”If An Army Marches On Its’ Stomach, What Does A Band Play On?”

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I’ve really been trying to eat healthier this past year and have learned to actually like things such as smoothies, herb teas, and protein bars as I worked to get myself in better shape. But heading out to festivals has a way of setting me back as I succumb to roadside diner meals and the options that pass for food at some of these events.

As I was driving along a particularly boring stretch of highway, my mind wandered off as it’s prone to do from time to time. I must’ve been hungry, it being a long time between dinner salads, and was thinking about some of the eccentric requests made by big-name celebrities as far as food for their dressing rooms (like the “no brown M&Ms” request from Van Halen).

I got to remembering some of the items (I can’t even call them “food”) that I’ve been offered during my career as a musician after a long day performing. This one time after a show, I was shuttled upstairs into an attic and fed some hideous black meat that had been sitting in a sterno heated aluminum pan for what must have been hours. I get the hebegeebees just remembering the smell. And then there was the time I played Cincinnati and “had” to try the Cincinnati specialty called goetta which is a sausage and oatmeal concoction normally served for breakfast. Let’s just say that there’s lots of great food in Cincinnati but goetta is one I hope to avoid.

And that started me musing about what our bluegrass royalty would have requested if they’d even had a dressing room and hadn’t been so focused on just plain getting paid. Considering that they may have been a long way from home, I figured that most of them would be hankering for hometown favorites.

So here’s a fanciful look at the “Food Riders” that might have accompanied performance contracts (if there had been any!) back in the early days of bluegrass and what the venue probably delivered.

Bill Monroe’s (KY) Food Rider: Upon arrival, Mr. Monroe will be met with a freshly fried bucket of lamb fries. After the performance fresh possum burgoo with spoonbread, a side of butter beans, and blackberry cobbler (seeds removed) will be waiting for Mr. Monroe in his private trailer.
WHAT HE GOT: a bologna sandwich and black coffee setting on a dusty TV tray in the parking lot.

Lester Flatt’s (TN) Food Rider: One hour before the performance, Mr. Flatt requires a platter of Wonder bread puree topped with crispy chicken skin dippers. Immediately after the last set, Mr. Flatt expects to sit down to a dinner of “hot” fried chicken, Martha White biscuits, and cherries soaked in Tennessee moonshine. No paper plates, plastic utensils or paper napkins are to be used.
WHAT HE GOT: A box of Chicken in a Biscuit crackers and a warm bottle of water.

Earl Scruggs’ (NC) Food Rider: Before each set, Mr. Scruggs prefers to snack on pimiento cheese sandwiches (crusts removed), Mount Olive pickles, pork cracklins and watermelon sliced into perfect half moon crescents exactly 1 ½” thick.
WHAT HE GOT: A greasy paper sack containing pac o’nabs, a bag of pork rinds and Jolly Rancher hard candies.

Don Reno’s (SC) Food Rider: Immediately after the final performance of the day, Mr. Reno requires a sit down dinner at a tablecloth covered table set with fine china. The meal is to include fried green tomatoes with wadmalaw sweet onions, frogmore stew, hoppin’ john, and rice pudding for dessert.
WHAT HE GOT: A soggy tomato sandwich on a Chinet plate and carton of rice milk.

Jimmy Arnold’s (Toronto) Food Rider: Mr. Arnold requires authentic poutine (french fries with gravy and cheese curds), a bucket of oysters, back bacon sandwich and a flat of beer (none of that wimpy Yank beer either) before and after each set.
WHAT HE GOT: Stale potato chips, a can of tuna and a flat beer.

Roni Stoneman’s (DC) Food Rider: Ms. Stoneman’s dressing room must be stocked with a case of Perrier mineral water, half smokes (smoked sausages made from pork and beef) and crabcake appetizers at least 2 hours before her performance. One hour before showtime, Ms. Stoneman requires a steak and cheese sandwich. Don’t even think of passing off a Philly cheesesteak with that ‘what is it’ cheese stuff. Ms. Stoneman’s sandwich must contain real ribeye steak, grilled onions and real cheese on a crusty homemade roll.
WHAT SHE GOT: a can of Vienna sausages covered in Cheese Whiz, a pack of broken Saltines and a jar of sweet tea.

Now that I think on it a bit, things haven’t changed all that much since the early days. Send me an email [email protected] and let me know the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten at a festival. I’m making notes about future venues!

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