You may have heard of the brown M&M’s story of Van Halen… I would come in backstage, and if I saw brown M&M’s, I’d trash the dressing room and threaten to cancel the show… I made it seem like it was a complete act of self-indulgent extravagance…
I already mentioned Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets. We’d pull up with nine eighteen-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…
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… 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… 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. And I’ll give you an example.
The folks in Pueblo, Colorado, at the university, took the contract rather kind casual… They hadn’t read the contract, and weren’t sure, really, about the weight of this production; this thing weighed like the business end of a 747.
I came backstage. I found some brown M&M’s… and promptly trashed the dressing room. Dumped the buffet, kicked a hole in the door, twelve hundred dollars’ worth of fun.
The staging sank through their floor. They didn’t bother to look at the weight requirements or anything, and this sank through their new flooring and did eighty thousand dollars’ worth of damage to the arena floor. The whole thing had to be replaced. It came out in the press that I discovered brown M&M’s and did eighty-five thousand dollars’ worth of damage to the backstage area.