Does Playing Music High Make You Sloppy?

Smoking up before a live performance? Yay or nay?
Smoking up before a live performance? Yay or nay? /

It could be argued there’d be no rock n’ roll without drugs and alcohol. All of the great records to come out of the past century can be directly or indirectly attributed to some broken soul getting ripped out of his mind before picking up a guitar. Elvis did it. Ozzy. Motley Crue. Pantera. 

Even though Americans have come to accept that their favorite bands are pharmaceutically inspired at some point in their career, the fans are often unforgiving once inebriation infiltrates the stage. 

Anyone who has ever witnessed a concert where the musicians have imbibed before the performance knows that the show can get sloppy. They forget verses, how to play their instruments, and sometimes even what city they’re in. Suddenly, that band that changed countless lives sounds like complete dog dung, and the audience starts to reconsider their appeal.

But not all drugs affect musicians equally. A whiskey-drunk guitar player might come out strumming sloppily before falling on his face, but the same couldn’t be said if they were high on marijuana, right?

Some diehard cannabis users insist that stoned musicians play better, with more precision than those who do it from the bottom of a bottle. And maybe they do. After all, think about the bands from back in the day – we’re talking Woodstock 69 and, well, probably the one from 99, as well – that were baked out of their minds, fried and tripping before jamming in front of the congregational equivalent of a small city. They didn’t seem to have any issue getting through their sets.

But then again, it could be argued that the music really only sounded as tight as it did because the audience was high too!

The Bluntness set out to get to the bottom of the question: Who’s performing their music better onstage, the drunk or the stoned? The many players who responded to our recent inquiry – both from the amateur circuit and the pros – while all offering a slightly different response mostly agreed that playing drunk is almost always a total disaster. 

“Playing drunk sort of takes you back to when you’re first learning,” Tim, a 34-year-old bass player from Pensacola, Florida, told The Bluntness. “Your brain and fingers no longer work in unison. Like, you are completely disconnected from the music, and the output is slop. I can play fine with a couple of drinks in me and maybe some sips onstage, but I’m under no illusion that I play well when I’m smashed.”

“Here, here,” declares Markus, a percussionist from New Orleans. He agrees with Tim that a few drinks might not keep a player from performing at his best – look at Keith Richards if you need an example – but it’s still not something he’s willing to risk. “I save the drinking for after the show,” he said. “Playing music is a job and should be treated as such. Save the partying for later.”

Okay, so what about weed? It is presumed that countless musicians are using marijuana – taking dab hits and scarfing down edibles in the dressing rooms – and still getting up on stage every night to play a killer show. Now, we said presumed. We don’t know everyone’s habits. 

But there probably wasn’t an evening where Bob Marley wasn’t blazed up beyond belief, yet he never disappointed his fans. Snoop Dog, either! That dude certainly doesn’t walk out onstage without his eyes gleaming red. And Willie Nelson, well, that bastard was born stoned. 

Maybe these artists are the exception. Still, should weed be lumped into the same category as booze and other drugs that have traditionally sent some musicians into a wild doobie dimension of the stupid, sloppy and ultimately cause them to do a piss poor job at their chosen craft? 

Some musicians reject the idea that cannabis has the same debilitating effects on one’s ability to keep rhythm and style with accuracy. It’s not that these people believe that playing music high isn’t without peril. It’s just that the leaf doesn’t manifest the same sloppiness as if they were on the sauce.

“Weed helps me focus onstage and forget about the crowd,” Randy, a 32-year-old guitarist from Knoxville, Tennessee, told us. “It can also cause me to forget what song we’re playing sometimes. But alcohol makes me rowdy. I’m more apt to stop playing to punch someone in the crowd.”

Um, thanks, Randy! We’ll hang out in the back.

Some musicians may have gotten high before jumping onstage back in the day – maybe they thought that’s just what an arteeest does – but they soon learned that it was more of a detriment to the performance. 

“When I was a lot younger, playing shows stoned was a given, but I only did vocals back then,” Cary of Franklin, Illinois told us. “As my guitar playing became more technical, the idea of playing a show high as fuck became a nightmare, so I stopped doing it.”

Pro-cannabis musicians claim there is a magic combination between smoking weed and playing music. As for Cary, he still gets high to play but only when he’s “writing or just noodling around.”

Others tend to agree with that ethos. They argue there is a certain threshold between buzzed and stoned, and where they go depends on who’s in the room. If you ask Leo, a singer/songwriter from Southern Indiana, weed is an integral part of his musical endeavors, but how much he consumes relies on whether the goal is writing or performing on stage. “Get stoned during the writing process, buzzed for rehearsals and a slight head change for live performances,” he said.

For Brandon, a guitar player from Louisville, Kentucky, marijuana and live performances simply don’t mix. “It’s hard to play with a bag of popcorn in my hand,” he joked.  

So, what do the experts say about it? 

No stoned musician will trust a physician to tell them that getting high before playing isn’t the best path to an outstanding performance. No sir, if Jim Morrison can do it, they can too! So, we reached out to guitarist Marzi Montazeri, arguably as prolific in cannabis use as he is at playing guitar. 

Once lending his talents to heavy metal legend Phil Anselmo and NOLA-based Exhorder, Marzi claims there’s something to getting high for creativity while staying mostly sober when it comes time to play a show. But it really depends on the individual. “For some, they can be very perceptive and focused [on marijuana] while others can be scatterbrained and forget their parts,” he explained.

Recently taking a break from the bud to focus on himself and his band Heavy As Texas, Marzi has toured all over the world, performing on stage at some of the largest venues and in front of crowds that would make the average musician shit themselves stupid. It goes without saying that getting stoned before and after shows was just part of that lifestyle. 

But a true professional, which Marzi most certainly is, doesn’t dare walk out there to play at the highest level with brown stains in his underwear. “When I did smoke, it made me focus until it became a problem personally, and now, I’m back being that kid that had a lot of fun just playing,” Marzi declared. “You don’t need any of it to get to the foot of the matter, which is music and the pure love for it.”

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