Musicians, famous and nonfamous, talk about ther pre-show rituals, from naps to tequila shots
Published: April 26, 2013 05:40PM
Updated: April 27, 2013 03:28PM
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In the hour before we begin work at our desks, we need to ease into the day.
We brew a cup (or seventeen cups) of coffee, check and “like” a few things on Facebook, and gossip with our co-worker on what happened the night before on TV.
Only then can we properly begin our day of work.
Musicians on the road are no different, even though their days of work usually begin much later than the rest of us. They have a routine, which usually includes a soundcheck, media interviews and meet-and-greets.
But what do they do in the 15 minutes before they hit the stage?
The Salt Lake Tribune asked many of the musicians from around the world whom we talked to over the past several weeks to tell us about their pre-show rituals, and if they follow any superstitions in the crucial final minutes before they emerge from behind the curtain to encounter an adoring crowd.
The answers varied from person to person, but the only thing that didn’t vary much was that their pre-show rituals are often the same as those of us who start work at 9 in the morning.
And, in a blow to their sex-and-drugs-and-rock-and-roll reputations, not a single person mentioned a last-minute cavorting with a groupie or, like Spinal Tap, getting lost in the bowels of the arena trying to find the stage.

Lzzy Hale, Halestorm • “If you need a nap, take it. I put on Judas Priest, Pat Benatar, or Cinderella, and I literally shadow-box. I’m a girl, so I put on my heels and make-up.”
Jon Bon Jovi, Bon Jovi • “I like to go to the venue at 5 to sing a little bit, smell the air. Sometimes I get a bite to eat. I get on the right foot.”
Thierry Fischer, Utah Symphony music director • “My only superstition is to have no superstitions. Being alone is very important for me. Sometimes I eat dark chocolate, eat an orange, asking people for extra cufflinks, drink a Coca-Cola. Sometimes I need to be in a dark room. Sometimes I sleep for 10 minutes.”
Neal Middleton, Royal Bliss (pictured) • The lead singer of the local rock band said the routine before hitting the stage has changed over the years. Past last-minute procedures included nipple bumps and shaking all of their limbs to loosen up. One thing has always remained the same: the band drinks a shot of either Jameson or Jägermeister together.
Bobby McFerrin • “I like the idea that the show is just part of my day. I finish sound check, I have dinner with my sound engineer, I walk on stage, I’m just myself with people. But I do sometimes surprise people, I’m so goofy onstage but I can be pretty quiet and private offstage, especially when I’m on the road.
Todd Rundgren • “I space out three hours before a show. I take three Advils, and one Tagamet [which prevents heartburn]. It pre-emptively keeps me from belching throughout the show.”
Codi Jordan, Codi Jordan Band • “Maybe we do a pep talk, and yell something [about Utah], like ‘Go Utes’ or ‘Go Jazz.’ We’re weird.”
Todd Snider • “Some nights we make a [setlist], and then we abandon it. If I go to Salt Lake City, I look at an archive and see what I played the last time I played there.”
Ira Kaplan, Yo La Tengo • No ritual, especially this year, when the band has been playing two sets at each show. “Doing the second set, we’re more relaxed. No ritual smashing of property.”
Zakk Wylde, Black Label Society • “Try not to psych yourself out.”
Josh Groban • He joked that he likes to put on diapers so he doesn’t have to leave the stage to go to the bathroom during the show.
DopeThought • “Go off alone, definitely pray. I’m spiritual. I practice natural breathing, ask God to help me spread the positive message.”
Joshua James • “We like to have a little pow-wow. We try to clear our minds.”
Sleep, The Chicharones • “I try to avoid people. I try to get in my head. I still get butterflies, so it’s painful the first part of the show.” To calm themselves and exercise their voices, Sleep sings “operatically,” while his partner Josh Martinez “sticks his tongue out as far as he can, and screeches, to clear his throat.”
Bill Payne, Little Feat • No ritual. “I know some people who stand on their head, or read the phone book backwards. I could talk to you now and play a show two minutes later.”
Tech N9ne • My guys help me laugh before a show so I forget it is going to be a hard show. We all pray.”
Yu Kosuge • “I always [wear] some golden shoes. I always have a banana beforehand.”
John Campbell, Lamb of God: “I start my ritual about an hour before. I warm up on the bass, drink a lot of water, and get focused in the dressing room. About 10 minutes before, I find myself a Red Bull. I gave up drinking last fall.”
Jimmy Tamborello, The Postal Service • For the first time, the keyboard player is wearing clothes on stage that are different than whatever he is wearing earlier that particular day. So he finds myself changing clothes before the show. “I drink a couple of beers, to get out of my head.”
