The real reason Van Halen demanded the removal of brown M&Ms from the backstage snack bar

You are correct! March 30, 1980 in Pueblo, Colorado, according to the town’s newspaper, the Pueblo Chieftain.

The Chieftain article includes an interview with stagehand Larry Frazier, who worked the show, that confirm’s David Lee Roth’s claim about venue flooring not handling the weight of the band’s stage setup:

Frazier and the other members of Concert Crew built and took down Van Halen’s stage under the direct supervision of Feyline’s people and Van Halen’s production crew.

“It was my first opportunity to be exposed to a (technical) rider and say, ‘Here’s what we have to do,’ ” said Frazier. “As the equipment came in I thought, Wow, this is bigger than life.”

The stage was set up at the far end of Massari Gym, behind the outside border of the basketball court and in front of the emergency exits, according to Frazier. The stage was constructed several days prior to the concert and was done with great precision, he said.

“The roadie that brought Feyline’s stage would not allow us to not put pads (plywood) under the legs,” said Frazier. They were sandwiched under them to protect the floor.”

Despite those precautions, the tartan floor was damaged. Van Halen blamed USC, saying the school didn’t realize how much the staging weighed. Frazier said it’s possible some of the pads – all supplied by Feyline – were worn and gave way during the show.

So the brown M&M clause was already in VH’s contract in March, 1980. That’s already months earlier than the earliest date mentioned in the OP. It took 5 minutes to google.

But because the clause was already in the contract by then, this show can’t be the one that inspired the clause.


Was that in the 90s? I think I remember that on the news.


I recently posted a small task to an outtasking site. The first page of the documentation was this:

80% of the freelancer responses did not contain that phrase.


Sure, except the May 1980 date is supposed to be when the explanation of the rider became known, which I imagine is why Mack digs up a source from the time. His article does not say when they actually started it, just that by 1980 they were pretty well known for it. So that concert for sure couldn’t have inspired the rider, but on his theory it could have inspired Roth’s story about it after the fact, I don’t know.


If so, I think early eeearly 90s. I moved away in January '91.


Wait, Brown M&Ms?


I’m reposing this, not because it’s particularly (or even at all) insightful, but because it got collateral-damaged in some @admin action, which, huh. Anyway:

Yeah, I read the article too (which had some interesting stuff in it, mind) and the conclusion that Roth’s account is wrong, which starts something like 90% of the way in, is really just, like, the author’s opinion, man. If anyone wants to avoid the clickbait [REFERENCE TO EXPUNGED POST REDACTED], the only arguments I could find are:

  1. even if it were a canary, the band actually expected to get a bowl of brown M&Ms, as (allegedly) opposed to Kansas–although the sourcing on this is kind of light (it cites “the band members’ own quotes from the 1980s” but weirdly doesn’t include those quotes, unless I’m missing something)–but it can be two things!;
  2. it also served to burnish the band’s reputation (maybe, but as with #1 that doesn’t mean it wasn’t also a canary);
  3. once it becomes well-known, it works less well as a canary (maybe, although that doesn’t mean it didn’t start out as a canary, and venues paying attention to the proto-memes around the band might also be paying heightened attention to the band’s safety requirements);
  4. different departments handle catering and electrical safety so the presence of brown M&Ms doesn’t necessarily correlate with electrical problems, or vice versa (maybe, although I’d guess that the contract was probably read in its entirety by a person or team at the venue who then delegated it, and also this exists in a certain amount of tension with point #3).

Not very strong stuff!


Good point here. The “rider” is more than booze and food. The tech rider includes all of the technical requirements for the band, all of this info is received well in advance by the production/promoters. If the shit aint right in the green room, its a good bet shit wont be right onstage, and the artist won’t be breaching their contract if they refuse to perform.


I was around to hear this song about riders live:


One of the worst people I set up for was a well-known public scientist. His rider, like they do, had really specific things about food, and towels. The towels had to be made of certain material in specific percentages, specific kinds of lettuce in the salad, etc etc. It wasn’t easy to find them, but we did. When His Majesty arrived Himself insisted that the towels weren’t of the appropriate quality (despite being what he asked for), the salad wasn’t fresh (it was), the stage wasn’t angled correctly (??). Pretty much everything. We got new towels, fresher salad, changed out chairs (not specified in the rider). He never used or ate any of it. He was abusive to the staff. Just a bad experience for everyone. For years we would refer to “Van Halen the Science Guy.”


I hope you billed him accordingly.


We tried booking him for a con, but it was too expensive and demanding for a volunteer-run con.
I’ve heard so many mixed stories back and forth about the guy. He seems like a really strong personality whose behavior shifts dramatically based on how he’s feeling that day.


