It is 5:15 a.m. Saturday morning and I’m standing in a tent with a can of Stroh’s in my hand, my eyelids getting heavy from the time and the drink. To my left is a heavyset girl wearing nothing but a bikini bottom. To my right is a shirtless man taking a hit out of a bong shaped like a human skull. On the stage in front of us Vanilla Ice screams that he still loves the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and he doesn’t give a fuck what people think, thus whipping the crowd into a frenzy as everybody screams “Go ninja, go ninja, go!” I’m inside the Gathering of the Juggalos, and I’m in deep.
Juggalos are the fiercely loyal fans of Insane Clown Posse. The Insane Clown Posse perform a genre of music known as horrorcore, which is a form of rap that consists of lyrics mainly about murder and mayhem. The two members of ICP, Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J, perform while wearing black-and-white clown makeup. Those not in the scene may have become aware of ICP after Saturday Night Live did a parody of the band based on their recent single “Miracles.” My perspective is that the song is either ignorant people marveling over elementary science (for instance, one choice lyric is: “Fucking magnets, how do they work?”) or a genius debate between faith and reason. Either way, few people with a 401(k) take the two middle-aged men who resemble Kiss as dressed by P.T. Barnum and produce songs such as “Imma Kill U,” “Murder Go Round,” and “Bitch Slappaz” seriously. Yet thousands of others vehemently disagree. If Insane Clown Posse is the ringmaster of the dark carnival, the Juggalos are the carnies.
ine was online and found a 17-minute-long infomercial about the Gathering of the Juggalos that promised a four-day festival of helicopter rides, wrestling, dudes on stilts, comedy, seminars, a screening of Big Money Rustlas (a Western starring ICP), performances by others on their label, Psychopathic Records, the imminent possibility of getting laid, carnival games, Vanilla Ice, Tila Tequila, Method Man, and the comedian Gallagher. They had me at “dudes on stilts.”
Did I decide to go for a laugh? Undeniably. Was it to laugh at the pageantry of ICP? Perhaps. But more than anything I wanted to figure out the fandom. Jimmy Buffet’s Parrot Heads make sense to me; who wouldn’t want to wear a Hawaiian shirt and drink daiquiris? But why, with so many fringe subcultures out there, does this seemingly ridiculous one thrive? The only way to find out would be to drive seven hours south of Chicago to a remote location in the woods and gather with upward of 10,000 Juggalos. Family, most friends, and my gut plead with me not to go, but my one buddy George was intrigued. So we packed a car with camping equipment, clothes we wouldn’t mind ruining, and what we hoped would be enough beer to last the weekend, and took off.
About a half hour outside of Cave-In-Rock, IL, the “town” of about 300 people that is closest to the Gathering, our cell phones—our connection to the outside world—lose their signals. Then the trees open up to reveal an endless parking lot packed with cars and tents. The license plates aren’t homogeneous, but nearly every car has at least one sticker depicting a Hatchetman, the logo of Psychopathic Records and ICP, and many have more than one. By the looks of the vehicles, the stickers might be holding the bodywork together.
After obtaining our bracelets and maps of the sprawling grounds—on which I make sure to note the location of the “Burrito Man”—we take a lap of the environs. The initial Juggalo color comes from a couple of topless women, a guy with a sign offering to trade pot for pain pills, more than a few painted faces, and countless people yelling “Whoop whoop!”