Riders on the Storm: Making Backstage Demands like a True Rock Star

LadyRachel is the administrative assistant for the Production and Design teams at Harmonix, which means she is used to putting up with the demands of creative nutjobs. She formerly worked at a large, well-known Boston music venue. LadyRachel is really not that demanding, but she has lots of opinions about what kinds of candies are best for fueling an all-day Law and Order: Criminal Intent marathon. She likes the color purple (the actual color more than the book) and apples, though she thinks that Grapples should be banned from produce shelves everywhere.

I learned many things during my tenure working at a nightclub: what platform boots are good to wear when working the guestlist, what not to say to bouncers, how to tip your bartender, and how much money a touring DJ makes. These things were fun, but I felt truly honored to be one of the few people in the world privy to the golden document that is a rock star rider. It's a very educational sheet.

Depending on the organizational skills of the management of the band touring through, we'd get faxed over this wonder of a document a week to a day in advance of the show. A rider describes what the band wants (besides money, fame, recognition, groupies, and a shower) to make them comfortable during their stay. Most riders include simple things like beer preferences, potential allergies, and munchies that would be a nice touch in their 'green room'. However, different egos require different types of comfort and some of these requests left us scrambling trying to figure out where we could find some of the more esoteric items.

We had a Runner on staff, a lady whose job was primarily to get in her car and find these esoteric items, but I was often the one on the phone making ridiculous requests to the local vendors. I remember calling a chain supermarket on the request of an indie trip-hop songstress's rider:

Me: This might sound odd, but do you carry elderflower soda?
Clerk: Say what now?
Me: Elderflower soda. I guess it's some herbal thing? Supposed to make you feel healthy?
Clerk: (muffles phone to say something rude to a coworker, then comes back) Um, we have both Coke and Pepsi. *click*

(We found the stuff at a natural food store, but it took us a good portion of the day to hunt it down.)

More difficult than finding the more ridiculous foodstuffs on the riders would be the non-food related requests. There was a movie star who had a side project playing cover tunes with his blues band who requested that none of our staff be present when he entered the building or while he was getting ready. Because this meant leaving my post, and because leaving my post meant I wouldn't be getting paid, I moved my desk to the furthest corner away from his backstage area and stuck it out. When he came through the doorway, covered in scarves and wearing the prototypical sunglasses-at-night-because-I'm-a-famous-person-and-you-can't-see-my-precious-precious-retinas, I could feel the glare from the other side of his Ray-Bans. Sorry, big guy, but I needed the $12/ hour answering phone calls from your fans more than you needed your excessive privacy.

Once I was asked to ensure there was an A/V setup in the general backstage area that took up the upper floor of the adjoining club, which is a fairly normal thing to find in riders. There was a classic Americana hard rock band playing that night and I figured they just wanted to watch some Matlock or a Bassmaster fishing show to get psyched up for their performance. Early on the morning of their show date, our House Manager ran up to me in a fit of barely-contained laughter.

House Manager: Go upstairs.
Me: What, and leave the phones to ring off the hook with all these (insert classic Americana hard rock band here) fans with their questions? They NEED ANSWERS. (That last part was a joke; there weren’t that many fans calling, which was sad, because obviously they just didn’t understand the true depth of this band’s talent.)
HM: Trust me, it is worth whatever important phone call you miss. (Bursts, red-faced, into laughter, exiting to the sound booth.)

I quickly ran up the stairs to the backstage area, pretending that I was going to use the fax machine in the adjacent office. What I saw on the way to the door scarred my brain forever, and I tell you these details with the full knowledge that you can never go back to cleanliness once the following image has made its imprint on your imagination.

Picture it: Two aging rockers in spandex bike shorts. That A/V hookup I mentioned earlier playing an aerobics videotape. The rockers doing a bit of a shuffle-and-hop to the tape. One had a headband on, and the other had his long hair in a scrunchie. A SCRUNCHIE! They were incredibly agile, too…disturbingly so. I’m fairly certain that with the amount of work they were putting into their moves, they were used to doing this routine on a daily or at least semi-weekly basis.

Sorry, I can’t continue to describe that image anymore. I get chills.

Workouts before the show were fairly common, so oftentimes there would be requests for weight benches and dumbbells. One band, who opened up for another band that sounded exactly like them and whose name made me giggle every time I had to say it, made sure that I witnessed their workout. This is one of the many joys of being a young lady in an industry where you are surrounded by dudes who make a living looking hot to other young ladies: lots of unsolicited bicep flexing. They played their specific brand of jock rock in tank tops, naturally.

Health is important when you’re on the road, which might explain the rider requests for elderflower soda and organic fruits. One performer had requested something as crazy as wheat-free bread once. The Runner and I labored over this request for a while, deciding at last that it was a joke request that was placed in the rider just to make us crazy. The natural food store supplied us with some of the stuff, a dense loaf of bread that you could seriously injure someone with if you were to hurl it at their head. We had a good old laugh at how crazy and high maintenance these rock stars were at the time, what with their wheat-free bread, their special sodas, their environmentally sustainable fish buffets, and their beer finickiness.

Five years later I had my own wheat allergy diagnosis, and now I’m the most annoying guest at the wedding. So, my apologies, 2nd keyboardist of a band I don’t remember. I feel your pain.

Through my years of training in fulfilling these requests, I’ve learned that you can never ask for too much. I’ve decided that if I ever become a star (in some parallel dimension where the older you get, the more rock and roll you are), I will have my own special rider with the following things:

  1. Ample champagne, duh.
  2. Live wheatgrass juice (to mix with my vodka).
  3. Freshly picked apples from a local farm. I don’t care if it’s January in New England. Make it happen.
  4. A horse named Sprinkles to ride onstage with.
  5. The only security guards allowed in backstage areas must be named Claude.
  6. A/V setup that only shows Christian Bale movies on repeat.
  7. Manicurist/pedicurist/massage therapist.
  8. Magical fat and calorie-free Doritos.
  9. …and soy milk and cookies for the band/my dance team/ the rest of the a cappella group.

I don’t think I ask for too much.