In this Preshow Rituals segment, the indie folk artist, Paola Bennet, reveals what she does before taking the stage. You can check out the rituals, after the break.
Live shows were an acquired taste for me. I’m naturally shy and deeply anxious, so for a long time, I was mostly writing and posting songs on the internet. A few years ago, I decided to really give it a good effort. I started going to open mics almost every night, then booking first small shows and then bigger openers. It’s gotten easier than it was, and there’s an adrenalized magic in live shows that I really enjoy now. That said, I still get massive nerves, so having little routines or superstitions to satisfy helps ground me before I get onstage.
Keeping myself in the good physical condition is crucial. (I once sang a show on a sore throat, and then got laryngitis for three weeks.) The week of a show I try to drink water often, eat well, minimize drinking, and get good sleep. Day-of, I try to have a cup of tea at the venue if I can, and warm up my voice. (You get used to making weird sounds in front of people.)
I like being prepared, to a point. Practicing tricky guitar parts or high notes so I know I can do them is important. I keep extra picks, guitar strings, and cough drops in my bag for emergencies. On show day, I do a single run-through of the setlist—and then step away for the rest of the day, to give my brain a break. A good soundcheck can go a long way, so I try to show up early when possible and work out any last-minute knots with the folks I’m onstage with. It’s giving yourself a foundation, but also the space to breathe.
I have little talismans and superstitions that have shifted over the years. In the green room or before getting onstage, I send a little wish for a good show into the universe. I usually carry something small with me onstage—a stone, a figurine, something I feel brings me luck or calm.
For all the prep, though, once I’m on stage I try to just focus on what’s in front of me: the song, the band, the audience. The beauty of a good live show is in letting go, opening up that cathartic space for everyone there with you, and it’s been a great teacher for me. I always know it’s a good show if it feels like it’s going quickly—“Wow, we’re already at the second-to-last song?” It means I’ve been in the moment rather than analyzing, which is the best you can ask for.
Definitely important to allow myself to breathe post-show—whether that means a drink with my bandmates and friends, and/or going home early to rest! The most rewarding thing is hearing from the folks who showed up. For me, a single person can set the entire vibe of a show by taking the time to say a song of mine meant something to them. That connection is a precious feeling and one I hope to lean into much more as the world reopens!