My man Jim Bartlett posted a piece yesterday about The Smoking Gun’s online archive of tour riders, which provides a wonderful look into the backstage demands and vanities of well-known performers.

(One of my favorites: B.B. King’s request not to have dinner supplied. This could be for any number of reasons. I like to think it was B.B.’s response to hard-earned success: “I’m through eating rubber chicken in the dressing room. When I’m done with this gig, I’m gonna take my walking-around money someplace classy and buy myself a lobster. No, make that two.“)

I’ve been to the Rider Archive before. But this time I found myself asking some obvious questions that had never occurred to me.

Anyone who knows the music industry is welcome to enlighten me on these, using the Comments section.

Or, if you don’t have any firsthand knowledge, I welcome wild and scurrilous speculation:

1. How common is it for a promoter to fail to live up to the terms of the rider?

And, related to that …

2. What happens if an artist doesn’t get what they want, to some greater or lesser degree?

I’m led to believe that tour riders can specify all kinds of things, from technical details of sound and staging to the flavor of bubble gum in the dressing room.

That means a promoter could violate a rider in any number of ways, large or small.

It could be anything from failing to hire enough security and support staff … to not sufficiently preparing the stage in some way … to stocking the backstage coolers with RC Cola instead of Pepsi.

Now, if the promoter does something that truly imperils the band or audience, or makes a professional stage presentation impossible, the band would presumably refuse to play.

(That promoter probably wouldn’t be in business long, either.)

But if the promoter breaks the contract in some other, lesser way … well, that’s another question:

3. How much blatant defiance of their backstage rider will a performer accept before he or she refuses to take the stage (or get off the tour bus)?

This might vary from performer to performer: Some are divas, others are troupers.

It might also vary from era to era. In the druggy, pampered ’70s, American cheese on the deli tray instead of Muenster might have been enough to trigger a Nigel Tufnel-style flip-out. I’m guessing (based purely on gut) that today’s major performers have at least a little more tolerance for not getting exactly what they want.

Still, canceling a concert can cost a performer a fair amount of money and, maybe, fan loyalty as well.

So how much will they put up with? The wrong brand of beer? A lousy catered dinner — or no dinner at all? No dressing-room Wi-Fi? No backstage runner with a van, ready to take band members on any errand they want?

I am guessing that most bands will put up with just about anything, because the show must go on.

If they truly get shafted by a promoter, they’ll probably just make a mental note never to work with that person again. They may also take their frustration out on the audience with a half-hearted show.

Which leads to a final question …

4. Was that shitty, uninspired Santana concert I sat through in 1993 so lame because the promoter insisted on loading the deli tray with pressed turkey loaf?

8 thoughts on “Unsatisfied.

  1. I have one story to share. In 1992, one of our college organizations brought in Tribe Called Quest for a festival. Two of us were responsible for their transportation, meals, accommodations, etc. Upon picking them up from the airport, we were treated to 30 minutes of them going OFF about, among other things, someone not accommodating them properly at a previous show. I learned that whoever was in charge of it there did not deliver, the “women” (called something else) were not up to snuff, and on and on. Needless to say, we made sure whatever (food) they asked for was hot, looked good and was ample. I have to say, doing that detail mafe

      1. Sorry to hear they were so demanding (and demeaning.)

        I’m not totally unsympathetic to musicians in this discussion.
        When you choose that life you give up a lot of things, including home-cooked meals (and home.)
        When someone puts in the extra effort to provide warm food or clean towels or whatever, that’s not just a matter of stroking the performer’s vanity; it contributes to their quality of life.
        It sounds like TCQ got that when they came to your college; I hope they noticed and appreciated it.

      2. I agree with you on all counts. It took a lot of the glamour out of that lifestyle, too. They earn their money and I’m not trying to switch places, even if I could. And in retrospect, I don’t think they were even tripping off us. They were venting, like I do about rolling out a new, more complicated time and labor system. But it did make me NOT want to be the next horror story.

        Oh and on an unrelated topic, I’ve placed a buffer between repeat plays of Ecstasy – Pretty Brown Skin, Roy Ayers.

      3. After your earlier mention of the Roy Ayers tune I went and found it on YouTube. I liked it, though it wasn’t as off-the-hook as “Ecstasy.”

      4. Is any song? I think not.

        And you’ll have to forgive me for the musical suggestions. It’s like that compulsion that people have to tell jokes to a comedian. That said…..

        Here’s another of those tributes from an award show that I periodically send you. I don’t *think* it’s showboating, but I’m interested to hear your opinion. This woman LOVES Chaka. Hope you enjoy.


      5. Oh, my knowledge of music is not comprehensive by any means. I welcome suggestions.
        (An old friend on Twitter is trying to convert me to country as I type this. He’s got a long hill to climb.)

        I didn’t think the Ledisi clip was showboating at all. I thought she kept herself pretty well in check.
        At the same time, there weren’t any points where I was electrified … though I imagine she is capable of doing that when she wants to.
        (I know, I’m tough to please.)

  2. Hmmm…yes you are and I will keep trying. I’ve got a few things up my sleeve. And this will definitely be easier than country.

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