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11 Items in Van Halen's Contract Rider (Including No Brown M&Ms)

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Van Halen is back! Featuring David Lee Roth and three Van Halens, the band has reunited for a North American tour, and their new record was released just three days ago. So I thought I'd take a look back at the band's infamous early-1980s tour rider*, the document that specified no brown M&Ms, among many other things.

First a historical note: the "no brown M&Ms" thing was actually a business strategy (this has been discussed on This American Life and confirmed by David Lee Roth). The complexity of the show -- with its massive lights, sound system, rigging, and dozens of crew members -- required attention to detail, or the show would be in jeopardy...and so might people's lives: the gear was sufficiently heavy that it could destroy floors that weren't strong enough, and we're talking about serious electrical requirements too. By embedding hyper-specific details in their contract, Van Halen and its tour managers created a way to spot-check the attentiveness of the venue. As someone who has worked as a front of house engineer, I can attest that many bands have riders containing specific clauses like this, and they are there for a reason: because the venue signs a contract agreeing to provide x, y, and z services. If "z" is "no brown M&Ms" but "y" is "sufficient electricity to power our lighting system," it's crucial that every spot be thoroughly examined. So, with that out of the way, let's have some fun.

1. Salt & Pepper, on Penalty of $100 Fine

Part of the "Misc." clause of the "Dinner" section reads: "Salt & Pepper (any caterer not providing adequate condiments, utensils, or ice will be subject to a $100.00 fine.)" Oddly, the rest of the dinner menu doesn't mention any condiments aside from salt and pepper, so we must assume the boys really liked to shake it up. (Later, under "Supplies," it is specified that salt and pepper must be provided "in shakers.")

2. Six (6) Gallons Chocolate Milk

Throughout the contract, meals are specified in great detail. In total, I found six gallons of chocolate milk (not including the many gallons of regular and whole milk necessary for the crew). The contract also requests fruit [sic] loops.

3. Three (3) fifths Jack Daniels Black Label bourbon, Two (2) fifths Stolichnaya vodka, One (1) pint Southern Comfort, Two (2) bottles Blue Nun white wine

"NOTE: These drinks to be served at room temperature."

4. Two (2) gallons non-carbonated, bottled spring water, One (1) bottle Rose's Lime Juice, grapefruit juice, apple juice, grape juice, Twelve (12) bottles Perrier, Eight (8) quarts Gatorade (non-carbonated, lime flavor), various soda pop

Presumably to be served as mixers. A note on the "Food Requirements (Band)" section, which mentions all of the above booze and mixers, also says: "When not specified, quantities should be sufficient for four (4) people." I refer to the previous list including five fifths of vodka and bourbon, a pint of whiskey, and two bottles of wine...sufficient for four (4) people, of course.


The idea here was to get some poor caterer to pick through the M&Ms and remove the brown ones, so the band or producer could glance at the bowl, verify no brown, and feel good -- if brown candies were present, all hell would (and did) break loose (read the Snopes article for one first-hand account of what David Lee Roth did when he spotted this problem, among others, at one venue). Note that directly beneath this requirement, in the section labeled "Munchies," are requirements for Twelve (12) Reese's peanut butter cups, and Twelve (12) assorted Dannon yogurt (on ice).

6. Ten (10) dozen doughnuts

For breakfast and lunch, the crew required a large quantity of doughnuts. I recall working a gig where doughnuts were referred to as FTUs, or Fat Transfer Units.

7. One (1) large tube KY Jelly

I can really only speculate what this was for. It certainly couldn't have been related to the requirement for "one (1) day bed" to be provided in the "Band Room." Nope, it was probably for surgical use, as Wikipedia suggests. Yeah, that's the ticket!

8. A pleasant temperature

The rider repeatedly discusses temperature, insisting that various rooms and spaces be heated or air-conditioned to "maintain a pleasant temperature." While this demand isn't outlandish at all, it's interesting that it had to be specified three times in order to stick -- I'm guessing the band encountered some venues that were of an unpleasant temperature! Oddly, the "Crew Room" was specified to be at only a "comfortable temperature."

