Friday, September 22, 2023

ASL at Bonnaroo: A performance in and of itself


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By Jordan Reining 

MTSU Seigenthaler News Service

As Girl in Red, the indie pop band led by Norwegian singer-songwriter Marie Ulven Ringheim, performed on Bonnaroo’s Which Stage, there was a performance of another kind taking place. On an elevated platform to the right of the stage, American Sign Language interpreter Trevor Shannon was in his groove. Wearing a backwards snapback and a plain black shirt, he exuded confidence as he looked out at the crowd. 

This is Shannon’s second time at Bonnaroo, but the first time he has worked at the festival. Professionally, he has been involved in the interpreting industry for about seven years. Personally, he has been interpreting all his life. Shannon is a CODA (child of deaf adults) and grew up using ASL as a second language. 

Like any industry, interpreting can be a difficult field to break into. Starting out as an unpaid intern, Shannon often paid for his own gas and lodging to shadow others. As he gained more and more experience, he was able to rise above intern status. Now, he gets paid to do what he loves. 

“It’s so fun,” said Shannon. “It’s very freeing.” 

Working at a gig like Bonnaroo is no easy task, however. Interpreters work in pairs so they can take breaks. In a seat facing the platform, Shannon had his iPad open with the lyrics to the song being played. He is guiding his partner by signing the words a line in advance. 

Before each performance, the interpreter practices the songs just like a band does. Understanding the meaning of the song and signing in time with the beat are very important. 

“There’s a lot of prep that goes into it. You wanna try to download the lyrics and listen to the song a few times,” said Shannon. 

In recent years, concert interpreters have gone viral on apps like TikTok and Twitter due to their spirited signing. Moving with the beat, they jam out like the artists they are interpreting. ASL interpreters are very passionate during performances, capturing the emotions of a singer with exaggerated facial expressions. 

Shannon grew up in Washington D.C.. Interpreting for his deaf parents and interacting with the deaf and hard of hearing community was a large part of why he wanted to join the industry. One of his favorite parts of the job is getting the opportunity to bond and make connections with the community. 

“It’s always nice to provide accessibility,” said Shannon. 

He referenced his parents, explaining, “I would want someone to do that for them the same way I provide that access to strangers.” 

On the schedules posted by Bonnaroo, concerts with interpreters were listed in advance and their presence was marked by a large sign bearing the same symbol used to denote interpreted concerts in the schedule. 

Not every performance had an interpreter assigned to it. Each day of the festival had anywhere from four to eight shows with an interpreter. 

Shannon said he a lot of fun covering the festival. His favorite performance was by Shaquille O’Neal, also known as DJ Diesel. 

Finishing Girl in Red’s set, Shannon was in his element, his hands a blur of motion. He might not be the one with the microphone, but he didn’t need it.

Jordan Reining is a staff writer for MTSU Sidelines.

To contact News Editor Kailee Shores and Assistant News Editor Alyssa Williams, email

For more news, visit, or follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines or on Twitter and Instagram at @mtsusidelines.

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