Celebrities — musicians, in this case — often get the reputation of being quirky and immature, expecting the world to kowtow to their every whim and demand. This is especially true — at least, per the rumor mill — when it comes to the backstage requests of singers and other performers. For example, rock band Van Halen is famous (perhaps infamous) for their 50-plus page “technical manual” from the 1980s which demanded, among other things, a dish of M&Ms — with, in all capital letters, a warning that the brown M&Ms be removed.
Crazy? At first blush, sure. But in reality, the M&M demand is a subtle and arguably brilliant way to prevent major carnage.
The full rider (it isn’t online, but here’s the page with the M&Ms demand) is mostly reasonable, even to the untrained eye. While a half-dozen or so pages are dedicated to the band and crew’s meal requirements, most of the document lays out the band’s technical needs in order to perform the show that the audience expected. As on-again, off-again lead singer David Lee Roth would later explain in a video, the Van Halen performances of the 1980s pushed the envelope of what was technically doable at the time, consisting of enormous light shows requiring more electricity than some arenas could handle, and setup instructions well beyond what typical show promoters were used to. Per Roth, the Van Halen rider was much larger than typical — a “Chinese phonebook” compared to a “pamphlet” — and it was of the utmost importance that the promoter read and execute on every single line of it, to the tee.
Checking everything the day of a concert would prove impossible, however, so Roth claims that he had the M&Ms requirement inserted as a way to make sure that no detail of the rider was overlooked. (Roth claims that the M&Ms demand was inserted as a non-sequitur, buried among actual technical requirements, but as the image above shows, that’s not quite the case.) Lots of brown M&Ms? It meant that someone, probably, made a mistake — and potentially, one much bigger than having candy with the wrong dye.
One such example? Roth, in the video above, talks about a New Mexico venue with a brand new stage — one which, unfortunately, could not handle the weight of all the equipment that the band brought with them, which was made clear by the rider. The stage sunk, doing what Roth recounts as nearly half a million dollars in damage.
From the Archives: Vodka and Cola: The bonus fact notes why peanut butter M&Ms are relatively new. (Van Halen fans will also notice something related to the band in that article, although they’re not mentioned.)
Related: Ten pounds of brown M&Ms. Price: About $200 to $250.