Excess All Areas: The Secrets Behind Tour Riders

A 12-foot boa constrictor, 100 white doves, but absolutely no brown M&Ms. Tour riders can be outrageous, hilarious or ecxuses for excess. Here’s why…

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Gene Simmons eating spaghetti backstage on tour
Photo: Fin Costello/Redferns

Touring is big business. Bands can’t just turn up, plug in and play – it takes months of preparation to go from the rehearsal studio to the arena stage, and everything needs to be just so. To ensure that each show goes off without a hitch, bands draw up a rider: a list of stipulations that must be met, from security requirements to preferred methods of transport to and from the venue. But what about when the band are backstage, either psyching themselves up for a blistering show, or winding down from over two hours’ worth of giving it their all?

Brown M&Ms a no-go

This is where tour riders get interesting, as the artists get to make very specific requests (or, er, demands), covering everything from the food they eat to the décor of their room… or, in some cases bathroom (a recurring requirement of venues is the installation of new toilet seats for visiting stars). Wayne’s World 2 poked fun at these when the film’s fictional roadie, Del Preston, recounted an (equally fictional) tale in which Ozzy Osbourne refused to go on stage until he received a thousand brown M&Ms to fill a brandy glass.

But that joke also nods to arguably the most notorious band rider in history, and one which set the bar for all those that followed. During their 1982-83 Hide Your Sheep tour, Van Halen demanded that their M&M snacks be served with “absolutely no brown ones” at all. It was, frontman David Lee Roth later claimed, merely a way of ensuring that venue staff were paying attention.

Ever since, performers have flexed their star power in different ways. Many just want to feel comfortable backstage – though even that seemingly innocuous desire can vary in the ways it’s fulfilled. Katy Perry is very particular about the flowers and lighting arrangements in her green room, while Lady Gaga likes to look at posters of some of her idols, Queen, David Bowie, and Billie Holiday (and, allegedly, a mannequin boasting fluffy pink pubic hair). Meanwhile, one of Gaga’s other heroes, Madonna, allegedly ships select home furniture around the world with her in an effort to feel as at-home as possible while she’s on tour.

20 white kittens and 100 white doves

However, Mariah Carey arguably wins the prize for most extreme request for home comforts: while visiting London one Christmas, she expected her room be filled with 20 white kittens and 100 white doves. Concerns over health and safety apparently forced Carey to reconsider, though the staffers charged with fulfilling the terms of the rider did later claim to have succeeded in sourcing the doves.

The rider might be synonymous with rock’n’roll excess, but what happens when rock’s most notorious partiers put their wildest days behind them? A cleaner-living Mötley Crüe are said to have once asked for a 12-foot boa constrictor and a submachine gun to be included among their backstage accoutrements. Compare that with one-time self-proclaimed madman Ozzy Osbourne, who is now more likely to be seen communing with an ear, nose and throat doctor, rather than The Devil.

100 snow-white goats (for slaughter)

Having fun with their own image as Satan-worshippers, in 2011 thrash metal legends Slayer submitted a list that included “100 snow-white goats for slaughter” alongside a whetstone (“for battle axes”, naturally) and both “hand sanitizer” and “hand satanizer.” Theirs is one of the finer examples of a respected group acknowledging how easy it is for rider demands to get out of hand. Foo Fighters, too, have a similarly playful approach to their requests, noting that a boring chicken dinner is not likely to elicit a hug from bassist Nate Mendel (“He’s the real people person, not the guy from Nirvana”), and that they are “just another band trying to make enough money to fuel our private jet.”

The Foos are, however, wholly serious when it comes to bacon (“I call it ‘god’s currency’,” the rider states. “Hell, if it could be breathed, I would”), an obsession they share with Metallica, who are said to have once demanded that bacon make up every part of every meal they eat, on every day of their tour.

Speaking of daily demands, a 2006 Iggy And The Stooges tour rider asked for a Bob Hope impersonator to be on hand at every stop – though it’s merely one of a long list of tongue-in-cheek requests from Iggy and co in a document that runs to 18 pages and gives its recipient the freedom to “ask the man in the wine shop” to help him choose among the “loads of good red wines” out there, plus digressions such as, “Do you know, if I had to choose between a McDonald’s with coke, and having my tongue ripped out and placed inside my own colon, I’d probably be licking my own arse right now…”

In all, it’s a refreshing sense of self-awareness from a bona fide legend. After all, the rider is a necessary part of large-scale touring, so why not have fun with it?

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