Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Today's Trivia - Van Halen’s ‘No Brown M&Ms!’

Perhaps you’ve heard the famous story of Van Halen’s notorious insistence that the band’s contracts with concert promoters contain a clause specifying that a bowl of M&M’s be provided backstage - with all the brown M&Ms removed. And perhaps you’ve also been led to believe that it’s just another example of eccentric demands of power-crazy celebrities.

Not quite.

The "brown M&M" line, which was listed in the technical portion of Van Halen's contract rider, was a way to verify if venue promoters and managers had actually read and honoured the terms of the contract that contained other requirements involving legitimate safety concerns. On earlier tours, inadequate compliance by local organizers for the safety requirements of the rider had placed members of Van Halen's road crew in danger.

As Roth explained in his memoir, Crazy from the Heat:

“Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets. We’d pull up with nine 18-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors — whether it was the girders couldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren’t big enough to move the gear through. The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function. So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say ‘Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes...’ This kind of thing. And article number 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: "There will be no brown M&M's in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation."

“So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl...well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you're going to arrive at a technical error. They didn't read the contract. Guaranteed you'd run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally , life-threatening.”


These requests were extremely important as the mistakes could be life threatening. In Colorado, the band found the local promoters had failed to read the weight requirements and the staging would have fallen through the arena.

Kind of puts things in a different perspective for me as I never knew the whole story of the brown M&Ms. I tip my hat to Van Halen. This was quite an ingenious way to guarantee that the contract was read, and the terms were respected, especially where safety was concerned.

6 comments:

  1. I never knew that either! But it's a clever way of checking that all their safety-related demands had been met.

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    1. It sure is clever. If things aren't set up properly it could prove fatal.

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  2. Smart idea and a good way to guarantee their safety as well as the audience's.
    Interesting post Martha.

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    1. It was their way of making sure things were handled properly.

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  3. I remember hearing about that a long time ago but then later learned why in some music documentary.

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    1. I didn't learn about this until recently. I am quite impressed by this; very smart.

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