Staying Healthy on Tour

October 21, 2008

Jeff Coffin

The focus of this article is to discuss ways to stay healthy while on the road. With Be;la Fleck the Flecktones, we do a fair amount of overseas touring and, even without a time zone change, the travel can wear me, and the others, out. Most times airplane flights come way too early on the road!

We have to deal with all sorts of unforeseen conflicts while traveling and our road manager always rolls in extra time to get to the airport, through customs, and to the gate with time to spare. This has saved us potentially huge hassles more than once. Giving yourself more time than you think you need also reduces stress. As most acknowledge, and doctors who practice different types of medicine around the world have concluded, stress can really break down and compromise your immune system.

Go to bed!
The biggest health enhancer a musician can have on the road is sleep! A lot of people think being on the road is a 24-hour traveling party. It’s not. Well, not for us. I see it as hard work with many sacrifices and dedication necessary to be at the top of my craft. I also see being on the road as an opportunity to make music with people I love and respect as well as a time to experience other cultures and other music from around the world. It’s also a lot of fun.

Jeff Coffin

Needing to be 100 percent for the gig, I feel, is a must whether in the U.S. or overseas. Anything short of the best I can do is selling myself and the audience short. I want to give myself every opportunity to be at the highest physical and emotional level I can even if I am not feeling as well as I would like. Here are some of the ways I stay on top of my health while touring over 200 days a year:

  • At the top of my list is get as much sleep as your body will take. You may think that you can handle getting four or five hours a night without too much trouble and you may be able to for a very short while. After a few days of that lifestyle, however, you (and probably others) will more than likely notice your performances and your attitude starting to slip. One of the ways I catch up is with short “power naps” of 10-20 minutes before or after sound check, or I get some sleep after dinner and before the gig, when possible. Sleep deprivation can, and eventually will, affect your mental health, so please take that into consideration in your journeys. I cannot stress enough how important sleep is to your overall wellbeing on the road!
  • We should also have respect for our bodies. In saying this, I recognize that there is bound to be lots of “hanging out” while on tour. At the same time, I also recognize it is important to remember that there is a job we are there to do. We are all responsible for carrying our weight and for being a full participant in the process of making music while on the road. Just as we are all responsible for having good rhythmic time in a group and being prepared musically, we are all responsible for taking care of ourselves on the road. Don’t be the person who makes it hard on everyone else by not having yourself together for soundchecks and shows. Sometimes not enough sleep or abusing yourself too much can translate into bad moods, being late for the bus call, or not being able to perform at your potential and that’s not good for anyone. The potential of losing your gig is only one of the many reasons to keep yourself together.
  • Exercise and eating right are both very important. Your body will burn for fuel and energy whatever you put into it, so be aware and thoughtful about what you give yourself for that energy. Everyone has different ideas about the best way to do this but, for me, being a vegetarian on the road keeps me pretty healthy especially when most people are going to late night truck stops. I have witnessed others who have been subjected to food poisoning after eating some kind of questionable meat (late night bacon bad idea). Try different eating styles and see which ones work best for you as an individual. Be aware of how you feel after you eat particular foods. Take care to eat something that doesn’t have much of a chance of being tainted by being left out or the like.
  • Concerning exercising, I find that doing even a little something everyday really helps a lot. I can take a 30-minute walk and get a nice feel for the city or town I am in. Doing some sit-ups or pushups and stretches in my hotel room or at the gig for 10-15 minutes a day helps, too. I have found that some basic yoga exercises also make a big difference for me. Staying healthy has to be like practicing, you have to make time every day for basic minimum maintenance! If you are already on some kind of exercise regimen, keep it up. If not, use your common sense when on the road and find an approach that work for you.

Don’t deny yourself the bright moments you might find after the gig, like some late night samba music in a small club in Sao Paulo, Brazil or in NYC at some tiny jazz club where the music is alive and ripping, or some flamenco music in a cellar club in Madrid, Spain. There are adventures and music to be experienced everywhere in the world and these experiences can and will influence your life and, thereby, your music and your perspective of both. Be sure that you take care of yourself so you can fully integrate your travels and adventures into your life and art. Staying healthy and being proactive in your own personal overall health will help you realize your fullest artistic and personal potential. Good luck good health!

Oh, and wash your hands. A lot! Now, go get some sleep.

Jeff Coffin is an accomplished performer and recording artist, most well-known as the saxophonist with Be;la Fleck the Flecktones. Jeff is currently sitting in with the Dave Matthews Band. Jeff’s new CD, Mutopia (Compass Records) was released on July 15th. Visit Jeff online at:,, and

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