Deafheads. A Short History of Deaf Accommodations and The Grateful Dead

        5PTS SoundPack at Floydfest 22

5 Points Music Sanctuary and the Power of Sound

At 5 Points Music Sanctuary we preach that the power of sound is about more than just what we hear. To that end, we developed the 5PTS SoundPack as a way to give our Deaf and hard of hearing patrons a new way to experience the power of sound at our concerts. The 5PTS SoundPack can also be used as an experiential enhancement by interested guests at any of our shows. The SoundPack allows guests to experience the power of sound through the physical sensation of the SUBPAC vibrating against their back in addition to the high fidelity audio feed straight from the soundboard into the Silent Sound System headphones. These devices also allow us to start conversations about accessibility and accommodations to encourage guests and performers alike to think about how we can improve the concert-going experience for someone who has partial or complete hearing loss. Accommodating Deaf fans at music events is nothing new, and looking back at the history of these accommodations can give us valuable insight into how best to accommodate Deaf or hard of hearing patrons in the modern age.


Deafheads and the Deaf Zone; a Short History

Not being able to hear the music on stage has never stopped Deaf music fans from attending and enjoying concerts. As we approach our upcoming Dead Reckoning Halloween show, we wanted to look back at the history of Deaf fans of the Grateful Dead. 

Deaf Grateful Dead fans, or Deafheads as they are sometimes called, came on the scene in the 1980s at Grateful Dead shows in the Washington, DC area. This area is home to Gallaudet University, the world’s first school for the advanced education of the deaf and hard of hearing. Deafheads worked with venues, promoters, and even Grateful Dead soundman Dan Healy to establish zones with enough space for them to sign to each other and enjoy the show. In recent years, thanks to Deaf fans advocating and lobbying for greater accessibility at concerts, promoters even established a Deaf Zone at a concert at Soldier Field in Chicago.

A 2015 Wall Street Journal article by John Jurgensen details what it was like inside the Deaf Zone.

“Concert organizers had gated off on the stadium floor about 60 yards from the stage, three sign language interpreters worked in rotation, translating the meaning of songs from “China Cat Sunflower” to “Truckin.’”

A sign marking the location of the Deaf Zone at a Grateful Dead show

“Facing the audience, some of whom held balloons that helped catch the sound pulses in the air, the interpreters took turns standing on a lighted platform, moving their hands and arms with fluid messages. They glanced down at song lyrics on a tablet computer and wore headphones plugged directly into a vocal mix from the band’s soundboard. Next to the interpreter’s podium was a 55-inch video screen featuring close-up views of the musicians, allowing the Deaf Zone fans to better see their faces and, for some, to read their lips.”

While we strive to do our very best to accommodate guests or performers who are Deaf or hard of hearing, we also want to ensure that our guests who are able to hear retain that ability even after years of attending concerts. This is why our partnership with Roanoke Valley Speech and Hearing Center is so important. Not only are they able to give us valuable insight on hearing from audiologists and other hearing-related professionals, they also bring their Mobile Hearing Test Unit to our concerts and meet our audiences where they are. This allows us to conveniently and effectively work to protect and preserve the hearing of our audiences so they can continue to experience the power of sound and chase those apex moments.

Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart said it best when he said “Music is vibration, it’s great to share the vibes with everybody, especially those who can’t usually share it.”
This quote came from a Washington Post article detailing the concertgoing experience for Deafheads at a 1993 show in Washington, DC.  

How Can You Protect Your Hearing?

If you are concerned about protecting your hearing during any of our concerts, then you should check out our selection of high fidelity Music Pro earplugs from EarPeace

Make sure you stop by the Mobile Hearing Test Unit for your free hearing screening during our 10/29 Dead Reckoning and 11/5 Town Mountain shows. 


Guitarist John K after getting his hearing checked