Contracts, M & M’s and Garden Gnomes

Have you ever wondered what is in the entertainment contracts for big name artists? 

Each year, I have the pleasure of reading the contracts for all of our grandstand entertainment acts at the Red River Valley Fair, and each year I think to myself – “Wow!”

First off, most of the contracts are, at a minimum, 35 to 40 pages long, and in a 10 point font.  Then there is all of the legal jargon and other items that you have to decipher – the hereto fore’s, aforemention’s, purchaser this, producer that, riders, backline and other items that take a well-schooled individual to figure out.

The first couple of pages are always the easiest to read as they involve who is going to appear , the performance date(s) and times, who’s opening for whom, how long they are going to perform, and the big shocker – “how much we are paying them to perform?”.   This is the one that always makes me think that maybe I got into the wrong business.  Well, I guess if I had the talent that these folks do I would take it on the road too.  However, even the shower head shuts off while I am singing! I guess I better keep my day job!

Once you get into the nuts and bolts of the contract there are many things a person takes for granted i.e. the type of currency the bands except, how big the stage needs to be, will the lead singer(s) share a dressing room with their band members, how many lights, what kind of light – is it upstage or downstage, is there a dimmer rack, is it a Avo Pearl Conventional Lighting Console or something similar? How many spotlights are going to be required, is there a riser for the drum kit?  WOW!  That’s enough to make your head start to swim.  Thank goodness I don’t have to worry about any of the staging and lighting things.  The Red River Valley Fair hires some really talented people who focus on this area and do this for a living and it really makes our jobs so much easier.  They understand all of the staging, sound and lighting requirements and best of all have the tools needed to complete the job so the paying customers don’t have to worry or even know about the mishaps that are going on behind the scenes.

Then there is this thing called “Force Majeure”.  To be honest the first time I saw these words, I wasn’t thinking it had anything to do with entertainment.  ***Caution – the following paragraph came straight out of an actual contract and might cause you to nod off into blissful slumber. 

Force Majeure is defined as one or more of the following causes which renders performance impossible, impracticable, or unsafe: death, illness of, or injury to Artist or member of Artist’s immediate family, any Artist’s musicians, or any of the PRODUCER’s key personnel; theft, loss, destruction, or breakdown of instruments or equipment owned or leased by PRODUCER or Artist; fire, threat(s) or act(s) of terrorism; riot(s) or other form(s) of civil disorder in, around, or near the Performance(s) venue; strike, lockout, or other forms of labor difficulties; any act, order, rule, or regulations of any court, government agency, or public authority; act of God; absence of power or other essential services; failure of technical facilities; failure or delay of transportation not within PRODUCER’s or artists reasonable control; inclement weather, and/or any similar or dissimilar cause beyond PRODUCER’s or PUCHASER’s reasonable control.

Force Majeure in layman’s terms basically means the Fair doesn’t have to pay the artist if the show is canceled because the artist is ill or there is terrorism or a tornado or something considered an “Act of God” happens.

Once you get through the first part of the “falling asleep” section of the contract then you’re into – who indemnifies who, how much insurance you need to carry on each artist and finally you get into the interesting stuff again – what their on-grounds requirements are. 

Entertainers in general have special lists of items to accompany them while out of the spotlight, but some simply go overboard. We have all heard the stories of entertainers making demands for their dressing rooms so I decided to Google “weird requests from entertainers” and here are a few that I found on Britney Spears is very specific about her backstage needs. She demands a private phone line in her dressing room — for outgoing calls only — and will fine the promoter $5,000 for any unauthorized incoming calls. She also likes two boxes of Pop Tarts, Fruit Loops cereal, cable television, two 6-foot sofas and odor-free carpet. We understand the last half of the list but, a private phone line? Ever heard of cell phones?  Pop and R&B wonder Jennifer Lopez is reportedly the richest person of Latin American descent in Hollywood. While backstage, she has a thing for the color white. White tablecloths, drapes, flowers, couches, candles — you name it, she wants it white. Seems a little OCD Right?  But that’s nothing compared to the fact that she requires her coffee to be stirred only counter-clockwise. Finally, Rock band Van Halen always asks for a bowl of M&Ms candy, with the brown ones removed. It might seem strange at first — because it is — but it’s for good reason. The band wants to make sure that the organizers, i.e. THE FAIR’s and entertainment venues, read their contract completely to avoid any safety issues with band equipment.  This year’s artist requests have been pretty tame compared to previous years.

