The Truth Behind Van Halen’s “No Brown M&M’s” Story

On a recent episode of The Secret History of Rock, I referenced the infamous story about how Van Halen once specified in their backstage rider that there were to be no brown M&M’s served in the M&M’s bowl. That story is true.

However, as I recounted in the show, Van Halen weren’t being douchebags.  There was a solid reason behind this demand.  Peter was kind enough to send this excerpt from David Lee Roth’s authobiography.

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, or the doors weren’t big enough to move the gear through.

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, it would say “Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes . . .” This kind of thing. And article number 126, 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. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. 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.

Van Halen used the candy as a warning flag for an indication that something may be wrong. I see some lessons to be learned.

Here’s more from DLR on the subject.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

3 thoughts on “The Truth Behind Van Halen’s “No Brown M&M’s” Story

  • March 10, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    Brilliant idea…and so true. I love it….and suddenly have more respect for Van Halen. lol.

  • March 11, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    Last fall I heard a podcast that made some pretty convincing arguments that the Van Halen brown M&Ms story is just an urban legend. You can listen to it here:

    The most convincing argument is that the people responsible for food backstage (catering) are not the same people responsible for the technical aspects of the show. Seeing (or not seeing) brown M&Ms wouldn't indicate anything about what power safety precautions had been taken.

    Good point.

  • March 13, 2013 at 1:18 am

    Mike – Even though they are different departments overall project and legal management would be the same who could get it right or screw it up.


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