Throughout the history of rock ’n’ roll, bands have had members that were not officially credited with being in the band, but whose roles were so instrumental they were considered de facto members. Billy Preston is known as the fifth Beatle, Chuck Leavell is the bandleader of the Rolling Stones, Tom Marshall is the lyricist for Phish, Boom Gaspar is Pearl Jam’s longtime keyboard player. For Widespread Panic, the seventh member of the band might be Edie Jackson.

Jackson is Widespread Panic’s American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. And while she may not sign at every Panic gig, she is a beloved member of the Widespread Panic family, and fans are universally delighted when she signs at a show. Jackson will be on stage with Widespread Panic this weekend at the 7th annual Ride Festival.

By day Jackson teaches deaf and hard of hearing students in the Georgetown County, South Carolina school system. At night she is known to shed her teacher’s pad and pencil for a spot on stage signing for some of the biggest names in roc ’n’ roll including Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Allman Bros., Stevie Wonder, Phish, The Cure and Tedeschi Trucks Band. But she is known best for her work with Widespread Panic.

John Minich is a Colorado resident who is deaf and attends many of Widespread Panic’s concerts. He’ll be on hand, or Edie’s side as they say, at this weekend’s shows.

“Unlike other interpreters who are usually on the sidelines in an ADA section, Edie is on stage alongside with the band and in front of the whole audience and that brings out a lot of energy and makes me feel right in place and accessible,” Minich said. “She’s got fans in her own right and inspires people to learn the difficult language of ASL and helps the connection between the deaf and the hearing world. She has worked very hard to be where she’s at now and she’s made Widespread Panic the most accessible band for the deaf community.”

I spoke to Jackson Monday from her home in Pawley’s Island, South Carolina as she prepared to head to Telluride to provide sign language access at the Ride.

Geoff Hanson: Where did you grow up?

Edie Jackson: Richmond, Virginia

GH: How did you get interested in ASL?

EJ: I loved the language; it’s beautiful and very different from the spoken English language. I took night classes at community college throughout high school and the more I learned about the culture, the more I fell in love it. The deaf-hard of hearing disability has its own distinct culture, its own humor, own language, people have their own heart, poetry, idioms, stories. Deaf people are very direct, there’s no BS, and they tell you what they think. There’s deaf time and there’s hearing time. They have their own way of looking at things. It’s beautiful.

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