My bandmates and I have just started our current American tour, our first in nearly a year, and we’re all just getting used to the whole rigmarole again: sleeping in tiny, dark bunks while careening down the highway; eating meals backstage with our palates and digestive systems at the mercy of often uncaring caterers; figuring out where to hang our wet show clothes, and trying to find a flat surface on which to balance our laptops for music, e-mails and blogging. It’s a list of minute discomforts that often add up over the course of a day.
On top of it all comes the rider. You’ve probably all heard of the “rider,” the section of an artist’s contract that deals with food-and-beverage requirements backstage. Usually this includes mundane items like clean towels, ice or bottles of water, plus some of the comforts that a musician on the road might want so as to make the separation from home and family a little easier, like a favorite tea or fresh flowers.
Occasionally, though, we crave some pampering. Single-malt Scotch? Sure. Would you like all of the brown M&Ms removed from your bowl of candy, à la Van Halen? No problem, because frankly, it all comes out of your paycheck at the end of the night.
But what of wine? I never know what to ask for when it comes to my favorite beverage. Unlike at a restaurant, there’s no one to present me with a wine list, and on a show day, I don’t have time go wandering the aisles of a local wine shop (which has, for better or worse, taken over from my teenage obsession with record shopping as my favorite time-wasting activity). So, if we want to have a bottle or two of wine waiting for the band in the dressing room after a show, I have to give the promoter some idea of what I’d like to drink.
Sounds easy enough, but whoever will be shopping for the wine will also be shopping for soap, towels, ice, etc., and more often than not, it will be at a Costco or its equivalent. Although Costco often has some great wines, they are often in short supply, and, as with all vintage wine, once it’s gone, it’s gone.
In essence, what I need to do is describe to a complete stranger what kind of wine I like without them having the opportunity to taste it, or for them to purchase it from a knowledgeable salesperson. It would be nice to suggest regions, but how specific can you be without writing War and Peace? If I said I liked Pinot Noirs or Syrahs from California’s Central Coast, but in the shop the promoter’s runner is confronted with a selection of wines from Santa Maria Valley and Santa Rita Hills, but nothing that says Central Coast, then I’ve been too general. If I say I like the dry Rieslings of Zind-Humbrecht and the shop they visit only sells the perfectly delicious wines of Weinbach, then I’ve been too specific.
And, of course, as we all know, price range doesn’t always help either, as directions like “wines in the $40-$60 range” can be just as misleading as directions like “wines in the $10-$15 range.” All price brackets have great values, but not all wines in one price bracket are great values!
The best solution I’ve found is to say, “Surprise us! One bottle of red wine and one bottle of white wine, please. We like to try new things and are knowledgeable about wine. Ask a salesperson for suggestions.”
Oh, and I bring a few bottles from home as backups. And the trips around the wine shop aisles? Isn’t that why they invented days off?