Two of the more difficult situations that we all eventually face are illness and fatigue; both provide their own challenges but share some similarities. When we are tired or ill focus can become a major issue as our energy levels plummet and while fatigue is bad enough on its own when combined with illness it can be a real drag. Not all of us have the iron will that drives surf legend Dick Dale to still get up and give a solid show despite a whole slew of serious physical ailments that would sideline most of us, nor that of Freddie Mercury finishing his last album with Queen while virtually on his deathbed with AIDs. There are countless examples of performers who have given their all and died doing it, but I’m not going there. What I’m looking at is how do we get through a gig where we’re exhausted or miserable from some garden-variety virus.
I’ve done my fair share of gigs when I was under the weather and quite a few where I was close to exhausted before the gig started either due to insomnia the night before, a run of late nights combined with early mornings or a ton of other situations. If I know I’m running on low energy due to fatigue and I can work it in during the day, I’ll do my best to get a nap before I’ve got to leave for the gig, but more often than not this is a luxury I have to forgo. So I find myself hitting the coffee and diet soda regimen, trying to load up a little to keep the peepers open and the attention span stabilized. That being said, this is not the healthiest way to deal with the situation because any time you use chemicals, even caffeine, there’s a price to pay, particularly if you overload. So if you go the coffee route watch how much you drink, particularly if you already have health issues like high blood pressure or something like A-fib. You don’t want to elevate the blood pressure, nor do you want to risk you’re A-fib getting worse. One of the worst things you can do in this situation is start drinking alcohol, and if you’re really tired skip that after gig drink.
Another method, which doesn’t rely on chemicals, is get up and moving before the set starts. This will help get the blood pumping and help you make it into the set. Between sets find a quiet corner, ask one of your bandmates to come and get you before the next set and close your eyes. As long as your bandmates know where you are, they’ll make sure you’re up and running for the next set. The best method is to avoid letting your batteries run so dry in the first place. Do your best to follow a schedule that permits eight hours of sleep per day, preferably in one block. I know that this is difficult, particularly if you have a day job, kids that need to get to school and a heavy performance schedule. Remember, lack of balance is usually what creates sleep deprivation to begin with, and you’re better off pulling into a parking lot to take a nap after the gig than falling asleep at the wheel.
Illness is a tricky one, because we need to be able to determine when we’re risking too much for the bar gig, or not enough. Honestly, I don’t know how singers do it when they power through gigs with colds, sinus infections and the lot. If you are a vocalist I highly suggest you ask your fellow singers with tons of experience how they get through the gigs and go from there. For the rest of the rockers and such, if you can’t get out of the bathroom you need to either find an emergency sub or cancel the gig, other than that if you’re lucid and you’re fairly certain you’re not going to pass out on stage, everyone is pretty much expecting you to show up and do the gig. In most of these cases it’s a matter of gritting your teeth and getting it done. Once again, remember that mixing alcohol and cold medicines of various types can create an even worse scenario. Stick to safe fluids, and try not to give your fellow band members the curse.
The brutal reality of being even a semi-pro musician is that you have to show up for work even when you feel like death warmed over. You’re part of a small unit that depends upon its components to survive and profit as an entity. Any time you call off from a gig it puts the group at risk of failure, whether it’s having a bad night for the bad or possibly losing the backing of an agent who could have kept you all working regularly. It’s not like a regular job with paid sick days and vacation time, plus there really are tons of people just waiting to take your job. Your best bet is to cowboy up, to use the old phrase, and get the job done. Then do what you can to get better rested or to recover from whatever ails you.