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God bless the caterer... You can learn a lot about a rock act from its backstage likes and dislikes. That much I took away from my trip to The Woodlands Mall last weekend. The occasion? A viewing of On Tour, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's traveling exhibit, which took up residence in the mall's main entryway January 31 through February 2.

Sure, the electric guitars were nice, especially the aquamarine Gibson '60s Corvette that stood out stylishly from the rest on display. But for sheer ogle appeal, it was hard to top a spoiled rock star's "requests" for food, drink and other backstage amenities. Those usually come in the form of contract riders, which are drawn up by the group's handlers and distributed in advance to the management of the venues where said act will be appearing. These wish lists turned out to be the highlight of a skimpy exhibit.

Bet you never knew, for instance, that R.E.M. has elaborate taste in wines; that Megadeth is more anal retentive than a dozen Felix Ungers; that the Eagles ate organically grown snacks on their '95 reunion tour and eschewed booze; or that, in contrast, Hootie and the Blowfish drank like, umm, fish on the road the same year. I wasn't the only one entertained by these dressing-room revelations. Shoppers at The Woodlands Mall tended to breeze through -- or right by -- the other sections of On Tour: the aforementioned guitar display, the surround-sound theater that replayed the same montage of classic clips ad nauseam, the list of Hall of Fame inductees, the Hall of Fame souvenir counter. Most, however, were infatuated by the Backstage display. Some stayed put for up to 15 minutes, an eternity by mall-rat standards. I was there with them, gawking at the lengthy checklists taken from recent tours by Megadeth, Hootie, the Eagles and R.E.M., as well as a vintage "beverage memo" from the Rolling Stones' 1972 tour. Among the demands on display:

* The drink list for Hootie's 1995 tour ordered three fifths of Jim Beam, one fifth of vodka, a fifth of Jagermeister, four cases of beer and one gallon of orange juice. The rider went on to specify under the food category that the group would not tolerate Subway sandwiches -- like they'd be able to tell the difference after ingesting all that booze.

* Lest someone get the impression the band isn't practicing what it preaches, R.E.M.'s rider specified separate bins for recyclable and non-recyclable trash. That was accompanied by assorted vegetarian food requests and nearly a full page devoted to wine selections headed "Things We Like in Bottles." Hey fans, want to make a good first impression on R.E.M.? Helpful hint: Try a French red, preferably '88 or '89 vintage.

* The Stones' beverage list was the least formal of them all -- a handwritten note to the people at Madison Square Garden that stated simply: "BILL -- VODKA; KEITH -- JACK D.; CHARLIE -- COFFEE; RONNIE W. -- RUM AND COKE; MICK -- SCOTCH -- REMY." They are simple lads, after all.

* Among Megadeth's requirements for livable dressing quarters on its 1994 tour: A "wall-to-wall freshly cleaned and deodorized carpet," "spotlessly clean and sanitized bathroom" and "prewashed, lint-free bath towels." No germ warfare in that rock star hovel.

Parents and kids alike also had access to a powerfully voyeuristic collection of backstage pictures taken by renowned rock photographer Neal Preston. His work was interspersed with the contract riders and colorful collages of backstage passes, which were encased, like the guitars, in Plexiglas. While Hall of Fame censors spared us glances at rock's ugliest excesses, a few images did stick out. There was a shot of Jimmy Page knocking back a fifth of Jack Daniel's just before showtime; an impromptu portrait of a giddy Mstley CrYe preparing for a concert in Detroit, their steamer trunks plastered with posters and snapshots of scantily clad buxom babes; and documentation of a food fight between the Who's Pete Townshend and drummer Kenny Jones (the latter incorrectly identified in the caption as lead singer Roger Daltrey).

Much of the rest of the exhibit, though, was nothing to shout about. Aside from the classy '60s Corvette, the Electric Guitar section included Fender's classic Stratocaster and Telecaster models and Gibson's Les Paul, Flying V and Firebird. Also included were some mildly interesting historical anecdotes and pictures of stars that swear by one model or another. No evidence suggested that any of the instruments on display were owned by anyone particularly famous, and most weren't anything you couldn't see at a well-stocked guitar shop.

For its three-day run, On Tour set up shop in a sunny spot just inside The Woodlands Mall's main entrance, a floor below the merry-go-round and cater-cornered to Victoria's Secret. The location was appropriate, given the role carnival-like trappings and women's undergarments have played in rock over the years. There's talk of bringing On Tour back to Houston in late March, next time to share space with commuters in the Continental concourse of Intercontinental Airport. If you're wondering what an exhibit of this sort would be doing in an airport, the answer is obvious: The airline is one of the exhibit's primary sponsors. Ahh, the business of rock and roll.

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