Getting Ready to Gig

By JulieAnne Cross

Getting into the right headspace and physical condition can be key to a successful performance for singers, musicians, actors, and other entertainers.

It’s been reported that rocker Dave Grohl dances to Michael Jackson before a Foo Fighters concert, and Weezer singer Rivers Cuomo throws a frisbee with bassist Scott Shriner before a show. Both Beyoncé and Rihanna stretch with their supporting players, while Coldplay favors a group hug before taking the stage.

We asked local performers — rock ‘n’ rollers, classical virtuosos, and others — to provide some insight into their gig-adjacent routines. While some dive right into their acts, others focus on preparing their brains and bodies.

Antonio Rosario, a dancer with First State Ballet Theatre, says, “I make sure to arrive at the studio at least an hour before warm-up class so I can focus on releasing any tension in my body and getting myself centered. As I’m getting ready for shows, I like to be quiet and conserve my energy.”

Resting before a gig was high on the list for Pat Kane, a singer and songwriter who plays guitar with Bones Brigade and The Bullets. He favors not only a full night’s sleep, but either a 20-minute power nap or meditation to “calm the mind and regain some energy if there’s a late night ahead.”

Bassist and composer Sam Nobles also meditates, although he does it in what some might consider an unorthodox setting.

“I try to meditate and deep breathe a bit in my car before heading in,” Nobles says. “In playing a lot of restaurants, bars, and clubs, the environment can be extra stimulating and social from the get-go, so I try to get my head calm for a few minutes before setting up and performing.”

Focusing on the Work

Visualization is important to “Jennifer” Jie Jin, cellist for the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, Pyxis Piano Trio and Copeland String Quartet.

“If the program is very challenging, I do a lot of visualization work, in addition to practicing my cello,” she says. “I imagine it. I warm up, practice, study the score, and visualization helps me get everything together.” 

Sug Daniels, singer, songwriter and musician, who performs solo and with Hoochi Coochi, turns her attention to “flow.”

“I’ll run through the songs in my basement to make sure the flow of music feels good,” she says. “The day of the performance I’ll usually perform in front of the mirror and practice my onstage banter, customizing it to the lineup or event. When I started leaning into my solo career, I realized this is a great opportunity to show my personality and connect with my audience on a deeper level, so I prepare some talking points.”

All in Good Fun

While most of the interviewees’ answers were on the serious side, Larry Scotton Jr., keyboardist for InnerJettic, and a drummer and sound engineer, takes his pre-gig pep more lightly. “The one thing I must have the day of the show, at the venue, is laughter,” he says. “We must laugh before we take the show serious, right?”

Troy Hendrickson, who performs comedy as Aunt Mary Pat DiSabatino and drag as Miss Troy, practices a quintessential drag ritual before taking the stage.

“For me, it’s Mariah [Carey], wine and breathing,” says Hendrickson.

Getting Physical

Workouts are meaningful to a number of the artists. 

Jenni Schick is a singer and songwriter, and a member of Blue Label Band. She plays guitar when she performs solo, but says that her body “is my instrument.”

“I will never work out on the same day as a full band show,” Schick says. “It would be impossible for me to consume enough calories to get a workout in and then dance for three hours on stage, especially when you calculate setup and travel. But on the day of an acoustic show, I would happily do a short workout.” 

After an hour and a half or more of morning practice, Douglas Mapp, associate principal bass and Lee M. Kallos chair of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, usually squeezes in a bicycle workout before heading to Rowan University to teach.

“Time permitting, I ride my bike either outside or on a trainer in my garage,” he says. “During the school year I usually ride about 400 miles a month. During the summer it’s much more. I usually ride 5,500 to 6,000 miles a year.” 

Tummy Time

Food is important for some performers. Keith Richards, for instance, demands a shepherd’s pie in his contract, and John Legend eats rotisserie chicken. 

Nerves seem to cancel out hunger for many entertainers.

Interviewees’ answers ranged from avoiding late eating the night before a show, to having a big breakfast the day of. The majority — but not all — avoid any heavy meal on the day of or hours before the show. Some worry that they’ll feel bogged down, while others try to avoid reflux.

Delaware doyen Ritchie Rubini, musician, producer, songwriter, and member of The Caulfields, cites only one nutritional pre-show rule: “I don’t eat two hours before a show. That’s about it these days.”

On the other hand there is Jea Street Jr., singer, songwriter and keyboardist, who says, “I eat a giant meal and stuff myself, almost to the point of popping, before every gig. I’m 99% sure it goes back to when I was at Morehouse College and first got started singing with the glee club. They would feed us like pigs before a show.

 “I will eat a full burrito and everything along with it about an hour beforehand, or I panic. It gives me a false sense of being kind of grounded. I feel like I’m stuck in the earth. It’s absurd, but that’s what I do.”

Hydration Nation

Most of our interviewees stressed water consumption. Michelle Hover (singer in Echoes and Shine A Light on ‘83) specifies alkaline water, while most simply want theirs plentiful and at room temperature. 

