Everyone knows that Van Halen are total primadonnas. Their rock star behaviour that has led to the on-again-off-again reformation tour was one of the reasons Soundwave Revolution was forced to cancel. But the band are most famous outside of their music for their rider request for ‘no brown m&ms’ which has gone down in history and rock n roll folklore. It set the gold standard that many musicians today still struggle to match in its effectiveness and simplicity.
But Van Halen’s request wasn’t simply out of vanity, it had a much more serious intention. The story goes that the band slipped in the seemingly inconsequential detail as a test to see whether the venues they were visiting had adhered to more important considerations regarding safety and treatment of the crew.
Now Barry Fey, a Denver-based concert promoter who has toured everyone from U2, The Who, The Rolling Stones, and of course Van Halen, has dished the dirt on what the bizarre rider request really meant and the consequences reaped by the band should anyone fail to follow the directions.
Below is an extract from his memoir Backstage Past, courtesy of LA Weekly:
From Van Halen’s 1980 contract rider:
• Potato chips with assorted dips
• M & M’s (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES)
• Twelve (12) Reese’s peanut butter cups
• Twelve (12) assorted Dannon yogurt (on ice)
• Forty-eight (48) large, bath-size cloth towels
• One hundred (100) cups for cold drinks (16 oz., waxed paper)
• Fifty (50) styrofoam cups (minimum 10 oz.) for hot drinks
• Forks, knives and spoons (metal, not plastic)
• Serving utensils, corkscrew, bottle and can openers
• Salt and pepper (in shakers)
• Napkins (paper)
• Two (2) large bars Ivory soap
• One (1) large tube KY Jelly
I did several shows with Van Halen over the years and in 1980, I had three shows in Colorado. The first one was at the University of Southern Colorado in Pueblo on March 30th which was a warm-up for the summer World Invasion Tour of Europe and North America. I brought them back in September for two shows at McNichols Arena on the 12th and 13th.
The Pueblo show was the first time I’d heard about the brown M&Ms. There are different stories about it, but one I was told is that the band wanted to make sure its contract rider, which detailed every little thing from trash bags to what kind of foods would be served to the roadies and at what time; virtually nothing was left to chance.
So, someone suggested they put in “no brown M&Ms” as a gotcha; if there were brown M&Ms, then whoever was supposed to read the rider didn’t and other important details, like the tube of K-Y Jelly, might have been overlooked.
In their Pueblo dressing room, the band found brown M&Ms and the boys, who had proven that they didn’t need much of an excuse to damage hotel rooms and the like, tore up the college’s dressing room. Tore it up so badly that the University banned not only Van Halen, but all rock concerts at the school.
Just because I enjoyed being a smart ass, I guess, four years later when I booked Van Halen to headline The US Festival (more on that in another chapter), I bought a big, silver chalice, had it filled with ONLY brown M&Ms, walked into Van Halen’s dressing room and put it down on the table. The guys–Eddie and Alex Van Halen and David Lee Roth–laughed their asses off.
Don’t forget to check out our slideshow of the most outrageous backstage requests, and once you’re done you may have fun looking at part 2.