Jenny O • “I try to take a moment to hold a collection of items that feel sacred,” such as an arrowhead or a “small rodent’s vertebrae.”
Matt Tuck, Bullet For My Valentine • “Just focus on the show ahead. I drink a lot of water throughout the day. The most important thing is to keep the pipes hydrated.”
Alex Maas, The Black Angels • “We try to get in the same room and get the same picture in your heads. I drink some tea. We don’t light candles or s____. We’re normal people.”
Dirty South • “I come in 30 minutes before a set. I try to be relaxed [by] not having too many people in the room. When I stop having the nerves, it’s time to stop deejaying. If it’s a really big show, I have some shots of tequila to claim the nerves.”
Mikel Jollett, The Airborne Toxic Event • He works on the setlist, and pauses to look out at the crowd from behind a curtain. “I’m always surprised people are there.”
Dorothy Lawson, ETHEL • “I like to meditate. We quietly center ourselves, and invite good energy in. [The motto is] ‘Be here now.’”
Brooks Wackerman, Bad Religion • “I suffer from a little OCD. What I do is warm-up for about an hour, stretch.” He added that his OCD extends to numbers, so that whenever he sees numbers in a group, he needs to add them up compulsively. “I try to stay away from numbers before the show.”
Davey Suicide •”We have a quick little huddle. We all come together. We stay in the zone.”
McKay Stevens, The Vibrant Sound • “For our band, we usually listen to three Macklemore songs and dance around and sing along to the words.” He was asked what songs they were: “Ten Thousand Hours,” “Same Love” and “Can’t Hold Us.”
George Hinchliffe, The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain • “I was reading that Rihanna has a prayer that she and her crew do — ‘Bless the notes ...’ There’s quite a lot of things she does that we don’t do.”
Bill Davis, Dash Rip Rock • “We usually get together and I’ll tell them what the first four songs are, and I and Patrick [Johnson, bass player] will do a shot of Patrón [tequila]. It is a special blend of chemicals in Patrón that make us do a good show.”
Corin Roddick, Purity Ring • “I just have a glass of whiskey and stretch.”
Janiva Magness • “A regime of warm-ups [that begin] two to three hours before. Meditation, prayer that I can get out of the way and let the muse come through me. The job is connection.”
Juicy J • “I say a prayer before I go onstage. It’s like a shot of gin. I wouldn’t be here without faith.”
Tom Hunting, Exodus • “I do a few stretches. I breathe and try to relax. I am high-strung as it comes to performances. I still need to tell myself, ‘You can do this.’”
Patrick Bristow, Henson Alternative’s Stuffed and Unstrung • “I remind myself that I am lucky to be in front of 500 to 1,500 people. My last thought is, ‘This may be the night where I really blow it.’”
Andy McCluskey, OMD • “The last thing I do is shake hands with each member in a counter-clockwise circle.” He tells each of them to “Have a good one” and “Kick a__.”
Robert Earl Keen • “Make sure my zipper is up. When I’m on tour, I like to play the guitar all day, so I feel ready.”
Ricky Young, The Wild Feathers • “A lot of times, we’ll hum a song together. It gets your mind off the nervousness. Whiskey always helps us to loosen you up and make you more comfortable.”
Emancipator • “No occult rituals. I have some water, stretches, check out the show [of opening acts]. I have a Patrón shot before going on stage.”
Michael Vampire, Vampires Everywhere! • “We put on Rob Zombie and get pumped on the bus. I drink Jack Honey [Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey Liqueur] for its curing and alcoholic properties.”
Charly, Dirtyphonics • “We usually have a shot of vodka.”
Louis Lortie • “One should rest as much as possible, [be] as inactive as possible.”
Luke Quranta, Toubab Krewe • The Afro-beat group congregates into a circle. “We bring in the spirits of teachers and others, and bring energy in. We [tell one another to] remember to entertain as well as to educate. It’s our job to have a party.”
Alex Clare • “I do vocal warm-ups. I push my voice hard. I pray three times a day, and sometimes before a big show, pray to help get me through this.”
Riker Lynch, R5 • “We play ‘We Are Family’ right before going on stage.”
Brandon, Brandon & Savannah • “We are Christian, so before we pray and ask Him for help. We like to talk to fans beforehand, so they know us.”
Patterson Hood, Drive-By Truckers • “I don’t want to be drunk, but I don’t want to be too sober.” He preferred to be “more closer to sober, but not terribly sober.”
Hoodie Allen • “I rush to get my clothes on. We do a circle-of-life group huddle.”
Alex Koehler, Chelsea Grin • “I usually take 30 to 45 minutes to eat ginger root and do vocal warm-ups.” He was asked if he liked the taste of ginger. “Hell, no. I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat it [otherwise].”