Lindsay Ohse, starring as Violetta in OperaDelaware’s La Traviata next month, says, “During the show I have lots of water and tea around, and occasionally a piece of fruit for some quick sugar, though I have been known to snack on Sour Patch Kids and Diet Coke.”

No pedestrian decaf orange pekoe for Righteous Jolly, an actor, singer, songwriter and multi-discipline performing artist frequently seen at City Theater Company. He looks to Egyptian licorice, elderberry and echinacea tea to “stay ahead of the ills.” 

Following in the footsteps of many who rocked before them, some performers consume a bit of the old Dutch courage before, during and after shows. And science lends support to that ritual. According to WebMD, alcohol appeals to the pleasure centers of the brain, which may associate drinking with sensations like euphoria, relaxation and loss of inhibitions. “Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” is a motto that has outlived the ‘60s for a reason. 

Foo Fighter Grohl, for instance, favors pre-show Jägermeister bombs while Rihanna enjoys Grey Goose vodka with juice. 

Locally, Nick Bucci, who plays guitar and sings as part of multiple area acoustic duos, looks forward to a single malt Scotch before a show, and bassist Chris Duncan, of BFF and Flat Moon Society, admits she will “take a swig of something” when nervous, but never beer, dairy, or anything carbonated.

Marijuana only made the list of admitted rituals for one local performer, perhaps because the stage is, in fact, legally a workplace. Or it could be because cannabis may be contraindicated for vocalists (not just smoking it; ingestion has been suggested as possibly harmful, although this is unproven).

Endless Possibilities

Other pre-performance rituals are unique to the individual artist.

Ohse says, “I’ll do some vocal warmups before going on stage, but I also enjoy having a quick dance break, listening to something non-operatic to pump me up and get my blood moving. My current go-to is Queen or ELO.”

Frantastic Noise, who calls herself “the Original NoiseMaker,” is a singer, songwriter and musical arranger who is performing in Shine A Light on ’83 at The Queen next month. “What really excites me is when I see my team excited,” she says. “I love to pack food and drinks for them. If I know something extra about them, I try to make sure I have that item they need.”

No one interviewed gave more than a passing nod to personal appearance, but that doesn’t mean that it takes a back seat for everyone.

Ellen DeGeneres, for instance, likes to shower and put on something that smells good before going on stage. The Showtime series George & Tammy alleges that country superstar George Jones not only was particular about his stage getups, but wouldn’t take his in-labor wife to the hospital until he had the perfect outfit in which to meet his baby.

In order to get into a Zen frame of mind, Mike Cross, who performs as DJ Zip, takes time to run a steamer over his gig attire. And a thorough cleaning of the night’s shoe selection follows.

Only one interviewee cites media consumption as part of his ritual. Ismar Gomes, cellist for the Delaware, Baltimore, Virginia, Richmond, and Gettysburg College Symphonies, says that after some practice, “I’ll stay distracted with politics and NBA radio, maybe even watch some Netflix while I practice.” 

Some of the cognitive preparations for a gig mean getting out of one’s own head and interacting with other humans.

DJ Andrew Hugh, who also fits a workout into his day, says, “I like to get there early enough so I can go around and talk to the bartenders, bouncers and staff. I think that’s kind of like a team mentality. Being on the same page with everybody. Being friendly, included.”

Daniels also turns outward just before a gig.

“When I get to the venue, I introduce myself to the sound tech and await sound check instructions. Having a good sound onstage is key to a good show. The confidence you have when you can hear yourself is so game-changing.” 

Schick is another social butterfly, which inadvertently helps her perform. “I’m the worst. I never warm up my voice unless I’m sick, dehydrated or tired,” she says.

“Otherwise, my voice naturally warms itself up throughout the day since I never stop talking and making noises. It’s just my obnoxious personality.”

When the Curtain Closes

Legends from the ‘60s to the ‘80s would imply that post-show ragers are the norm for some rock stars.

Not one local performer hinted at any such antics, with several noting that long drives home strongly influenced their post-show decisions.

After leaving venues like Crimson Moon, Lyndsey Roberts, who performs as DJ Shadylady and was previously the drummer for bands such as Butterscotch Grim, treats herself to a brew at home.

“I keep an interesting new beer in my fridge for after a gig,” she says. “It gives me something to look forward to, and also keeps me from sticking around the bar too long after a gig ends.”

Street says he goes for two shots after a show — tequila or whiskey.

Nearly everyone claimed to be regularly ravenous. 

Dancer Rosario unsurprisingly goes for a hearty steak dinner.

Kane says he usually heads home and goes right to the kitchen to cook a late dinner. But, he adds, “I’m also no stranger to the post-gig Wawa run, as I’m sure most will concur.”

Ohse says, “I’ll find a light meal, depending on what’s still open in whatever town I’m in. I’d be hard-pressed to say no to a celebratory cheeseburger.”