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Truro music festival a chance for performers to reflect on wellness

Nicholas Maclean knows how tough life on tour really can be.
Nicholas Maclean knows how tough life on tour really can be. - Fram Dinshaw

Mental health is a major issue facing musicians on the road. Nova Scotia Music Week is a chance for many to learn how to maintain mindfulness when away from home for days or weeks on end

TRURO, N.S. —

For Nicholas Maclean, touring and playing festivals like Nova Scotia Music Week is a full-time job.

That means no wild parties, drug-taking, downing shots or any other rock ‘n’ roll clichés while on the road. Instead, he chooses to focus on his guitaring and keyboarding – and maintaining his mental health as a member of Gabrielle Papillon at NSMW.

“We’re not generally a drug or party band, because we know how hard it will make your job,” said Maclean, who plays keyboard and guitar. “We do try pretty hard to make sure if we do have an early morning the next day not to get into too much trouble.”

He is part of a new generation of musicians who take their mental wellbeing seriously, especially when they tour for up to three weeks at a stretch.

Far from being one long party, life on the road is a constant tight schedule that can be disrupted by bad weather or traffic.

Once at a venue, bands must perform soundchecks and often speak with media or their audience as well as putting on the best show possible.

Even for someone like Maclean, finding enough time to sleep and eat healthily is a challenge. He described band life as often being “overworked and underfed.”

“There’s a lot of fast food and eating pizza late at night,” said Maclean.

As a result, even those bands who try to stay mentally healthy often face sleep deprivation, depression and anxiety. Many often feel overwhelmed or unable to set boundaries, says industry representative Michelle Allman.

Her organization The Hook and Co. ran a seminar for musicians on Nov. 8 in Truro, hours before Gabrielle Papillon took the stage at the Holiday Inn.

Allman said an added pressure for 21st century bands is social media. Many fans who follow on Facebook and Instagram assume musicians are living the high life. This in turn can affect the emotional stability of musicians, who often work under intense pressure while touring.

“What is the rock’n’roll life is really the question – it’s just an idea,” said Allman. “The idea of slinging it back with alcohol and drugs and not sleeping and partying hard – is that a life?”

However, more open conversations about mental health and treating touring as a professional-type job is helping to change the culture, as rock singer Barbara Cameron knows.

Cameron and her sister Victoria are a travelling duo who have performed shows across Nov Scotia. Keeping their strength up means plenty of water and sleep, instead of endless partying.

Cameron’s advice to new musicians was to-the-point.

“Remember that this is a business and treat it like one,” said Cameron. “You wouldn’t show up to work in an office 9-5 and act inappropriately or drink excessively, so you should conduct yourself the same way when you’re a musician.”

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