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Booker Tease 

For local club owners, signing a band is only half the battle

By now, the story is legendary: Van Halen and brown M&M's do not mix. Perhaps the most famous example ever of a concert rider -- that is, a list of demands above and beyond any monetary considerations given to a band for playing a show -- the M&M story is now a part of rock lore. It is said that the band would go bonkers at the presence of even one of the little candies -- at best, they would trash the dressing room. At worst, they would cancel the show altogether.

The story has brought the band much ridicule over the years, but there was a method to the band's seeming madness. Van Halen traveled with what was at the time a highly complex music and stage set-up, and the brown M&M request was nothing more than a ruse to see how well the venue was paying attention. If there were brown M&Ms in their dressing room, it was a sign to the band that other concerns -- the stage set-up, the lighting and sound -- might also have been assembled in haste.

As musicians have moved higher and higher into the economic stratosphere, so have their demands. Which, in turn, has led to a greater demand by the general public to find out just how these people live (large, in case you're wondering)., a website devoted to exhibiting hard-to-find documents and other such dirt on "celebrities," now devotes a huge section solely to concert riders, exhibiting well over a hundred original backstage documents. Forget Jennifer Lopez's white drapes, and the singer may well turn Jenny from the Block on your ass. Joe Cocker wants his beer iced down every three hours, the last time being when the band launches into "With a Little Help from My Friends." The Rolling Stones, while on tour with the aforementioned Van Halen, requested the other band's leftover brown chocolates. The Dixie Chicks? They like flowers. Boy, do they like flowers: "two bunches of fresh cut mixed flowers to include the following: stargazer lilies, Casablanca lilies, iris, gladiolas, and eucalyptus. Please provide a very limited amount of filler such as baby's breath, leaves, and ferns, etc. Flowers should arrive in paper and not in vases. The flowers will be separated into several arrangements by one of the Dixie Chicks' backstage staff therefore it is important that you provide enough flowers to brighten up a minimum of 4 rooms."

According to promoters, one of the most common rider requests is for underwear and socks. A lot of the socks and underwear are for practical use -- if you're a celebrity, you don't want your underwear floating around. If you're a van-traveling punk rocker, you'd rather not smell your buddy's stinky feet all tour long (some promoters even swear that some acts request socks to pad their below-waist bulge).

Penny Craver, soon to step down as owner of Charlotte's Tremont Music Hall, isn't having it. After relating a story about a friend of hers who was sent to buy Ricky Martin a specific brand of underwear, the conversation turned to her venue. Has she ever had to buy anyone skivvies?

"Hell no. No socks, no underwear, no condoms. No prostitutes, no skin mags or porno tapes. I'm not your mother, and you have a lot of nerve asking a feminist to buy you socks and underwear. I always just tell them to wipe their ass and wash their feet."

Another local music promoter/fan (who prefers to remain anonymous) says that for some performers, socks and underwear are the least of their worries. In place of "tightie whities?" Why, the White Horse.

"A band (with albums on Matador and Sub Pop) were booked at the Milestone with a band they had brought along on the tour. Sometime during or after setup and soundcheck, they quietly hinted to those in listening range of their search for some, uh, narcotics. The lead singer was a recovering heroin addict at the time, and may have jumped off the wagon -- at least that night. Maybe it was the club's rather bleak "neighborhood long in decline" surroundings, but more than likely it was the grind of touring on the indie circuit. Band members quietly approached onlookers in search of the infamous juice that's been the downfall and/or creative inspiration of numerous rockers. Don't know if they scored, but the band did put on a righteously noisy show at the legendary Milestone Club later that night."

Lea Pritchard of NoDa's The Evening Muse says that running a smaller, more acoustic club also presents its particular worries as far as dealing with artists looking to get into the right frame of mind for their gigs.

"One of our artists decided to relax and "smoke up' in the men's room one night. Being a small club, that's the closest thing we have to an on-site green room. At the time there was an opening in the ceiling of the restroom that was only curtained off from the rest of the building, so the smoke wafted in a big way into the rest of the (non-smoking) venue. We were all feeling groovy that night!"

Local music industry vet "Tamie" (who has also worked at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre) says that it's not always the tokers that provide the most problems. Of last year's Red Hot Chili Peppers show, she says that, "I have found that the bands who are now living the "clean life' are the most high maintenance. When you are "under the bridge,' are you really needing a lift? Palm trees to create the vibe in the dressing room of which you are in for a total of 15 minutes before the show and 15 minutes after? One whole dressing room completely cleared out (including TV) for your drum kit to sit? Do I really need to be crushing ice against a brick wall so it is the perfect consistency for when your old ass gets off the stage after someone has just expired in the crowd?"

Mostly, say the bookers, they just want some alcohol.

"They want incredible amounts of alcohol -- more than they could drink in two or three days," says Craver. "I figured out one time that just the alcohol on one rider was $300. Sometimes it figures out to about a case of beer per musician. On one hand, you think "I'll entertain you while you're here,' but you don't want to feed them and entertain them and their friends for the next few days.

"Some club owners don't do anything, and so some artists jack up their riders figuring they'll get half of what they request. One of the ways you base your rider as a club owner is on how many tickets you've sold. If you thought you were going to do really well on a show, but yet it's the day of the show and you've sold 46 tickets, you try and save money any way you can. Most of the time, the management will work with you, usually -- I mean, a $600 rider just isn't going to be possible if you stand to lose $3,000. I tell my people to always consider one thing when they're making a decision -- try and think how this decision could be used against you, and then answer. In this business, the end goal is to be screwed the least, whether by the management or the promoter or the artist."

Oh, and you musical artists? If it is just a screw you're looking for, you're on your own.

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  • On Saturday, Oct. 21, hundreds gathered at Camp North End on Statesville Avenue for Charlotte's first black alternative music festival. We captured some of the bands in action on stage, but mostly we surveyed the grounds as fans, families, vendors and more lounged around the sprawling, colorful Camp North End site. It was a great day of music, food, fun, and sweet, autumn sunshine. (Photos by Mark Kemp)
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