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Van Halen - M&M incident

The "Van Halen" M&M incident is one of those legendary tales from the rock 'n' roll annals that often gets cited as an example of the wild excesses of rock stars. However, a deeper look into the incident reveals not just a story of excess, but also a clever and innovative approach to a serious challenge facing touring bands.


(Photo: The Pueblo Chieftain)


On March 30, 1980, "Van Halen" was scheduled to perform a concert at the "University of Southern Colorado" in Pueblo. With the release of their third album, "Women and Children First," just days prior, "Van Halen" was on the cusp of rock royalty. The concert, organized by the university's Concert Crew in collaboration with the legendary promoter Barry Fey of Feyline, was anticipated to be a major coup for the school—then known as USC.


Priced at $7.50 for USC students and $8.50 for the general public, the 5,000 tickets sold out, setting the stage for an event that promised to elevate Pueblo's status in the concert circuit. Despite the acoustic challenges of the venue that muddled the distinction between David Lee Roth's vocals and the band's instruments, the performance was an embodiment of rock 'n' roll's raw, unfiltered essence.


However, the concert is perhaps best remembered for the infamous "no brown M&Ms" clause in "Van Halen's" contract rider. This stipulation, bizarre at face value, was intended as a test to ensure that the concert promoters paid attention to the band's technical and safety requirements. Near the end of the contract rider, in all caps, underlined for emphasis, "Van Helen" included these words: “M&Ms (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES).”


The truth behind the no-brown M&Ms clause was much more pragmatic and ingenious. "Van Halen" was one of the first bands to bring truly massive productions into tertiary, third-level markets. Their shows were elaborate, featuring cutting-edge lighting systems, intricate stage setups, and a plethora of equipment that many venues were not accustomed to handling. The detailed rider, which included the M&M clause, was a test. If the band arrived at a venue and found that the brown M&Ms had indeed been removed, they could be reasonably sure that the technical specifications in the rider had been thoroughly read and adhered to. If brown M&Ms were present, it was a red flag that the venue might not have paid close attention to the rider’s specifications, thereby putting the band, crew, and concertgoers at risk due to potential technical and safety oversights.


Upon discovering brown M&Ms in their dressing room, the band responded by smashing the M&Ms in a food fight scattering the M&Ms across the floor and grinding them into the carpet. That left the University Center's private dining room in disarray, with damages totaling $3,500.


In retrospect, the "Van Halen" M&M incident serves as a clever solution to a real problem, disguised as an absurd demand. It's a lesson in the importance of attention to detail, especially in situations where the stakes are high. Rather than a tale of excess, it's a case study of innovative problem-solving and quality control.


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