“It seems like y’all are out here being vikings and pirates,” Xzibit astutely noted during the last few hours of the 12th annual Gathering of the Juggalos. After four days of rampant nudity, drugs I’ve never encountered and a formidable lineup of rappers gathered underneath a starry Illinois sky, it didn’t seem like there could be any way for the weekend to get crazier. However, the moments before headliners Insane Clown Posse hit the stage were like the weekend amplified — people brought out the good (i.e. dangerous) fireworks; sideshow performers swallowed fire behind the sound board; industrial strength laser pointers rocketed across the sky and trash wars heated up until someone near me got bizzonked with a metal fuel canister.
And the Faygo. Oh, the geysers of Faygo. When ICP finally entered the splash zone, their fans had literally changed the atmosphere, creating a foggy mist until the air tasted like root beer. And I helped. I met Insane Clown Posse’s publicist sometime after midnight, and she invited me and some of my fellow freelancers on stage to help with the night’s sticky climax: dozens of people spraying gallons and gallons of the soda on the front rows. From the stage you could see the electric fervor on faces, fans open-armed and ecstatic like receiving a religious rite. In short, believe in miracles.
• Since you probably want to know: Saturday night’s host Charlie Sheen was equally loved and hated by the Juggalos. His appearance was essentially a self-parody of his own penchant for catchphrases; he said “woop-woop-winning” at least half a dozen times. The crowd chanted his name in approval, but threw trash at him anyway. He deftly caught a flying bottle with one hand, proving he definitely learned something from his role as Major League’s Ricky ’Wild Thing’ Vaughn. One Juggalo broke down the disparity: “I like him,” he said. “I just wanted to say I threw something at Charlie Sheen.”
• There is nothing acceptable to MTV standards & practices that will let me accurately describe what the winner of the Miss Juggalette pageant did to secure her victory; but a hospital would safely file it under “medical waste.”
• The Gathering is the only place you can see a P-Funk show where they actually seemed like weirdos again. George Clinton, wrapped in two knotted bedsheets, had cut his trademark rainbow dreads, so he looked less like the iconic mad genius of funk, and more like Black Moses meets Rick Ross meets being 70. The amount of sounds playing off each other in “Atomic Dog” was impenetrable. In turn, Clinton was either meandering around stage looking lost or masterfully reaching back and belting out “FLASHLIGHT” like he owned music itself. No other group would tell the Juggalos to “Lift your voices and sing,” like they were taking evil clowns to church.
• Despite all odds and narratives, Vanilla Ice can control a crowd. After years of restarts as a weedcentric party rapper and mooky nu-metaller, it seems he’s finally found his lane, a fresh-looking Hatchet Man tattoo above his ankle and proud announcement that’s he’s now part of the Psychopathic Records’ roster putting a new happy ending to his Behind The Music. Assured and confident, he soaked the crowd with bottle after bottle of water. He said, “I wanna see you jump” and the crowd did their best since the Saturday rain turned the dust to mud, and the sun then turned the mud to goop. His “Ninja Rap” footnote from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze, has now been repurposed as an anthem for an audience of Juggalos to shout “Go, ninja! Go, ninja, go!” Said Ice, “This crazy-ass white boy sold 160 million records and no one has embraced Vanilla Ice like the Juggalo family.” It probably helps that he has a preternatural ability towards getting women to lose their tops — including one in a full Predator mask. The last chunk of his set was basically a no-T-shirt contest set to his new Guetta-jocking club jams.
• If Vanilla Ice is a Juggalo icon, then Kansas City rapper Tech N9ne is its superstar. He’s a natural fit: his Phantom Of The Opera samples put him on the cusp of horrorcore, his indie-or-else ethos is the same as Psychopathic’s and his emo outsider anthems appeal to all shades of emo outsiders. But his rapidest-fire flows on Saturday simply made him awe-inspiring — easily the most chops-heavy rapper on the entire bill. With very little banter, he rapped like a machine gun; spinning, jumping, vogueing, robo-rocking around without missing a beat. By Sunday, you could see his influence on the Open Mic stage, where rappers like Alaska’s fresh-faced Mr. E were elevating the next generation of horrorcore with double-time rhymes.
• The best way to kill a lazy Sunday afternoon is the Love Train. Actually a tractor that pulls along a hayride wagon (sans hay), it’s more a mobile party than anything. A single trip around the grounds yielded freestyle rap sessions, hopping up and down to simulate car hydraulics, some rude shouted awakenings for anyone trying to sleep their afternoon away (“F*** yo sleep!”), water bottles handed out by friendly Juggalos, water balloon ambushes perpetrated by unfriendly Juggalos, request for breasts and the hook of Tech N9ne’s “Areola” when requests were successful.
• Mystikal’s former Army career made him adept at smacking away flying water bottles. His non-stop energy was electric, but he sure said a lot of creepy, unrepeatable things for someone who just served six years for sexual battery.
• One of the more interesting juxtaposition at such a class-conscious event like Gathering is Violent J’s Juggalo Jam, Michael Jackson vs. Prince, Cheeseburgers & Pop, Drop the Beat & Move Your Feet Dance Off Party, where the Juggalos basically party like the pampered frat boys and college girls on MTV Spring Break. