Contract riders: Uncovering the perks of visiting entertainers

The backstage world is more than prepping for a curtain call. For the glamorously famous, it can be a highly sophisticated lifestyle.

They benefit by reaping snazzy hotel accommodations, rounds of golf, tons of high-priced bottled water — chilled or nonchilled — and all the chicken wings they can eat for every show.

But many of the celebrity musicians, high-profile actors and comedians descending on Florida's cultural coast each year don't demand too much. A few can be just a tad bit high-maintenance, though.

We've talked to several area venues and perused through old contracts riders on the document-savvy Web site www.thesmokinggun.com to find out what the some of the stars ask for while on the touring circuit.

Patti LaBelle, for instance, will require a lot of hotel space when she comes to Sarasota Feb. 15 to perform at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall for a gala event. She's traveling with a huge entourage, said Terry Troffer, production manager for the hall.

"I don't know how large," he said of LaBelle's crew. "But it takes up 20 hotel rooms."

Troffer has been handling the backstage affairs of the stars that come to the Van Wezel for about eight years. And while he doesn't have any outrageous tales to share — "We try to keep the bizarre down to a minimum," he said — Troffer does recall a few memorable guests artists.

Like the time singer Michael Bacon and his brother, Kevin, the famed Hollywood actor, performed at the Van Wezel a few years ago. They wanted a makeshift bar set up off stage behind a curtain so they could "take 10 steps and have a drink," Troffer said.

It wasn't a request Troffer could fill since alcoholic drinks are not allowed within the stage area. Bottled water is the drink of choice for most entertainers, though some like hot tea, too — to help keep their voice up, he said.

Performers also get hungry. Glancing through The Smoking Gun's celebrity contract riders provides an inside look at what the stars love to munch on before and after their stage appearances.

Did you know that Smokey Robinson, who will perform at the Van Wezel March 2, has a thing for barbecue chicken wings? His contract from 2004 requests several platters of wings, along with chips and dip, for him and his band.

There's a rule of thumb to know about celebrities: Often, the nicest ones are the most famous and those whose limelight has faded over the years can be the hardest to work with, Troffer said.

While many Tampa Bay venues didn't want to comment on such demanding souls, others offered to share tales of their brushes with accommodating stars.

For instance, Broadway star Rita Gardner (Louisa from "The Fantasticks") bent over backwards to meet fans when she performed at the Manatee Players in 2001, said Denny Miller, marketing manager.

"She was a delight and asked for nothing special except that her water on stage be at room temperature, not chilled, and to have a corded microphone just off stage in case the cordless one failed," he said.

A few entertainers are so generous, they'll invite a number of fans backstage to their shows. But 100 fans can be a little much. That's what happened during a Willie Nelson show at the Van Wezel a while back — no exaggeration, Troffer said.

Nelson's contract rider on The Smoking Gun, requests that venues supply his management 50 complimentary tickets to the best seats in the house. Other requests includes post-show food of the organic variety, such as butterfly-cut organic free range pork chops for the tour bus.

Nelson is one of the most intriguing artists that Troffer has ever met.

"First thing in the morning, he was out on the golf course in cut offs and a cowboy hat," Troffer said. "It was funny."

Besides a round of golf, many entertainers enjoy exploring the grounds of the John and Mable Ringling Museum in Sarasota. Celebrity guest have included magician David Copperfield and Marcia Gay Harden, said Chrissy Kruger-Gruendyke, director of marketing and communications at the museum.

"We get a lot of celebrities who are performing in town to visit, which is wonderful," she said. "And, don't forget that the film 'Great Expectations' was filmed here in the late 1990s and Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke were regulars here."

Some, like LaBelle, travel with huge entourages while other stars come as a party of one.

Andy Orrell, director of marketing at American Stage Theatre Company in St. Petersburg, said he chauffeured television and Broadway actress Sandy Duncan to and from the airport during a fundraising event at the theater in 2005.

The pair discussed the state of Broadway and her son's stint in college.

"She was a sweetheart," he said.

Out of all the entertainers Troffer has worked with comedian Bill Cosby has been the politest by far, he said. The actor often flies in solo without a manager calling the shots. Cosby will return to the Van Wezel Feb. 17.

His contract rider from 1996 includes a request for unsalted and nonbuttered popcorn in his dressing room.

"Bill Cosby is one of the nicest people you want to know," Troffer said. "He asks you for simple things. If it's there then he's good to go."