In 1980, David Lee Roth of Van Halen walked backstage at a Pueblo, Colorado, performance venue and noticed brown M&M’s in a candy dish. To most people, this wouldn’t be a big issue, but it led Roth to unleash a small “rock star” tantrum and cause a bit of monetary damage to his dressing room.
After all, he needed to prove a point. The promoter and operator of the venue had not thoroughly read Van Halen’s performance rider, which specifically stated “There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area…” On the surface, this verbiage appeared to be a silly power grab to see if such a ridiculous request would be granted. But there’s more to the story, as we’ll see.
A rider, as you probably know, is a part of the contract between a performer and a promoter and/or performance venue. The rider outlines all of the needs of the performer, from the technical specifications for the performance to the hospitality requirements of the talent while they, and their crew, are on-site.
Historically, riders provided only a list of technical specs and hardware expected for a performer to complete what they believed to be an adequate show. Examples include stage height, types of speakers, backline music instruments, lighting, simple production offices for the management team and designated entry times for the set-up crew. In the early days of rock and roll, there might have been a request for some post-performance towels or sodas.
Over the years, however, riders have gained notoriety for the sometimes outlandish hospitality requests made by the performers and his/her team. When details of these odd riders are made public, we get to take a peek behind the curtain and see the demands of the performers we love – or love to hate.
Illustration by Brett Affrunti