Even Mick Jagger knows that you can’t always get what you want, but when it comes to the comforts of home on the road, a lot of rock stars give it their best shot. Riders, or special clauses in their contracts with stadiums and concert halls, often detail the performers’ personal quirks and cravings in minute detail, and promoters sometimes find themselves scrambling to provide an improbable assortment of idiosyncratic demands. And no wonder, says Steve Finkel, general manager of Detroit’s Pine Knob Music Theatre: “When you get an act that pulls in the grosses, you bend over backwards for them.”
While drugs and sex were at the top of the wish list (albeit unwritten) five years ago, things have changed, according to Leslie West, publicist for Wisconsin’s Alpine Valley Music Theatre. “Drugs are almost nonexistent,” she claims. “Tours are a business, like General Motors.” The biggest concern now, it seems, is food and drink. Fast food is still a staple: The Doobie Brothers get 36 Big Macs and large orders of fries after their concerts, while the road crew for Rush favors White Castle hamburgers—100 at a time. Other rockers have more esoteric tastes. David Bowie savors sushi; Bonnie Raitt, acidophilus milk for her sensitive stomach. The J. Geils Band thirsts for $1.98-a-bottle Thunderbird wine, and Crosby, Stills and Nash get 24 lemons and a pound of honey (to soothe their throats) and hot homemade soup, even during the summer.
Rather than risk dining on the same meal two nights in succession, some bands include detailed menus in their contracts. Monday means Italian food, Tuesday steak, Wednesday Mexican fare and Thursday veal for the Moody Blues. But not all stipulations are food-related. Bruce Springsteen is guaranteed access to a gym, while the Police get a Ping-Pong table with “high-performance balls.”
“I’ve seen riders 30 pages long,” complains Brian Weiner, marketing director of the Centrum in Worcester, Mass. “They don’t just want towels. They want 10 off-white Cannon towels washed two times in Ivory Snow.” Gofers are a favorite item among rockers, and bands seem fond of burdening them with capricious requests. One runner called to a Grateful Dead member’s hotel room was asked to fetch a pack of cigarettes from across the room. She did, and then asked how she could help him. He said coolly, “That’s all I wanted.”
The rider demand that lives in legend is the one that appears in all Van Halen contracts: Promoters are asked to provide the band with bowls of M & M’s from which all the brown pieces have been removed. Times change, however, and so do tastes. While those heavy-metal mongers are still asking for M & M’s, they seem to have grown tired of merely noshing on them. After a recent concert at Maryland’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, they smeared the candies all over the walls of their dressing room—presumably just as they do at home.