Vocal coach Toth advises his clients to take their last bites at least 90 minutes before performing. Jimmy Buffett and his band eat at 5 p.m. before a show, which gives him time to digest occasional indulgences like gumbo or West Indies salad, a crabmeat and sweet onion mix prepared by his sister Lucy at her restaurant, LuLu’s, in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Reeve Carney, the rock singer turned Broadway star who has the title role in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, agrees that timing is often more important than the meal itself. “I was on a pretty steady diet of banana pancakes and bacon for a while,” he admits with a laugh. Also important is the mid-performance snack, especially on Broadway, where singers’ energy levels are liable to crash between acts. Toth suggests a little dark chocolate, peanut butter, and a banana or granola—and not craft services (buffet-style snacks provided for performers and crew). “You see this brownie with M&Ms on top, and you think, Well, that will do the trick—and it sort of will, but it won’t. It will for a very short time.”
And what about booze? Justin Vernon will occasionally add a splash of whiskey or Guinness to his honey-ginger-lemon concoction, or take a Guinness onstage with him. Van Etten, who was on the path to becoming a sommelier before her music career took off, usually requests a preshow Rioja or rye whiskey, which she finds has less of a burn than bourbon. “It’s really hard to not drink on tour. You’re always playing in bars, and that’s what they usually give you for free,” she says. “But you just have to learn how to control it.” Other performers—including classical musicians Calleja and Bax—just say no.
Even Mr. Margaritaville himself never drinks before going onstage, Buffet’s sister Lucy reports. Pacifico calls giving up alcohol before a performance “the best move I’ve ever made.” And Ross has another reason to stay moderate: Alcohol messes with his sleep when he has only six tour-bus hours of rest to work with. “OK, now I’m definitely not sounding very rock ’n’ roll,” he says, laughing, “so I’ll leave it at that.”
Lisa Tolin is the East Coast entertainment and lifestyle editor for the Associated Press. She drank a lot of coffee to improve her performance on this story.