Pre-event conditioning for World of Bluegrass

Chris JonesThe very first column I wrote for Bluegrass Today was about maintaining your health during the stressful IBMA World of Bluegrass week. Most of the advice I gave was either discredited or just laughed at, and not for the right reasons.

I wasn’t surprised: health advice, like a bottle of multivitamins, has a very limited shelf life. Today’s “elixir of life” is tomorrow’s carcinogen. Yesterday’s dangerous fat is today’s good cholesterol. The day-before-yesterday’s . . . must I go on?

This year, I’m not risking any health advice for the week itself (though I stand by my moonshine and Airborne recommendation). Instead, I’d like to suggest ways of preparing your body and mind for the IBMA WOB in the days ahead so you can get the most benefit out of the week, and perhaps even increase your chances of staying healthy. Think of it as bluegrass strength training.

In some types of pre-event training, you work to increase your endurance by gradually doing more and more of the thing you’ll need to be doing during the event itself. When training for a marathon, you run a little more every day until you’re up to the distance you’ll need to be running, or so I’m told.

In the case of the IBMA World of Bluegrass, the problem is more sensory overload combined with a level of sleep deprivation that makes “enhanced interrogation techniques” seem like spa treatments. The best way to train for this is to spend a week giving your body and mind as much of the opposite kind of experience from the WOB as possible, so when the event actually starts, it will be such a welcome change that you’ll be ready to embrace it fully.

Here’s how I envision this training-by-opposites, one category at a time:

Sleep:  You know you’re not getting any of that next week, so you need to begin stockpiling it as much as you can by sleeping a minimum of 11 hours a night, up to a maximum of 24 hours (more than this is discouraged by the people who make calendars). I know medical professionals and sleep “experts” tell you that you can’t stockpile sleep, and that sleeping more than nine hours is detrimental to your health: “Unfortunately, you can’t stockpile sleep—anything past 9 hours starts to have the opposite effect: you wake up feeling even more tired than before. This phenomenon is also known as a sleep hangover.” 

This is quoted from a “sleep blog,” and personally I distrust anyone who cares enough about sleeping to start a blog on the subject. So I say, just go for the “sleep hangover.” You can always sleep it off in the morning, or the late afternoon, or both.

Exercise: You’re not getting any of this either, unless you count lugging an upright bass through a hotel, then stopping to talk to someone, then lugging it some more (I believe this is referred to as “interval training”). You’re going to need lots of vigorous exercise in the next few days, then. You choose whatever form of exercise works for you, but something outdoors that involves taking in lots of fresh air is ideal. When you’re feeling worn out from that, take another long nap.

Conversation: This is something you’ll be doing to extreme excess next week, so it would be good to swear off all conversation from now until next week. Again, if you follow my sleep recommendations, there will be very little time to converse with anyone anyway.

Seminars: Just as you would do during the IBMA WOB, you should plan to attend numerous beneficial seminars, especially those with an 8:00 a.m. start time, but then (and here’s the twist) actually attend them. Straggling in half an hour late isn’t good enough, either. You need to be there right from the start, prepared to take notes.

Self-promotion: You’ll need to swear this off completely in the coming days. Never discuss your music career or business, and if you do, do so only in the most self-deprecating terms. Practice saying something like this in front of a mirror: “It’s been a lousy year, honestly. Sometimes I don’t know why I even bother. Sure, I have a new release, but for my money the one I did three years ago is better. I’d give you a copy, but you’d probably just bury it in a pile somewhere, and I wouldn’t blame you.”

Music: Above all, do not play any music between now and next Tuesday, and if you can, avoid listening to music entirely. If you must, though, choose to listen to whatever style of music you believe to be the complete opposite of bluegrass. I’ll let you make the call as to what that is. It was commonly believed at one time that the music of ABBA was the opposite of bluegrass. That belief was short-lived: one astute music critic brought up the fact that ABBA had a few traits in common with bluegrass bands: ABBA relies heavily on harmony singing, they were in essence a family band, and they have many devoted fans who have no idea what the lyrics to their songs are. Also, you could make the argument that Dancing Queen is simply the Swedish pop equivalent of Little Maggie. So just go ahead and listen to whatever feels the most to you like bluegrass music’s opposite. For myself, I’ve made a playlist for this week that consists mostly of Leonard Cohen, Duran Duran, and Susan Boyle.

Diet: This is relatively open in terms of food choice. Just make sure to eat three relatively nutritious meals a day, making sure that your mealtimes are always exactly at the same time, ideally 7:00, a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 6:30 p.m. Never eat pizza delivered late at night to a hotel room, and don’t make plans to eat out with six or seven other people, then fail to show because you were talking to someone and lost track of time.

Happy training. I’ll see you in Raleigh, ready to reverse course.