My favorite request at the Red River Valley Fair was a few of years ago when a couple of our rock bands riders included a six pack of white tube socks,  a specific brand of cigarettes – not even available in the United States and one (1) Garden Gnome with the word seriously in parentheses behind it.  The rider went on to say if the Gnome was not on stage they wouldn’t be either.  With this request I was off to find a garden gnome – one would think that these woodsy creatures would be an easy find during the middle of gardening season – think again.  Although they are quite popular this year, they were not easy to find a few years ago.  I searched high and low, stopping at all of the garden stores in the Fargo Moorhead area until I finally came across the last one in Cass County, North Dakota.  Alas, I had what would get this band on stage.  Truth be told, I forgot to put the woodsy creature on stage and low and behold they still played.  Needless to say, I took it back to the store after the Fair and got a full refund!

Next comes what they want to eat, when they want it and how they want it served.  One needs to understand that these people are sometimes on the road for months at a time and really don’t want the same food every night.  Most contracts are very specific as to what they will eat on a particular night of the week.  Monday is Roast Beef, Tuesday is Mexican, Wednesday is Steak with all of the trimmings, Thursday is Roast Chicken and Lasagna (with and without meat), Friday is a Pasta Bar with Chicken and Seafood, Saturday is broil and baked Fish and Chicken and finally Sunday – let have a Thanksgiving Feast with Turkey and all of the trimmings.  All of these meals require all of the fixings – soup, salad, starches, and dessert.  Most tour managers will work with the venues and will allow you to deviate from their suggested list.  Most artists realize that in a Fair setting they are not going to get the fine china and sterling settings that they are requesting.

Besides the sit-down meals, they also require dressing room stock and/or bus stock.  Most of the time this will include breads, jams or jellies, peanut butter (and not always Jiff), sliced meats and assorted cheeses, fruit, chips, dips, candy, gum, hand sanitizer, newspapers, and on occasion a DVD rental.  My favorite is the request for pink and black duct tape and Charmin toilet paper.  In addition to those items, there is always a beverage list which starts out with their pop and water orders – some chilled to a specific temp and the rest at room temperature – then we are on to the alcohol list.  Here is where we draw the line – the policy of the Red River Valley Fair is to not provide any alcoholic beverages to any entertainer performing on the Fairgrounds.  Out comes the Sharpie.  Some of the requests are one and two pages long and this isn’t the cheap stuff either – Patron, Pendleton Whiskey, Grey Goose, imported wines, scotch, cognac, Cristal Champagne and the list goes on.  Sorry guys, you will have to buy it yourself.

For 2014, we again have a great mix of country and rock acts coming to the Red River Valley Fair.  Chase Rice has been climbing the charts and is expected to have more hits by the time he makes his appearance to kick off this year’s Fair on July 8th.  Hairball – enough said!  Kellie Pickler and Billy Currington have been burning up the charts and we are look forward to fantastic crowds for Thursday and Friday nights of country.  On Saturday, we decided to hit the hard rock with Five Finger Death Punch.  If half of the people that have called about the concert show up, we are going to be busy.  Our Office Administrator Debra has fielded calls from as far away as Billings, Montana to the West, into Wisconsin to the East and Winnipeg to the North.  To round out a great week of entertainment, we booked the pop rock group Karmin.  They are best known for their song “Brokenhearted,” which has reached the top 20 in the United States and their song “Hello,” has reached number one on the Dance Billboard Chart in the United States according to Billboard Magazine.

Well, I hope you have enjoyed learning about what is required of us in some of the contracts for entertainment at the Red River Valley Fair and next time you see an artist on stage ask yourself – “I wonder if these guys are High Maintenance or not”?

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About Bryan Schulz

Bryan has been the General Manager with the Red River Valley Fair Association since 2008. Prior to starting in this position, he worked for the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau as the Director of Marketing and Sports Sales. As GM, Bryan, along with a FANTASTIC STAFF, oversees all aspects of the daily operations of the Red River Valley Fair Association including, budgeting, facility rentals, Fair and Big Iron events and working directly for the 50 member board of directors. Bryan absolutely loves corn dogs. He is sometimes even seen at the local convenience store getting his corndog fix. Although, he says, nothing compares to a foot long corndog served at the Fair.