Rock and Roll Riders

“But dude…it’s on our rider.” Ah yes, magic words in the music biz. What is this sacred document I speak of?

A tour rider is a written set of requests or demands made by an artist prior to a performance. To ensure the comfort, safety and happiness of the artist, the promoter or venue will do their best to honor the details on the rider. From deli trays to daiquiri mix (don’t forget the blender!), from herbal tea to JD, items on a rider provide both a comfort and a service to the entire entourage. By providing as many items as they can, the promoter shows he/she is paying attention to the details.

Imagine agreeing to work for a company, job site unseen. And when you get there, the cubicle you are supposed to spend 8 hours working in is filthy. There is no chair for you. To do your job properly, you need a .9mm mechanical pencil, and all that has been supplied is a broken crayon and a scented marker. Lunch was supposed to be provided, and all you find waiting is a limp braid of string cheese and some stale crackers.

Dude, you should’ve had a rider!

moe., the band I work for, plays an average of 70 shows a year, and every show has a contract that passes through my hands. And each contract contains a standard rider. The Production side of a rider is all tech specs and usually pretty boring. But the Catering and Hospitality section of a rider, depending on the band or diva you are dealing with, can be pure comic gold. It can become a rock n roll scavenger hunt as promoters send runners scampering to find specific items.

You can find some ridiculous and over the top tour riders here. Some, like Iggy Pop‘s and the Foo Fighter‘s riders, read like stand-up comedy. (Click and read them, trust me. Very funny!) Others have requests that make you do double-takes and spit-takes. Say what? Janet Jackson prefers Votivo Red Currant scent candles and organic creamy peanut butter backstage. Bruce Springsteen has simple needs – among them cinnamon raisin bagels and assorted yogurts (but NO lemon). Adele also has some no-nos: “North American beer is NOT acceptable.” Faith Hill apparently likes astro-turf in her artist’s compound. Aerosmith insists their VIP guest room be decorated in an “East Indian style”, lined with dark colored pipe and drape. And yes, Van Halen really did ask for all the brown M&Ms to be plucked from the bowl.

moe.’s current rider reads pretty standard. Practical, classy and 90% organic (like them). At one time, they used to request diapers. One never knew when a wife and baby might pop in on tour and experience a diaper emergency at midnight! Packs of white cotton socks were also kindly requested. Logical enough – take ten adult men, stick them on a tour bus for 3 weeks with no laundry facilities… clean socks after a gig are gratefully appreciated! Nowadays, the band is pushing a greener initiative – asking that when possible, cloth napkins, real silverware, gallon jugs of spring water instead of individual bottles, etc can be provided to cut down on waste. And there are some really cool organizations out there to help put any excess (food, etc) to good use – Rock and Wrap It Up does just that. They box up all prepared but untouched meals following rock concerts and sporting events then deliver them to local food banks and charitable agencies.

Some promoters really go above and beyond. One told me once that he, knowing the singer of a certain band was a skilled pilot (who could that be?) and its drummer a avid golfer, made sure there were aviation and golfing magazines in their dressing room. Very thoughtful and trust me, I don’t care how big the band is…they will remember that kindness, that extra mile.

Sticks and Stones album cake

Almost too pretty to eat - a cake with the band's Sticks and Stones cover arrived backstage in NYC one night. The band cut pieces and shared it with the crowd.

There is definitely a certain comfort in finding your requested items, night after night, no matter what city/town or venue/bar you find yourself in. I know that on any given night on tour, I can walk into moe.’s dressing room and usually find red Twizzlers and a good white wine. The one thing that used to be on their rider, yet still remains elusive however, is an original G.I. Joe with Kung Fu Grip. The bass player had one when he was a kid, and has always wanted a replacement.

G.I. Joe w/kung fu grip

The elusive rider item