Performers’ odd requests normal for Jasper Arts


JASPER — Classic rock fans are familiar with the legend, of how in the 1980s, Van Halen required the careful removal of brown M&M’s from the rest of the colorful chocolates in backstage bowls at the band’s tour stops.

On the surface, it seems a little unreasonable. But Van Halen did require the plucking of the cheap candies for a practical reason. It served as a test to ensure that venues read through the band’s rider, which is a set of requests by a performer, and complied with other contract specifications that were actually crucial to the superstars’ on-stage success.

There’s a Jasper version of that story.

Kyle Rupert, director of the Jasper Arts Department, recalled a performer who requested a very specific type of yogurt ahead of one of the city’s arts season shows. Employees couldn’t find the snack locally, and calls to grocery stores in Evansville, Bloomington and Louisville yielded nothing.

In the end, though, it wasn’t a big deal.

Much like the rock gods’ bizarre avoidance of brown M&M’s, Rupert has been told it’s not uncommon for tour rider specifications to include oddly specific items — like the yogurt — for the very reason Van Halen implemented the strategy decades ago.

He recalled the yogurt story and more during a Thursday phone interview centered on the behind-the-scenes work that goes into the arts department’s season construction and execution.

The full 2019-20 season was announced earlier this week. It consists of 12 music, comedy, theater and dance performances on various stages across the city from September to April.
Other peculiar artist requests have included hotel rooms on specific floors stocked with specific items, like flowers or a certain brand of bottled water. Some ask the staff to serve their food at specific times, or to avoid specific dishes that don’t jive with their diets.

One entertainer’s rider included a bit that said, “Dinner should be the most important meal of the day.” So, employees made the meal a special one — complete with a cloth-cloaked table, dimmed lighting and classical music seeping from a speaker.

When the performer arrived, however, they weren’t expecting such grand treatment. They just really liked dinner.

While they might seem funky to us, the hospitality specifications provide some semblance of normalcy for performers, who are often on the road, far from home, for long stretches of time. Knowing that, Rupert said the requests are completely understandable.

“Those riders and things are in there just to make sure that they have a reasonable expectation of ... they’re gonna go to a place that’s comfortable,” Rupert said. “They’re gonna eat food that they know they’re gonna be comfortable eating. That kind of stuff. Because otherwise, you’re at the mercy of who’s hiring you to perform.”

Maintaining an accommodating reputation also helps the department lock down future performers who haven’t been to Jasper before. Maybe an entertainer will lower their fee a little bit, or maybe they’ll be willing to do more community outreach when they get here if they already have a positive impression of the city, Rupert said.

“We want artists to tell other artists that they need to play in Jasper,” he added.

Jasper’s arts season rosters are assembled through a process that includes extensive internal and external research. The department’s 2019 budget includes a $216,000 pool of money for contractual services. That goes to artist and licensing fees, lodging and hospitality expenses, technical support, the annual education series for local students and more.

“Because of our season only consisting of 12 shows, we try to provide as eclectic a mix as possible,” Rupert said. “So there’s at least one show for everybody. One show that someone will enjoy coming and seeing.”

The upcoming season will kick off on in late September, when famed country singer Lorrie Morgan takes the Jasper Arts Center stage.

A full season guide with pricing can be found here.

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