One rock n’ roll rumor that has floated around for years is that Van Halen had a contract clause banning brown M&Ms from being backstage or elsewhere for their live concert tours. It sounds absurd, especially for a band like Van Halen with their awesome lead singer David Lee Roth.
Did Van Halen really have a no brown M&Ms contract clause? If so, why? The answer is yes, they did have a ban on brown M&Ms. As crazy as it sounds, there really is a good explanation why. The main reason was to make sure the concert promoter actually read the entire contract due to safety reasons for the band, crew, and fans. Let’s dig a little deeper into this piece of Van Halen history, shall we?
What is the Real Story About Van Halen & the Brown M&Ms?
Most people assume when they first hear this story that it is simply a ridiculous demand stemming from inflated rock n’ roll egos. But the truth is the main reason they did this was to make sure the concert rider (a document with requests/demands that a band sets as criteria for performance) was actually read and not glossed over. If brown M&Ms were present in the backstage area, this was an indicator that the contract had not been read thoroughly and the show could have potential safety issues. If they didn’t read the brown M&M clause, maybe they didn’t read other important details.
As Van Halen’s popularity grew, so did the staging, lights and other gear. This particular concert rider became famous during the world tours in the early 80’s which had nine semi-trucks full of equipment for each show. With three times the amount of equipment as a typical concert, it was important to make sure the weight could be supported.
At one concert at Colorado State University, the arena had a new type of rubberized floor installed for the basketball team. The promoter for this event did not read all of the physical requirements in the contract and as a result, the heavy stage sunk over 6 inches into their new rubberized floor.
Backstage, without realizing this had happened, David Lee Roth noticed brown M&Ms and responded by trashing the dressing room a little bit (causing perhaps $200 damage) to make a point about reading the contract. However, the damage caused by the stage sinking in caused $85,000 worth of damage. The media ran with the story something along the lines of David Lee Roth discovers brown M&Ms in the dressing room – does $85,000 worth of damage to the backstage area.
So ultimately, the “no brown M&Ms” clause was implemented to serve as a canary in the coal mine test to avoid a catastrophe, injury or death. Make sense now? 🙂
What did the Van Halen Concert Rider Say?
Here is how the no brown M&Ms clause read. The full contract was around 42 pages long. I’ll try to find a full copy soon.
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)