Dave Pirner, Soul Asylum • “There is a certain amount of pacing you have to do. I have to have these certain socks on. I have to put in eye-drops.”
Keith Jeffrey, Atlas Genius • “We do make a point of going into a huddle, to hype yourself up. Generally, we dedicate [the] show to obscure actresses from the 80s, to keep fun. The other night it was Molly Ringwald.”
Wayne Sermon, Imagine Dragons • “We like the quiet and we mentally prepare. We don’t brood too much. We [tell each other] to remember where we were in the first place when we wrote the songs.”
Anna Horton, Don’t Stop Please • “Sometimes we play improv [comedy] games to heighten the group focus.”
Dake Wakeling, The English Beat • “I take a shower and put on my clothes. I need to have three guitar picks in my pocket. That’s the only thing that puts me off. Sometimes I walk around with three picks [even when a show isn’t happening that day].”
Ritzy Bryan, The Joy Formidable • “I stay away from milkshakes. Nothing fishy or curry. We like to wrestle beforehand, to get the adrenaline pumping.” She said one of her band mates insists on drinking chocolate martinis before going on stage.”
Curtis Salgado • “Vocal excercises. Eat and chit-chat with the fellas, sitting around and bulls_____ing. You go and relieve yourself.”
Jeff Austin, Yonder Mountain String Band • “An hour before, I call home and say good night. {Next] I will lay down and shut down. It helps me get focused. I visually [perform] the set in my mind.”
Tommy Benedetti, John Brown’s Body• “We do a little bit of stretching and have a few beers. We stay at the venue between soundcheck and the show, to stay in the zone and think about it.”
Ben Kaufmann, Yonder Mountain String Band • “When I am in Salt Lake City, I will be sitting down eating Red Iguana.”
Sallie Ford, Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside • “Most important, I have to put on my lipstick. It’s become a ritual. It sets me in the mood.” She also drinks Throat Coat Tea.
Phillip Phillips • “I have a lot of cough drops. I always pray, to have a good time and not screw up.”
Tobacco, Black Moth Super Rainbow • No ritual, besides making sure “you don’t have a booger.” He said he doesn’t warm up his voice because he uses a vocoder.
Keith Roberts, Young Dubliners • “I warm up my voice, ready to rock ... I remember the old days, before gigs at Piper Down and Zephyr Club, having two pints and a shot at Port O’ Call.”
Paul Hoffman, Greensky Bluegrass • “We are anti-ritual. Sometimes we write a set list, sometimes not. Sometimes we eat dinner, sometimes we don’t.”
Jay Gordon, Orgy • “I like taking a leak. You don’t want to pee your pants onstage.”
Salvador Santana • “I listen to Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley — music that is motivating and uplifting. I may say a prayer and thank my grandparents and parents.”
Brittany Howard, Alabama Shakes • “I do some stretches. I do some vocal warm-ups. One sounds like a pack of coyotes.”
Michael Kiwanuka • “I love listening to music.”
Willy Braun, Reckless Kelly • “The only time I get anxiety is singing the National Anthem at a baseball game. [To relax,] sometimes I have a cocktail and watch a concert film on DVD, like from The Who, Tom Petty, and Bruce Springsteen.”
Kyle Henderson, Desert Noises • “Sometimes I take my shoes off. I play in my socks. I want to feel comfortable when I’m playing.”
Darwin Deez • “Sometimes the band will do calisthenics and core exercises.” They often recite skits from Busta Rhymes albums.
Ian Hultquist, Passion Pit • “It’s pretty relaxed. I might stretch a little bit.”
Claudio Sanchez, Coheed & Cambria • “We put our hands together, and tell each other to f___ themselves.”
Danny Seim, Menomena • “I used to gave terrible anxiety, and I would pace. Now that we’re in our middle-to-late 30s, it is better.”
Vince Herman, Leftover Salmon • “In other states, medicinal marijuana.”
Matt Johnson, Matt & Kim • “Kim has a lucky style of underwear. She always needs a cough drop in her mouth.” He added that she comes from an athletic family, so she has plenty of superstitions.
Geologist, Animal Collective: He listens to music as he fiddles around on his computer.
Elvin Bishop • “I get nervous. I think it means I don’t take [the show] lightly. I quit drinking 26 years ago. I thought I needed that, but I found out I don’t.”
Bob Schmidt, Flogging Molly • “Usually I have a back-up mandolin and strum the heck out of it and get my wrist loose. Any ritual you have takes the nervousness out of it. It definitely takes the edge off.”
Joey Ryan, The Milk Carton Kids • “No [ritual], but we should. We need one. It would probably help.”