High-profile musicians make all sorts of wild demands about their backstage set-ups at concerts: Kanye West reportedly requires a barber’s chair. Mariah Carey insists on two vases of white roses.
Rock band Van Halen had one of the most oddly specific requests of all: a bowl of M&M candies, with all the brown ones removed. For years, it was seen as complete folly — the band was making a ridiculous demand of concert organisers simply because they could get away with it.
But the seemingly ludicrous request was actually a shrewd business move. (We were reminded of it while reading Ian Parker’s excellent profile of New York Times food critic Pete Wells in the New Yorker; he mentions the Van Halen M&M episode in passing.)
The band’s concert rider indeed had a clause saying there could be no brown M&Ms in the backstage area, or the promoter would forfeit the entire show at full price.
As lead singer David Lee Roth explained in a 2012 interview, the bowl of M&Ms was an indicator of whether the concert promoter had actually read the band’s complicated contract.
“Van Halen was the first to take 850 par lamp lights — huge lights — around the country,”Roth said. “At the time, it was the biggest production ever.” In many cases, the venues were too outdated or inadequately prepared to set up the band’s sophisticated stage.
“If I came backstage, having been one of the architects of this lighting and staging design, and I saw brown M&Ms on the catering table, then I guarantee the promoter had not read the contract rider, and we would have to do a serious line check” of the entire stage setup, Roth said.
The brown M&Ms demand is a great rock ‘n’ roll legend — but the truth is far more interesting.
Watch the full interview:
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