Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

The Show Went On…Sort Of

Being an active member of a band and living with migraine is challenging, to say the least. From constantly canceling shows because I am bed-ridden in pain, to desperately trying to balance the social, physical, and emotional demands of how environments with the pain and exhaustion of migraine, getting through each performance requires a lot of stamina.

I recently played a show after experiencing a days-long migraine attack, and in this article, I am going to describe what it felt like leading up to the show, during the performance, and after playing.

Canceling the show due to migraine…

The show was a five-band house show organized months in advance, and like with any show my band accepts, I let the organizers know in advance that there was a chance I might be ill the day of. I love playing with my band and try to do so as much as possible, but since migraine is relatively unpredictable, I never know if we can actually make it on show day, even when scheduling allows. Unfortunately, due to migraine and other illnesses, my band had to cancel our last three shows. Hours before the most recent show, I was in bed, recovering from intense vertigo after being extraordinarily sick for a few days, and like we usually do when it seems as though I can’t push through, we sent a message letting everyone know we might now make it:

“Hey y’all–Our singer, has been dealing with debilitating vertigo and has been unable to stand without falling for over a day due to chronic migraine and a tear in her ear membrane, and is just now getting a bit better. We really want to make it out to play this awesome show with bands we <3, and she really wants to be there too. We are hoping to be there tonight, but it is pending how well she is, we will update after we see how she is this afternoon. Love -HP”

We did not outright cancel at this point, because even though I was sick in bed, I really felt as though the show (held in an intimate space), might be able to go on, us included. I told my partner and caretaker that I wanted a few more hours of rest, and that I really wanted to try to make it out to play.

Un-canceling the show after some rest

I went to sleep for a few hours and when I woke up, I felt terrible, but well enough to get up and walk to our practice room. Having gone that far, I asked my partner to practice our set with me, at minimal volume..and it took everything I had in me to get through. But, it sounded pretty good. Sold on it, I decided we would go forward.

My partner and caretaker packed all of our gear, which allowed me to pack medications, earbuds, and water. I also sent out another message to the organizers letting them know that we would be heading out on our way, and I asked if we could play first. This allowed us to play during the quietest moments of the show, and allowed for us to leave early if we needed to!

Eerily quiet for a rock show

When we arrived to the space, the people who were already there were sitting quietly around on couches, and I kid you not, this was the quietest pre-show experience I have ever had. I don’t know if it is because everyone was already aware that I hadn’t been feeling good, or if it was the rainy weather outside, but getting there and packing everything in was a pretty silent affair. Not wanting to draw more attention to my pain, I didn’t ask about it, but I sure was appreciative of the lax environment. I already had my earbuds in when we arrived, but was happy to see that the organizers also had a whole box of them out for attendees to take for free, too.

When it was time for us to play, I asked for a chair to sit down in, and we played a very stripped down, acoustic-sounding set. I thought (and others thought, too!) that is was beautiful and mellow. I was very tired throughout the entire performance, and struggled to get through the entire set, but the relaxed environment gave way to an emotional, slow set and that worked to my benefit. When we were done playing, I was relieved and felt good about the sound!

Too much fuss

Even though I felt it sounded good, immediately following our set, I felt like I needed to go home and rest. I had been experiencing a bit of vertigo throughout the night and had trouble standing by the end of it. Funnily though, those who didn’t know I was in pain probably assumed I was just a bit tipsy, not out of the ordinary for such as a gathering, so I am sure I didn’t look too odd.

The band directly following our set was extraordinarily loud. We had to leave midway through their first song because it was excruciatingly loud, which was a bummer because the music itself was really, really cool!

That is part of the price we pay when playing shows sometimes—I really hate not being able to stay for all of the other acts when we play shows, as supporting others artists is a huge part of musicianship that is important to me, but I just couldn’t make it. We did make sure to thank everyone for having us and wish the other acts well before leaving, though.

Home, sweet home

My partner once again packed all the gear up into the car and I sat outside as everything was being wrapped up. I felt: tired, in pain, dizzy, nauseous, and…proud. We played a pretty great show, in an environment that proved to be conducive to my needs for the most part, and even though we had to leave early, we communed with an important part of our community for a bit. I so wish I didn’t have to be attentive to all of the considerations that come with migraine and other pain and just play fun, loud, rock shows whenever I wanted, but I am thankful that we got to play this show, especially after having to cancel so many prior to this one. That being said…getting back into bed after getting home was sweet…sweet…relief.

Do you perform or play music and live with migraine? How do you balance migraine symptoms and triggers with your passion? Do you tell others about your condition in these communities? Let’s discuss in the comments!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • pigen51
    9 months ago

    I played sax and guitars in a rock and roll band. This was back in the 90’s. And while it was hard, I managed to never miss a gig. I sometimes played quite ill. In between sets, I would go outside, and seek the quiet of what was sometimes the outskirts of small towns. We played a lot of rural bars, etc. We also played a lot of weddings, parties, and a few gigs where there were as many as 10,000 people. So the pressure to be there was intense, to say the least. I never have been an illicit drug user, in fact, one of the agreements of our band was that of a no drinking policy when playing at a gig, just to ensure we were professional in what we were doing. We were all in our 30’s, and family people, who were settled somewhat, and none of us had any substance problems.
    Now, there is no way I could work like that in a band, since my migraines have gotten worse, and I am now on disability due to them. I have been fighting a bad one for over 2 weeks now, with little relief. And while in the past I could take N-Saids, I no longer am able to use them, due to a gastric by pass done about ten years ago. So taking them by the handful to get through a gig would be a no go.

  • Kyky Knight moderator author
    9 months ago


    Thank you so much for sharing your experience of playing in a band while also dealing with migraine. Sounds like you all played some pretty awesome shows—10,000 people is a lot! I’ve always loved the saxophone! It is awesome that you never missed a show due to migraine. I know that the pressure can be quite overwhelming but it sounds like you managed it really well, that’s encouraging!

    I am also sorry to hear that your migraines have now made it so that you are unable to play music in public any longer, and that the N-Saids are no longer an option for relief. I know for me, music has been such an integral part of my life, I am sure giving it up has not been easy.

    How have you been lately?

  • Poll