Legally Speaking: No brown M&Ms and other adventures in contract riders

By John G. Browning | Mar 20, 2012

It is springtime, and a young man's thoughts turn to . . . summer concert tours, of course.

It is springtime, and a young man's thoughts turn to . . . summer concert tours, of course.

As announcements arrive about which big acts will be coming soon to a stadium near you, and as old favorite bands reunite for one last gasp (thanks, Van Halen, for welcoming back David Lee Roth), it is only natural to start thinking about who you will be going to see at venues ranging in size from the intimate (a local club or small theater) to the not so intimate (like an arena whose name changes with the ebb and flow of corporate sponsorship).

But did you ever stop to think about the contracts that govern the terms under which your favorite group will appear and perform for you and about 80,000 other people?

While the lawyers on both sides make sure to dot the "i"s and cross the "t"s about how much the band will be paid and other issues, the performers themselves have been known to throw in some outrageous or unusual tour "riders"—a list of requests and demands from the band before it will go on stage and play a single note.

Contract riders are standard in the concert industry, with musicians who are going to be in an unfamiliar place every night seeking a bit of familiar comfort throughout the tour while promoters try to keep them happy by complying with lists for specific food, drink, and sundry accommodations.

Back in 1982, the band Van Halen made its now-legendary request, buried on page 40 of a 53-page contract rider, that it have M&Ms waiting for them in the dressing room—but "absolutely no brown ones."

Why include outrageously picky riders? Sometimes it is a matter of making the artist as comfortable as possible on the road, and it can also be a matter of practicality for musicians who are living out of suitcases and requesting things like new underwear and socks.

For other groups, it is kind of a test. As Andrew Goldberg, managing editor of (which features over 300 crazy celebrity riders on its "Backstage" page) observes, "If you put in something really odd—like no brown M&Ms—and they catch it, it means the promoters are paying attention. If they miss that, what other, more important points are they missing? Lighting, security, microphones, amps?"

Of course, for other performers it is a power play. Tyler Gray, senior editor at Blender magazine, says "They're pushing it to see how far they can go. It's a control issue. They've reached a certain point in their careers where they expect respect."

So what are some of the concert riders of the stars? Former Poison front man and reality TV star Bret Michaels spells out his views on soft drinks very specifically, right to stating that Sprite "is no substitute for Mountain Dew."

John Mayer's tour rider requests boxes of children's breakfast cereal and a wide variety of oral hygiene products (perhaps the two are connected). David Bowie insists on a 12-cup Mr. Coffee machine, so he can get his caffeine on. Hip-hop star and germaphobe Mary J. Blige demands that a brand new toilet seat be installed at any venue she plays.

The members of Coldplay keep family close to their hearts, specifying eight pre-stamped local postcards ready to be mailed off to faraway relatives, like Gwyneth Paltrow and the kids. When she's not giving the finger at the Super Bowl, hip-hop artist M.I.A. requests an organic cheese tray "featuring cave-aged Gruyere, Swiss, and sharp cheddar."

Diva Jennifer Lopez has a white fetish, demanding white candles, white flowers, white furniture, white curtains, and so on. Country superstars Rascal Flatts mandate the backstage services of a masseuse, while Taylor Swift insists on a different kind of comfort: comfort food, that is, with no less than three boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese.

Jazz vocalist Diana Krall wants "a yoga room big enough to fit five people." Rapper Snoop Dogg wants to chill, too, but not the way you might think—he just wants a Sony Playstation stocked with miscellaneous sports video games. Blues great B.B. King, on the other hand, wants "5 pounds of fresh fruit and 1 pound of Nova Scotia salmon."

Katy Perry's rider instructs promoters to hold back concert tickets so that her people can pass them on to resellers on the secondary market; in other words, she reserves the right to profit from what many would call scalping.

But the award for the most unusual—and most entertaining—concert rider goes to the Foo Fighters. Their 52-page rider includes a coloring book, activity pages, and references to "Top Chef," tiger blood, Cat Fancy magazine, former Yankee Bucky Dent, and Chewbacca from Star Wars.

They ban garden gnomes, tridents and light sabers at their concert venues, and they explain their insistence on things like vegetarian soup ("because meaty soups make roadies fart"). Fifteen of the pages focus on "Catering Visual Enhancement & Activities."

Lead singer Dave Grohl and tour manager Gus Brandt put it this way to their reading audience of promoters:

"Seriously, we've traveled a few hundred miles to your venue, to your town, to your special place. Think about it and not like a character in a Judy Blume book. You want us to come back. We want to come back. Your town probably has hot chicks. What's better than visiting and revisiting a town with hot chicks AND good food? Right? Check out the attached pages and take them at least seriously. If we've offended you then you probably weren't that bright to begin with. I quote Ted Knight when I say 'the world needs ditch diggers.'"

Indeed, the Foo Fighters' hilarious, stream of consciousness tour rider makes for fun reading (and it, too, can be found at If you've ever wanted some insight into your favorite band, and what makes them come back to your town besides money and adoring fans, then sit down with your favorite snack food and check out their rider. Just leave out the brown M&Ms.

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