When Van Halen was selling out arenas in the 1980s, there was an odd clause in the band’s contract: “There will be no brown M&M’s anywhere in the backstage area or immediate vicinity, upon pain of forfeiture of the show with full compensation.” It made the band seem like the epitome of rock star prima donnas. But in singer David Lee Roth’s 1997 memoir, “Crazy From the Heat,” he explained that the ban on brown M&M’s wasn’t simply celebrity pettiness. Other bands are also particular in what they request, and state fair acts are no exception.

When Van Halen was selling out arenas in the 1980s, there was an odd clause in the band’s contract:

“There will be no brown M&M’s anywhere in the backstage area or immediate vicinity, upon pain of forfeiture of the show with full compensation.”

It made the band seem like the epitome of rock star prima donnas.

But in singer David Lee Roth’s 1997 memoir, “Crazy From the Heat,” he explained that the ban on brown M&M’s wasn’t simply celebrity pettiness.

“Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets. We’d pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max,” Roth wrote.

“And there were many, many technical errors — whether it was the girders couldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren’t big enough to move the gear through.”

So if the band showed up and saw brown M&M’s backstage, they took it as an indication that the promoter hadn’t read the contract.

Given the dangers inherent in rigging thousands of pounds of lighting and sound equipment over people’s heads — and pumping hundreds of thousands of watts of electricity through that gear — promoters who are not aware of a show’s technical requirements are asking for trouble.

And if making sure a singer gets her favorite brand of hummus backstage helps ensure a $100,000 show goes well, it seems a small price to pay.

So it goes every year: An anonymous government bureaucrat is tasked with going over the contract riders of the performers who will play the Grandstand at the Illinois State Fair.

The artist contracts — which are as public as any other contracts the state enters into, such as those for highway repair or prison food — provide broad insights into the life of a touring musician.

On the technical end of things, where the contracts talk about staging and power requirements, every sentence carries overtones of disasters past.

Imagine the experience that led to this line in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s rider: “Professional experienced personnel are required. Please, NO volunteer labor.”

Or Montgomery Gentry’s demand — underlined and in boldface — that it needed “a waterproof load bearing roof.”

And why do most artists specify they want “clean” towels backstage? Did someone, somewhere once go into Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Johnny Van Zant’s dressing room and set out a stack of filthy towels?

Some of the requests illustrate the difficulty of life on the road, where early morning load-ins lead to long work days, nighttime shows, late-night load-outs, bus trips to another city and another early morning load-in the next day. For stagehands, it’s repeat, repeat, repeat — the wash and rinse come only when they’re lucky.

It doesn’t leave much time for grocery shopping, and hopping onto the tour bus to go to Kwik-E-Mart isn’t a viable option. So contracts request road-warrior staples: jars of peanut butter and jelly, loaves of bread, granola bars, cold cereal, chips and cases of soda.

Dig deeper into the contracts, and sketches of individual artists begin to emerge.

Some request specific brands. Lynyrd Skynyrd wanted Starbucks dark roast coffee and Fiji water — based on what had been crossed off the contracts two weeks before the fair, they got the Starbucks but settled for brand-X water.

Kelly Clarkson also wanted Starbucks coffee, but Montgomery Gentry would be satisfied with Maxwell House. Bo Bice, an “American Idol” runner-up who opened for Skynyrd, wanted bottled spring water but specified “NO EVIAN PLEASE.”

Clarkson has a guide for dinner menus — fish Sunday, fried chicken Tuesday, meatloaf Thursday, et cetera — presumably to prevent endless nights of mostaccioli, the last refuge of lowest-bidding caterers.

There are even overtones of class divides in the contracts: pop idol Clarkson demands “metal silverware and china plates,” while the country duo Montgomery Gentry is all right with “assorted plastic cutlery.”

Heart wanted fancy Swiss Toblerone chocolate bars; Montgomery Gentry asked for Peanut M&M’s.

Those divides are also apparent in artists’ alcohol requests:

_Lynyrd Skynyrd — the quintessential Southern rock band — wanted a bottle of Jim Beam Black or Crown Royal.

_Clarkson’s band (not Clarkson herself) wanted “4 bottles of GOOD red wine (Jordan, Zinfandel, Malbec, Merlot).”

_Eddie Montgomery wants a case of Corona Light and a carton of Marlboro lights, while Troy Gentry wants a 12-pack of Bud Light.

_Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart want two six-packs of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, a six-pack of Rock Green Light, two bottles of Cristalino Sparkling Rose or Domaine Chateau Ste. Michelle Blanc de Noirs and two bottles of “quality Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley area like Merryvale.”

But none of that really matters, since the state won’t supply alcohol. All of those alcohol requests were crossed off, along with Montgomery’s smokes, Heart’s Toblerone and many other items.

Lynyrd Skynyrd wanted “(9) pre-posted post cards (your city)” and “(1) bouquet fresh flowers,” but both were crossed off the list. And mouthfuls of chewing gum requests were crossed off: Skynyrd wanted Wrigley’s Eclipse-Green, Clarkson’s band wanted Big Red and Josh Turner’s band wanted Trident Spearmint.

It would seem that many of these preferences and requirements are the results of individual choices by venues to cut corners — cold food and warm soda on cheap paper plates.

The old saw that experience makes you wise — and wildly specific in contracts — gains credence in Candy Coburn’s relatively short contract.

As opening act for Montgomery Gentry, Kellie Pickler and James Otto, she’s arguably the lowest-ranking artist playing the Grandstand. (At $3,500, she’s also getting the least amount of money for her appearance.)

Without a long career of backstage letdowns and head-smacking screw-ups that defy common sense, she has only half of a page of requests for food.

Brian Mackey can be reached at (217) 747-9587 or brian.mackey@sj-r.com.