Show and Tell

Sharon Ramsey (middle) with daughter Patrisha Montantes (left) and granddaughter Alexis Montantes (right)
Sharon Ramsey (middle) with daughter Patrisha Montantes (left) and granddaughter Alexis Montantes (right). Photo by Beth Baugher.

If you’ve caught a concert at the California State Fair, you’ve probably seen Sharon Ramsey at side stage swaying to the music, signing her heart and soul out not only with her hands but with her entire body.

As a performance interpreter, Ramsey has worked with Cher, Paul McCartney, Maroon 5, Metallica and hundreds of other artists. She learned sign language when her daughter befriended a Deaf family as a child.

Ramsey once took a Deaf friend to a Doobie Brothers concert and signed for her. “At the end of the show, she was crying and I thought, was I that bad? She said, ‘No! You remind me of when I was younger and had my hearing. When I watch you sign, I can hear the music again.’ She told me, ‘You need to do this all the time,’ so I started volunteering for different things and it just took off from there.”

Ramsey went on to land gigs at music venues throughout the Sacramento area. For the past 30 years, she has worked the concert series at the state fair and has had some “very cool” moments.

“When I worked with Maroon 5, Adam Levine asked about my (teleprompter) system. I told him I had the set list and all the lyrics and he said, ‘Oh, good, because there’s one song that’s brand new and I haven’t learned it yet. Can I come and stand by you and read the lyrics?’ And he did!”

She tries to emulate each artist as much as possible, capturing not just the words to a song but the feeling of it, too. “It’s really therapeutic,” she says. “The love songs: I get to feel those for the people I care about. The hate songs: I get to get that off my chest.”

sharon ramsey on the side stage signing
Sharon Ramsey

Ramsey’s last season at the fair was 2022. She’s now retired, and daughter Patrisha Montantes will take over.

“She’s signed for me for a few shows and she’s better than me! The Deaf can tell by my signing that I’m hearing, but when Patrisha signs, they think she’s hard of hearing. She’s going to be great!”

Granddaughter Alexis Montantes also is learning sign language and will run the teleprompter system for her mom.

Ramsey’s plans for retirement? “I’d like to watch some of the concerts that I interpret for—to just sit down and enjoy them.”

Maybe she’ll catch her daughter signing at one of these shows? “I’ll probably cry, but, yeah—it’s going to be great when that happens.”