There is also mention of a "Tuning Room" which is used to tune stringed instruments. It has a specific requirement that the room be kept at a temperature identical to that of the stage, plus or minus 5 degrees F. While this may seem persnickety to non-musicians, it's crucial to proper tuning of instruments -- a significant temperature change can cause a guitar or bass to expand or contract, going out of tune in the process.

9. Herring in sour cream

Under the otherwise unremarkable "Deli Tray" section, the band specifies this rather particular item. Herring and rock 'n roll clearly taste great together. Oh yeah, and it should be provided in quantities sufficient for four (4) people.

10. Five and one half (5 1/2) cases of Coke

The soft drinks specified in the rider are remarkable. Over the course of the day, at least 5.5 cases of Coke are required, but there are also calls for 6.5 cases of 7-Up, 1/2 case Tab diet soda, 1 case Pepsi (heresy!), 1 case Country Time lemonade, "assorted other soft drinks," and endless requirements for many gallons of orange juice. The crew dinner alone calls for 6 gallons of "various juices, including orange juice."

11. Beer!!!

The section marked "Food Requirements (Crew)" says "NOTE: No beer to be provided until dinner at 6:00 p.m." Clearly, someone had learned a lesson. In all, the rider calls for five (5) cases of beer prior to the show, three of those Budweiser and two Heineken. Additionally, the band required four (4) cases Schlitz Malt Liquor (16 ounce cans) just for themselves. (Note that the five cases of beer appear to be mostly for the massive crew; the Schlitz and booze are another matter.)

* = What's a Rider?

A rider is a portion of a contract in which the performer lays out a series of requirements (like food, stage space, electricity, etc.) necessary in order to perform. Riders are part of the contract the venue signs with the performer, and thus have some legal weight. In practice, many venues (at least the ones where I worked in the '90s) are somewhat lax on the specifics of most riders, though we did tend to read them and make an effort -- if the thing said "deli tray" we'd go buy a deli tray. You can read a bunch of riders from The Smoking Gun to get an idea of what these documents are like.

Further Reading

You can read the good parts of the rider, along with some analysis, at The Smoking Gun. It's well worth a read, as there are lots of items I left out of this list (Tupelo honey, anyone?). See also the This American Life discussion of the rider and the Snopes page about it.

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Get Crazy With the Official Bob Ross Coloring Book
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If you watched Bob Ross's classic series The Joy of Painting for hours on end but didn’t come away a terribly capable artist, you can still enjoy replicating the amazing public television personality’s work. You can now pretend you’re painting along with the late, great PBS star using a brand-new adult coloring book based on his art.

The Bob Ross Coloring Book (Universe) is the first authorized coloring book based on Ross’s artistic archive. Ross, who would have turned 75 later this year, was all about giving his fans the confidence to pursue art even without extensive training. “There’s an artist hidden at the bottom of every single one of us,” the gentle genius said. So what better way to honor his memory than to relax with his coloring book?

Here’s a sneak peek of some of the Ross landscapes you can recreate, all while flipping through some of his best quotes and timeless tidbits of wisdom.

An black-and-white outline of a Bob ross painting of a mountain valley

A black-and-white outline of a Bob Ross painting shows a house nestled among trees.

A black-and-white outline of a Bob Ross painting shows a farm scene.

And remember, even if you color outside the lines, it’s still a work of art. As Ross said, “We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy accidents.”

You can find The Bob Ross Coloring Book for about $14 on Amazon. Oh, and if you need even more Ross in your life, there’s now a Bob Ross wall calendar, too.

All images courtesy of Rizzoli.

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8 Movies That Almost Starred Keanu Reeves
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Kevin Winter/Getty Images

He may not have the natural ease of Al Pacino, the classical training of Anthony Hopkins, the timeless cool of Jack Nicholson, or the raw versatility of Gary Oldman, but Keanu Reeves has been around long enough to have worked alongside each of those actors. Yet instead of Oscar nods, the actor whose first name means “cool breeze over the mountains” in Hawaiian has a handful of Razzie nominations.

While critical acclaim has mostly eluded Reeves during his 30-plus years in Hollywood, his movies have made nearly $2 billion at the box office. Whether because of his own choosiness or the decisions of studio powers-that-be, that tally could be much, much higher. To celebrate The Chosen One’s 53rd birthday, here are eight movies that almost starred Keanu Reeves.

