Heavy Mental Moments: The Myth of the Lavish Tour Rider

When any writer is trying to capture the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll decadence, the writer will inevitably bring up Van Halen’s demand that venues provide them with M&Ms … all brown ones removed.

That isn’t exaggeration. It’s true. The Smoking Gun has a copy of the tour rider, which also includes requests for an astonishing array of fluids and a bottle of K-Y jelly.

In a recent BuzzFeed profile, David Lee Roth claimed the band’s motivation for such ridiculous requests wasn’t exactly rock entitlement: “The legend that Van Halen wouldn’t play if they found brown M&Ms in their backstage jar is cited as a prime example of the era’s excess and hubris; the reality is that the request was buried in their contract rider as a test to see whether venues were abiding by the intricate technical specifications for the stage and sound.”

Okay, so Van Halen was being clever and testing the attention to detail of the concert venues, but those brown M&Ms wouldn’t have been in the tour rider if someone in the band hadn’t had a) quite an imagination and b) an equally large sense of entitlement.

The funniest aspect of Van Halen’s tour rider — and any other tour rider — is that most struggling musicians are lucky to get a single pack of M&Ms at the end of the night. For an example of a more realistic tour rider, take a look at what the Dead Milkmen requests. They seem reasonable, far more so than I would have expected from a band that goes by the name “Dead Milkmen.” (I can understand their feelings about Coors.)

I pondered what Clancy Parker’s band, the Marquee Idols, might request in their tour rider, and their expectations would be modest … with one exception:

Value pack of Fritos (Clancy)
2 cases of Heineken (one for Harold, Clancy’s landlord)
1 bottle of tequila and 2 bottles margarita mix (margaritas are Muriel and Shane’s fuel of choice)
Samples of local vegetation (Yes, Wayne’s euphemism for weed)
Box of condoms (We are talking about Muriel and Shane here)
1 bottle of K-Y (Again, Muriel and Shane, and they do intend it as a nod to Van Halen)
Fresh towels (Because rock musicians tend to be sweaty, and Douglas Adams was right — towels are good for everything!)

While music fans obsess over the world’s most famous tour rider, let’s not forget that the way the lesser bands live might be just as interesting. Unlike the major-league stars, smaller bands need to be resourceful!

*–Given the lavish nature of the tour rider, I am mildly surprised that they requested only one bottle of K-Y.

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