they’re very caught off-guard,” said Susie Stanfield, the festival’s sign language interpreter supervisor. “Even though we have it on the (Country Stampede) website, we just have trouble getting the word out.”

Some people might not understand why a deaf person would want to come to a concert, but they can feel the music through the vibrations, according to Stanfield.

“A lot of deaf people go clubbing because they can feel the beat of the music,” she said.

Stanfield said it is common for deaf or hard-of-hearing people to attend the festival and become relieved to see the interpreters during the performances. She said her staff will then invite those people to sit in the interpreter section. She said the amount of deaf people in attendance at the festival varies year to year. Last year, she said there were approximately 20 people over the course of the weekend, but this year, she hadn’t seen any.

“We are always here, prepared for whoever shows up,” she said. “To my knowledge, the Country Stampede … is the only festival that hires what we call open interpreting,’ which means they pay us to be here even if no deaf people have requested us to come.”

This year, there is a full staff of six people signing during the concerts, including Stanfield.

She said the process every year begins when the main stage lineup is announced. From there, she and her staff will have a meeting and begin doing research on the artists by watching YouTube videos, looking up their lyrics, and buying albums to begin practicing. Stanfield said one thing people don’t realize is the interpreters don’t sign every word in the song, but rather the concept of the song.

“Hopefully, they sing songs we’ve listened to, which isn’t always the case,” Stanfield said.

However, she said if there is an occasion when the interpreters haven’t heard a particular song, they hope the sound mix is good, so they’re able to hear the performers. Since the interpreters are trying to get the concept across, it isn’t dire to know the songs word-for-word.

“As long as we can get the main idea, we can kind of go with it,” she said.

During the performances, it isn’t uncommon to see a singer walk over the platform the interpreters are standing on and hug them or whisper in their ear.

“The first time that ever happened to me, it was with Joe Nichols,” Stanfield said. “And I was like, What do I do?’ And the girl who was there said, Just keep going.’ The audience loves it, and for us, it’s a plus. I spent this morning uploading videos to Facebook saying I got to shake it with Luke Bryan last night.’ “

The interpreters have developed their own fan-base throughout the years.

“I’ve been recognized at a music concert in Kansas City,” Stanfield said. “I’ve had somebody come up to me at KCI, just walking down the hall at the airport and hear You’re that lady at the Stampede, aren’t you?’ so we never know when we’re going to get (recognized). It’s always fun.”

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