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Pat Monahan, lead singer of Train, and Amber Thomas. 

No matter what rock star is headlining the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience, there’s always a performer up there commanding attention—without even making a sound.

Amber Thomas and her team from Independent Interpreters of Northern Colorado have been translating lyrics for the deaf or hard of hearing at the music festival for the past five years (as well as at some Snowmass Free Summer Concert Series performances on Thursday evenings). Thomas’s rapid-fire rhythmic signing makes the music come alive for those who can’t hear it.

She infuses her word-for-word translations with a dancelike physicality that conveys mood and emotion—the elation of a Grace Potter chorus, the longing swell of a Mumford and Sons bridge.

Her preparations are not unlike any other on-stage collaborator’s might be. She studies the music, poring over past set lists to be sure she has the most-played songs down cold and spending hours practicing her timing and honing her articulation.

“Before I knew sign language, I remember acting out songs in sixth grade,” Thomas says. “Before I knew deaf people would actually want to watch, I was signing songs to myself. Honestly, this is my dream job come true.”

No matter what rock star is headlining the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience, there’s always a performer up there commanding attention—without even making a sound.

Amber Thomas and her team from Independent Interpreters of Northern Colorado have been translating lyrics for the deaf or hard of hearing at the music festival for the past five years (as well as at some Snowmass Free Summer Concert Series performances on Thursday evenings). Thomas’s rapid-fire rhythmic signing makes the music come alive for those who can’t hear it.

As a kid, Thomas began learning American Sign Language by playing deaf bingo (“Dingo”) on weekends. That led her into sign classes, then to a college internship as an interpreter, and, eventually, into founding her Fort Collins–based interpreter service.

While her job at Labor Day—helping deliver a compelling concert experience for the deaf at Aspen’s biggest pop music festival—requires responding to the artists, it’s occasionally gone the other way around. In 2013, Pat Monahan, lead singer of Train (who will play again this year), took a cue from Thomas for a sign language call-and-response with the audience, leading thousands to make the familiar shape for “heart.” And at the end of his headlining performance that same year, country star Keith Urban signed “beautiful girl” to the crowd and squeezed Thomas in a hug as the crowd roared. It was a moment that needed no interpretation. jazzaspensnowmass.org 

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