Juggalos are probably the last musical subculture that is openly reviled and still vastly misunderstood. This vast network of underground musicians and fans can be described, in a few words, as serious fans of the Detroit duo the Insane Clown Posse. But frankly, that's just scraping the surface. ICP is the group around which the fandom hinges, but it goes much, much deeper than that.
Sure, aesthetically, they arm themselves in clown face paint, vaguely hip-hop-influenced clothing, and hairstyles mostly last seen during nu metal. But one of the main juggalo themes -- and chants, in public -- is "family." It's a clan of admitted outcasts who have taken to radically supporting each other in whatever forms of expression they choose to take.
Juggalos, simply put, do not give a crap if you understand them, their looks, their music, or whatever else. In a way, it's a contemporary, total expression of punk rock's original fuck-you m.o., in a time when punk rock is totally commodified.
In a way, because of this, the juggalo world has increasingly been held under a sort of sociological and critical microscope, especially in the context of the scene's ultimate event, the Gathering of the Juggalos. The Gathering is a totally independent festival run and booked entirely by Insane Clown Posse and its record label, Psychopathic Records, and has recently been featured in documentaries, photo essays, magazine stories, and more. The festival is infamous, strange, the object of both derision and fascination.
The Gathering returns in just about a week, and runs from August 8 through 12 on the site where it's taken place since 2007, in Cave-in-Rock, Illinois. And, frankly, despite whatever horror stories you may have heard about the festival, it does, in many ways, offer one of the best values and most unique experiences on the summer circuit -- even if you don't like ICP all that much. Here are ten reasons why.
This year in particular offers a pretty surprisingly stellar lineup of '90s and underground hip-hop artists completely unrelated to the ICP universe.
The headliners most nights are, naturally, either Insane Clown Posse themselves or big Psychopathic Records acts. But in recent years the Gathering has done an amazing job of rounding up some of the biggest, now probably undersung, names of rap history's recent past.
Check just some of the names on this year's bill: DMX, Master P, Three 6 Mafia, Raekwon, Kool Keith, the Geto Boys, the Game, Onyx, Mack 10, Rahzel, the Pharcyde, Tech N9ne, Project Pat, Swollen Members, Biz Markie, Warren G, and more. Hell, for the hipsters there's even Danny Brown. Also, not hip-hop but worth mentioning: George Clinton and P-Funk!
Otherwise, you will hear artists here that you will hear and see at literally no other summer festival.
Most of the other usual indie-heavy summer festivals offer the same damn names over and over again -- Girl Talk, the Black Keys, some other Apple commercial-type bands, rinse, repeat. Not so with the Gathering. How about semi-forgotten hard rock acts like Fear Factory, (hed)pe, and Kottonmouth Kings? Or how about Blaze Ya Dead Homie, a Psychopathic artist who takes on the persona of an undead West Coast gang member? Or this group, which we'll mention just because of the name: Menace II Sobriety? This definitely ain't the Pitchfork Festival.
All of this comes for pretty cheap.
Five days of entertainment will, at this point, set you back just $175 (or $750 total for a five-pack if you can gather some friends). Plus, how much do you think a hotel near Cave-in-Rock, Ill., will really cost? In any event, most festival attendees choose to camp in an RV or car, anyways, which will set you back just $150 or $100, respectively.
Geographical isolation works to your advantage.
Cave-in-Rock is absolutely in the middle of nowhere -- if you want to get a hotel or fly to the festival, you'll have to go to Kentucky or Ohio. This means you won't have to deal with locals complaining about the noise or the event; business owners will be happy for your pre- and post-festival business. Cave-in-Rock also boasts a long tradition as a haven for outlaw bikers, so, well, nobody's going to look at you funny or harass you.
You can react to the acts onstage however you want -- seriously, however you want.
Unlike indie festivals where people pay for the privilege of acting too cool, the juggalos are known for being a lively bunch. Dance, yell, whatever. And if you hate the act, boo your heart about. Juggalos LOVE to boo anyone they perceive as being fake or a weak performer. They also love to pelt these same targets with Faygo soda, and, in some unfortunate recent cases, other objects. Uh, don't throw things at anybody -- especially someone you technically paid to see -- but here you can feel free to loudly voice your dissatisfaction if it tickles your fancy.
There's stand-up comedy, too, but not just from the usual roster of hipster-approved comedians.
Before All Tomorrow's Parties and their ilk were booking "thinking-people's" comedians, the Gathering was hiring pro funny-men for late-night gigs. Just like the Gathering is great at unearthing relatively forgotten musicians, though, they've got a knack for doing the same thing with comedy -- past performers have included people like Gallagher. This year's oh-shit-he's-still-alive booking is Bobcat Goldthwait. Cheech & Chong and Ralphie May are on the bill, as is Jamie Kennedy, who possibly does not stand a chance of getting through this thing Faygo-stain-free.
Also, there's an entire tent devoted to pro wrestling.
Okay, so pro wrestling is probably as maligned and misunderstood as the world of juggalos, making this a natural fit. But, if you ever watched as a kid and secretly still love it -- or just openly still love it -- this is your festival. The Gathering of the Juggalos is seriously the only music festival that also prominently features pro wrestling, with the entertainers coming both from various pro companies and ICP's own promotion, Juggalo Championshit Wrestling.
Vintage wrestling fans will recognize names like the Rock and Roll Express, with bigger names from recent years including Colt Cabana, John Morrison, Vampiro, Necro Butcher, and even former WWE weirdo U-Gene. By the way, no matter how cool you think you are, you are not to cool to yell for a bunch of half-naked guys pummeling each other and then yelling ridiculous inbetween-match skits. If you love camp, you need to experience this at least once.
Between all that, there are carnival rides.
The Gathering promises a full midway, as well as random other entertainment like the love train, which is part intra-festival transportation, part hayride gone haywire.
The Gathering also takes fan participation to a new level.
Are you an aspiring rapper? Great, there's a much-heralded rap battle -- in a cage -- that people actually watch. Ditto for the tryouts for would-be wrestlers to earn a slot in the JCW. The women's competitions aren't exactly feminist -- they mostly range from wet T-shirt contests to the equally half-naked Ms. Juggalette pageant -- but, um, they're there.
The artists are not too cool to hang out with you.
Unless you're coddled backstage or in a VIP cabana somewhere, the changes of you running into your favorite artist at an average summer music festival are about zero. Not so with the Gathering, whose entire m.o. is about connecting with fans.
There are, unsurprisingly, numerous organized meet-and-greet and autograph sessions, which are open to all festivalgoers, not just those who pay some upcharge. But both supporting acts and headliners alike show up to host or just hang out at various late-night parties and special events. This makes the Gathering one of the few large-scale musical events at which artists are clearly conscious of the people who got them there.
The Gathering of the Juggalos. August 8 through 12, Cave-in-Rock, Illinois. Tickets cost $175 each, or $750 for five. Camping rates vary. Visit juggalogathering.com.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!