1. X-MEN (2000)

In Hollywood’s version of the X-Men universe, Hugh Jackman is the definitive Wolverine. But Jackman himself was a last-minute replacement (for Dougray Scott) and other, bigger (in 2000) names were considered for the hirsute superhero—including Reeves. Ultimately, it was the studio that decided to go in a different direction, much to Reeves’ disappointment. “I always wanted to play Wolverine,” the actor told Moviefone in 2014. “But I didn't get that. And they have a great Wolverine now. I always wanted to play The Dark Knight. But I didn't get that one. They've had some great Batmans. So now I'm just enjoying them as an audience.”

2. PLATOON (1986)

For an action star, Reeves isn’t a huge fan of violence, which is why he passed on playing the lead in Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning Vietnam classic. “Keanu turned it down because of the violence,” Stone told Entertainment Weekly in 2011. “He didn’t want to do violence.”

3. THE FLY II (1989)

Few people would likely mistake Reeves for the son of Jeff Goldblum, but producers were anxious to see him play the next generation of Goldblum’s insectile role in the sequel to The Fly. But Reeves wasn’t having any of it. Why? Simple: “I didn't like the script,” he told Movieline in 1990.


Speaking of sequels (and bad scripts): Reeves was ready to reprise his role as Jack Traven in Jan de Bont’s second go at the series … then he read it. “When I was offered Speed 2, Jan came to Chicago and so did Sandra, and they said, ‘You’ve got to do this,’” Reeves recalled to The Telegraph. “And I said, 'I read the script and I can’t. It’s called Speed, and it’s on a cruise ship.” (He's got a point.)

Even when the studio dangled a $12 million paycheck in front of him, Reeves said no. “I told [William Mechanic, then-head of Fox], ‘If I do this film, I will not come back up. You guys will send me to the bottom of the ocean and I will not make it back up again.’ I really felt like I was fighting for my life.”

5. HEAT (1995)

Reeves’ refusal to cave on Speed 2 didn’t sit well in Hollywood circles. And it didn't help that he also passed on playing Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer’s role) in Michael Mann’s Heat in order to spend a month playing Hamlet at Canada’s Manitoba Theatre Centre. From that point on, Reeves told The Telegraph that it’s been a struggle for him to book any studio movies. “That’s a good old Hollywood story! That was a whole, 'Hey, kid, this is what happens in Hollywood: I said no to the number two and I never worked with the studio again!’”

6. BOWFINGER (1999)

By the time Frank Oz’s Bowfinger rolled around, Eddie Murphy was pretty much the go-to guy for any dual role part, but the movie wasn’t always intended to play that way. Steve Martin, who both starred in and wrote the movie, had actually penned the part of Kit Ramsey for Reeves (whom he had worked with a decade earlier in Parenthood).

“When Steve gave me the script for Bowfinger, it wasn't written for Eddie Murphy,” producer Brian Grazer explained. “It was written for a white action star. It was written for Keanu Reeves, literally. I said, 'Why does it have to be an action star?' He said, 'That's the joke.' I said: 'What if it were Eddie Murphy, and Eddie Murphy played two characters? That could be really funny.' He said: 'You know, that'd be great—that'd be brilliant. Let's do that.' He processed it in about a minute, and he made a creative sea change.”

7. WATCHMEN (2009)

A year before Zack Snyder’s Watchmen hit theaters, Reeves confirmed to MTV what many had speculated: that he had turned down the chance to play Dr. Manhattan in the highly anticipated adaptation. But it wasn’t because of lack of interest on Reeves’ part; it just “didn't work out.” Still, he made it as far as a set visit: “They were shooting in Vancouver while we were filming so I went over to the set to say, 'hi.' They showed me some stuff and it looks amazing! I can’t wait. It’s going to be so killer, man!”


By the time Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder made its way into theaters in the summer of 2008, the meta-comedy had been more than a decade in the making. So it’s understandable that the final product veered from Stiller’s original plan for the film, which included Reeves playing the role of Tugg Speedman (Stiller’s eventual part). Initially, Stiller had planned to cast himself as smarmy agent Rick Peck (Matthew McConaughey picked up the slack).


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