Barry Fey is a Denver-based concert promoter who has booked just about every giant rock band you can think of, and often for the first time in America. His new memoir Backstage Past speaks on his efforts bringing groups like U2, The Who, and The Rolling Stones stateside.
It's also got plenty to dish, much of it concerning the temperamental and downright oddball behavior of rock stars. The below excerpt explores Van Halen's contract rider circa 1980, which delves into one of history's burning questions: Why didn't they want the brown M&Ms?
From Van Halen's 1980 contract rider:
• Potato chips with assorted dips
• M & M's (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES)
• Twelve (12) Reese's peanut butter cups
• Twelve (12) assorted Dannon yogurt (on ice)
• Forty-eight (48) large, bath-size cloth towels
• One hundred (100) cups for cold drinks (16 oz., waxed paper)
• Fifty (50) styrofoam cups (minimum 10 oz.) for hot drinks
• Forks, knives and spoons (metal, not plastic)
• Serving utensils, corkscrew, bottle and can openers
• Salt and pepper (in shakers)
• Napkins (paper)
• Two (2) large bars Ivory soap
• One (1) large tube KY Jelly
I did several shows with Van Halen over the years and in 1980, I had three shows in Colorado. The first one was at the University of Southern Colorado in Pueblo on March 30th which was a warm-up for the summer World Invasion Tour of Europe and North America. I brought them back in September for two shows at McNichols Arena on the 12th and 13th.
The Pueblo show was the first time I'd heard about the brown M&Ms. There are different stories about it, but one I was told is that the band wanted to make sure its contract rider, which detailed every little thing from trash bags to what kind of foods would be served to the roadies and at what time; virtually nothing was left to chance. So, someone suggested they put in “no brown M&Ms” as a gotcha; if there were brown M&Ms, then whoever was supposed to read the rider didn't and other important details, like the tube of K-Y Jelly, might have been overlooked.
In their Pueblo dressing room, the band found brown M&Ms and the boys, who had proven that they didn't need much of an excuse to damage hotel rooms and the like, tore up the college's dressing room. Tore it up so badly that the University banned not only Van Halen, but all rock concerts at the school.
Just because I enjoyed being a smart ass, I guess, four years later when I booked Van Halen to headline The US Festival (more on that in another chapter), I bought a big, silver chalice, had it filled with ONLY brown M&Ms, walked into Van Halen's dressing room and put it down on the table. The guys—Eddie and Alex Van Halen and David Lee Roth—laughed their asses off.