By the early 90s, when I was an ents officer (student concert promoter), this behaviour had moved right the way down the food chain. I was booking venues with a maximum capacity of 400 and had demands including “three condoms for each member of the band”, “a selection of colour post cards of your town/city” and “a functioning kettle, foot spa and selection of aromatic herbs”. Fearing a scenario where a band would refuse to play on account of a missing item on the rider, I used to honour the riders to the letter.
One time I booked a Manchester hip hop artist, MC Buzz B. His rider specified a smoke machine and strobe on stage. We did a sound check and the saxophonist gesticulated like crazy: “Stop the strobe! I’m epileptic”. Turns out it was actually the booking agent making demands rather than the artistes themselves … and they really should have known that one of their musicians had epilepsy.


Okay, a couple things about how riders work, from someone who worked both on and behind the stage for a lot of years

Not how it works. The stuff on the rider is the only thing the band doesn’t pay for. Basic context, record labels are abusive capitalism to a degree that would make pimps and payday loan managers alike hang their heads in shame for even considering. I’m pretty sure a lot of the specifics have been covered on BB previously.

When you have a major label contract, they front the money for recording, distribution and touring- And all at the low interest rate of “everything you make”. For every album sold, you get a fraction of a percentage of the sale, from which you have to pay back everything the label has paid for- Which is a LOT. That nice dinner they took you to and popped an expensive bottle of champagne to celebrate your signing? That comes out of your royalties. Recording studio? Same. Tour bus, hotels, backline eqipment, tour manager? All comes out of your future earnings. The label also can have some limited say over which gigs you take and for how much, particularly those featuring non label artists.

The stuff on the rider is about the only thing the band doesn’t have to recoup, and it’s one of the few areas of the business where they have any control. This becomes absolutely critical when you realize a lot of Billboard charting bands are effectively earning minimum wage(1), and when you start to factor in that one big club gig isn’t just income, but a whole day that food, lodging, and transportation is coming out of the venue’s pocket and not yours.

There’s also the part people don’t understand about just how grueling it is spending 40 weeks a year on the road, in a different city every day. Knowing that you can at the very least get your favorite flavor potato chip that night actually becomes worth something. I covered something like 42 states this year, and discovering that Cracker Barrel carried Moxie was a huge deal. Even if I only had one ever few weeks, it’s a little taste of home.

But back to the “paying attention” part. I cannot tell you how many times we would get to a venue, tell them we wanted to drop off props, look around, and then head to the hotel to change before the runthrough, that they would ask where we were staying. “Ummm, wherever you booked us? Like you agreed to in the contract? That you signed six months ago?” It was rare we’d end up without somewhere to stay, but half the time it ended up being a dumpy Motel6.

The rider covers your food and hotel, your sound system and technical needs, what time you’re allotted to set up and break down, how many guest passes you get, and a hundred other details from selling merchandise to who’s responsible for unloading the van.

Some of those details, like merchandising and hiring a sound guy, can make the difference between making or losing money on a gig. Most will determine whether you get on stage and have a kick ass show or grind through phoning it in. A couple, if you deal in pyrotechnics or heavy set dressing, can get people killed if things aren’t up to spec.

I literally have a section buried in my contract rider that reads “send an email to with the subject line ‘brown M&Ms’ so I know you’ve read this.” Is it a guarantee that everything will be taken care of? Nah. But if I get that email, the likelihood they will pay attention to the crucial bits is now high enough I can focus on the actual gig instead of putting together contingency plans for how to handle everything around the gig.

(1) Music industry math in a nutshell: You lose money on record sales. You make enough from playing shows to survive. You make millions from letting Pepsi and Goggle hang a banner on the stage.


Thanks for missing the joke, I feel really special now.


Yes, interesting stuff in some of those documents. One that caught my attention was Jimmy Buffet’s requirement for a private sound check. If it is determined that anyone other than working staff are present during his sound check he reserves the right to cancel the concert and still receive full payment.



I’ve read a lot of band contract riders (the worst in terms of endless BS being the Grateful Dead’s, the pettiest being David Grisman’s), and yes, there are a lot of assholes in the world of Rock and Roll (or Bluegrass Dawg Music), but almost as annoying and equally full of assholes is the world of blogs, and someone whose purview is ostensibly snacks ignoring the word of someone who should be an expert about Van Halen, and saying “nope, I think it’s this” instead. A lot of promoters are shitty people who cut corners and stiff both performers and their own employees and aren’t above putting the safety of the ticket buyers below their own bottom line. So, were Van Halen dicks to make a point? Yes, but it was a well-made point.


I’m willing to bet that was put in by management to keep him from just letting people in. lol. He’s really well known for putting on free shows.

When I was living in Key West, he came down at least twice that he just showed up at Margaritaville with a guitar and was like “I’m gonna play a couple sets tonight”.


As a Stagehand and production assistant at the Concord Pavilion in the early 1980’s I was charged with reading and providing what was asked for in the Talents rider.
Many times there is a “red herring” asked for.
Not sure if Van Halen was the first, but I can testify that they were not the last.