Staging Rituals: How Nebraska Musicians Gear Up and Wind Down | Photo Essay

As a showgoer, chances are you have formed a strong opinion as to what makes any particular set a good one. Technical prowess, engaging stage presence, blistering brevity or perhaps some other small quirk grabs your attention and files itself away as a necessary component of a quality concert experience.

But what about the preparation that occurs away from audience eyes, and not just the months and years of preparation — a given, indeed — but the final moments before or immediately after a show that the band needs to make things feel normal, to put them in the right headspace, to wrap a bow on it all. It could be as simple as a pre-show handshake, as ubiquitous as the untangling of one’s pedal-board cords or as unorthodox as a call to the metaphysical. But everyone has some kind of pre or post-show ritual.

We asked musical acts from around Nebraska what they do to prepare for a show and, after picking through the answers, asked five of them to recreate theirs for our photographer Emma Petersen. Read their explanations and view their portraits below.

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Mike Johnson, Ridgelines

My pre-show “ritual” is a little lame, but definitely necessary. First, I need to de-tangle my mess of cables. Playing electronic music means everything needs to be plugged in and each instrument has its own specific cable. Keeping these separate and organized is a constant battle. If I was smart, I would take care of this as I’m tearing down post-show. Instead, I unplug all of my gear and throw all the cables in the same bag and tell myself “I’ll take care of it when I get home.” Never happens. The second (more critical) portion of my pre-show ritual is a cup of coffee. Man, playing a late show on a weeknight is no conducive to my old-man lifestyle. Grabbing some coffee on the way to the venue gets me fired up and provides that caffeine-fueled second wind I need. From the inception of this project, coffee and cables have been a part of my prep and unintentionally get me into performance mode.

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Our Society 

As far as rituals, we usually zone out and listen to the set in headphones for a mental walk through prior to sets. And directly before and after getting on stage we do our team handshake.

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Ghost Town Radio

As a band we like to take a quick shot together before we play.  Sometimes we forget to before we go up so we end up doing it on stage or we will invite the crowd to take a drink with us which is always fun.  I can’t pinpoint when this started exactly, but I know it started with Joe asking if we wanted to take a shot, so from there we try to get one in before every show.  It’s nice because when you are playing shows you are running around loading, sound checking, and talking to people.  So it’s a good way to stop and catch your breath, calm the nerves a bit, and get you in the mindset to get lose, and have a little party and play hard.

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Belles and Whistles

As far as pre-show goes, we have a ritual where everyone shakes pinky’s for good luck before the show. For post-show, our usual routine is us high-fiving after the show. Also, when we load out in the dark, my bass player does this thing where he sneaks up behind me and scares me.

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Luke Norse

For my pre-show ritual I do a single card tarot reading for myself. Then I gaze into a black obsidian crystal ball and I think about how the symbolism of the tarot card could be represented in sound. For my performances I wear an elk skull mask that I made myself using a grinder tool and a power drill. I have been wearing the elk skull mask for about a year. Before that I was wearing a mask that I made out of plaster and painted to symbolize the sun. I feel like it puts me in a trance like state because it is surreal and unusual. These things get the mind’s attention taking it out of the mundane which helps me to be more in the moment.

Nebraska musicians: we want to see more! Show us your unique pre- or post-show ritual via email at