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Her Routine: How Musician Eliza Gilkyson Stays in Shape for Shows

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Austin music legend Eliza Gilkyson stays in shape by rockin’ out at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar this month.

By Gretchen M. Sanders, Photo by Robert Jensen

Don’t tell Eliza Gilkyson singing isn’t exercise. The two-time Grammy Award nominee burns calories every time she belts out her songs.

“Singing is yoga,” she says. “I’m onstage for hours at a time, moving so much oxygen through my body. It’s a great workout.”

Gilkyson, one of the world’s most respected Americana, folk and roots musicians, grew up in a musical family in Los Angeles and has made 20 records in her nearly 50-year career. She moved to Austin in 1981, and, at age 69, still rocks this town—and stages worldwide.

Austinites have the chance to see Gilkyson work out—and rock out— for two hours at this year’s Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, a gig she started playing in the 1970s. The Austin Music Hall of Famer takes the bazaar stage with her full band at the Palmer Events Center at noon Dec. 14.

Here’s how this singer, songwriter and activist keeps the beat.

THE A.M.:

“The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is go back to bed. I wake up at 4:30 a.m., read for a while and go back to sleep until 8:30 or 9 a.m. I like to stretch in bed before I get up, even in hotel rooms.”

THE WORKOUT:

“I carry well over 100 pounds of gear and suitcases when I tour. I do exercises at home to build muscle so I can run through airports or climb stairs with all of my gear. I focus on keeping my knees strong. I have a stationary bike in my house that also works my arms, and I ride it for at least 20 minutes every day. It gets my heart rate up, stretches my knees and helps me build strength. When I exercise on the road, I go to hotel fitness centers or walk outside. I must have good genes because I really don’t exercise very hard. I’m not motivated to work out, but I am motivated by pleasure and nature. I will push myself up a hill because it feels good to move my body, not because I need a workout.”

THE DIET:

“I’m more disciplined with nutrition than I am with exercise. I eat mostly vegetables, grains and organic fish and chicken. I don’t eat gluten or sugar and I don’t drink alcohol or smoke. I haven’t had a cup of coffee in 40 years. Sticking to my diet gets tricky when I travel, and sometimes I’m just starving on the road. I carry curry bouillon cubes with me and an assortment of teas to tide me over until I reach food. I keep snacks backstage, and I go to Whole Foods. (There’s one everywhere and sometimes when you’re on the road and hungry, you’re just so glad they’re there.) I buy certain basics and keep them in my hotel fridge or collapsible cooler. I usually eat Thai food when I go out to dinner. Curry is so comforting on the road.”

THE GEAR:

“I have an amazing guitar, a 1951 Gibson. It’s an acoustic guitar but it has an electric pickup, so it has two fabulous, completely different sounds. I can get a rock sound from it, and then I can change the jack and get a really beautiful acoustic sound. I carry it on my back when I travel. I also carry one suitcase for my gear and one for my clothes. They can weigh at least 50 pounds each. I bring a pedalboard for my guitar and a stomp box for beatboxing, along with heavy songbooks and at least 60 or 70 CDs to sell. For stage clothes, I pack a black blazer, two Western shirts, a pair of black pants and one jacket. I bring herbs, vitamins, supplements and salves with me. It’s like a small apothecary shop. People make fun of me for always wearing black, but I have to keep things simple, especially when I’m traveling through different climates. I just went from the frozen tundras of Winnipeg and Alberta, Canada, down to Los Angeles, where temps were in the high 80s and low 90s. The other day, I caught a ferry, hauling all of my gear, and there were no [luggage] carts. That’s why I have to stay fit.”

THE MOTIVATION:

“I don’t know who I am if I’m not making music. I get such satisfaction from performing. It’s how I make a living, and I love what I do. I want to stay healthy so I can do it until the end of my days.”

THE MINDSET:

“Be human. Strip yourself down and be authentic. People don’t care if you make a mistake. They care about how you react to your mistake.”

THE P.M.:

“I could easily go to bed around 9 p.m., but if I stay up until 10 or 11 p.m., then I get a second wind. Often, that’s when I go into my office to write songs. I stay up until 1 a.m. most days. The last thing I do before bed is tell my husband how much I love him.”


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