Flu Season Fumbles and Avoiding Lost Gigs


As we get over the start of a new year and the holidays seem like a distant memory, we enter a new season with the worst surprise of them all… the flu. With the weather, the “warriors” who insist on coming into the office, travel, and the nights off to hang out with friends at the bar, we’re unusually exposed and susceptible to the flu and common cold. While it’s awful being sick under any condition, it’s far worse when you have an important show or a busy weekend of gigs.

Plus, if you’re sick (and all of your friends or band mates are as well), it could put a damper on your performance or on the number of folks in the audience. With everything “going around,” here are a couple of things to avoid during flu season, a few of my favorite remedies, and suggestions of how to deal with a gig if you’re under the weather.

First things first, it’s all about contact. If you happen to be spending the holidays on a secret, secluded island, you might be ok, but the rest of us will be hugging relatives, shaking hands with friends we haven’t seen in years, and traveling on airplanes will all sorts of people bringing their germs from one city to another. While most people believe the flu originates in birds or mammals, I’m pretty sure it reaches the mainstream via college students. During a pre-Thanksgiving trip to visit my younger sister, I realized that the sleep-deprived, stressed out, party-hearty lifestyle of students acts a breeding ground for disease… especially when they all live together in close quarters, study at the same library, and play beer pong post-midterms. Since many students travel from their university back to their hometown for Thanksgiving and winter break, they bring their runny noses and sore throats with them. Coincidentally, college students enjoy congregating and catching up at bars… the same bars where some of us are likely to be working.

Once the flu makes its way into the coffee shops, retail stores, and office parties, there’s little you can do to avoid it. The only defense you have is to a) consciously stay away from those around you who are sick, b) frequently wash your hands or use hand sanitizer, c) get a flu shot, and d) do whatever it takes to keep your immunity up. Since I can’t say how effective a flu shot is, I can tell you that it’s important to do anything you can do to stay well… eat healthy foods, take extra vitamin C, and get plenty of sleep. I’m a huge fan of natural juices, green tea, and supplements like Emergen-C. I’ve also found that it’s good to have a few Halls or Ricolas stashed away in convenient places. These may or may not prevent you from getting sick, but a little extra Vitamin C certainly won’t do you any harm. If you sing on your gigs, make sure you bring your own microphone or mic cleaner… you just never know who used the house mic the night before.

If you do happen to come down with something, despite your efforts to resist infection, heading to a gig may seem like a daunting task. No one likes working when they’re sick, and standing up with a heavy bass is no easy task. If you’re sick on a gig, try not to do anything to worsen your condition… don’t drink, don’t stand outside in the cold, use your break time to sit down and actually take a break, and eat a decent meal beforehand. Be careful if you’re singing on the gig, especially if you have a sore throat. While you may briefly enjoy your raspy-ness, it’s easy to destroy your voice if you push too hard and it will certainly take a long time to recover. It’s also a good idea to make load in/out easy on yourself by having plenty of time, bringing lighter gear, and dressing warmly. If you’re prone to having a headache or runny nose, I suggest having some pain relievers on hand and a secret stash of tissues, herbal tea, and healthy snacks.

Also, depending on your relationship with the bandleader, you may want to mention that you’re under the weather. If you can keep it under wraps, then do so, but if it’s obvious, you may want to bring it to their attention and keep your distance. This way you won’t be labeled as antisocial if you wave to everyone instead of shake hands. Assuming you’re not too sick, the band will respect the fact that you still honored your commitment to the gig. Plus, if you usually help pack up the PA at the end of the night, you may get a free pass to go home once you’ve got your personal gear packed up… if I were the band leader, I’d rather wrap the cables up myself than risk them getting germified.

In the event that you are too sick to leave the house, make sure you notify the bandleader and try to find a sub. If both you and/or the leader try to make calls, you’ll have better luck finding someone at the last minute and it won’t seem like you’re completely bailing on the gig. That said, it’s important to have good relationships with other bass players in town… you want the person you call to be competent, professional, and reliable. It’s usually better to call a decent sub than to risk worsening your condition and showing up sick and contagious.

While some of these suggestions and remedies may seem obvious and overly “motherly,” we all start out thinking that we won’t be the ones to get sick. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Since this year’s flu outbreak is particularly destructive, it’s important to have a game plan when it comes to avoiding the illness and dealing with it if you do contract the virus. You want to honor your commitments, but at the same time, have respect for the people you’re supposed to play with. Just think, if suddenly the drummer showed up to the gig, you saw him blowing his nose, and then he tried to shake your hand or give you a hug, you’d consider it pretty gross. If you think you’re too sick to do the gig, then chances are, your band will feel the same way. So, spend a few extra dollars at the grocery store to load up on vitamins, keep your hands sanitized, and do your best surviving this year’s flu season.

Photo Credit: amanky

Ryan Madora is a professional bass player, author, and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and session work, she teaches private lessons and masterclasses to students of all levels. Visit her website to learn more!

Get daily bass updates.

Get the latest news, videos, lessons, and more in your inbox every morning.

Share your thoughts

  1. Good advice, all of it!

  2. don’t you just hate the “warriors” who come into the office sick? they can barely speak, use like 100 tissues/day, and infect everybody. one more thing that I do if I have sore throat: cut up 1-2 onions, put them on a plate beside your bed at night. the fumes from the onion will make you feel better and make the pain go away.

  3. had gig last night with pretty bad head cold and sore throat, band mates were laughing at how long it took me to set up my peadlboard! I sing a little so just backed off the volume of my vocals and was hitting most of the notes just fine. my advice if youre singing and bassing, turn up your vocal mic and sing softer than usual. if you try belting it out itll be crap :)