The Wall Street Journal tells the story of David Lee Roth, Van Halen, and the most famous contract rider in Rock history.
By the early 1980s, Van Halen had become one of the biggest rock bands in history. Their touring contract carried a 53-page rider that laid out technical and security specs as well as food and beverage requirements. The “Munchies” section demanded potato chips, nuts, pretzels and “M&M’s (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES).”
When the M&M clause found its way into the press, it seemed like a typical case of rock-star excess, of the band “being abusive of others simply because we could,” Mr. Roth said. But, he explained, “the reality is quite different.”
Van Halen’s live show boasted a colossal stage, booming audio and spectacular lighting. All this required a great deal of structural support, electrical power and the like. Thus the 53-page rider, which gave point-by-point instructions to ensure that no one got killed by a collapsing stage or a short-circuiting light tower. But how could Van Halen be sure that the local promoter in each city had read the whole thing and done everything properly?
Cue the brown M&M’s. As Roth tells it, he would immediately go backstage to check out the bowl of M&M’s. If he saw brown ones, he knew the promoter hadn’t read the rider carefully—and that “we had to do a serious line check” to make sure that the more important details hadn’t been botched either.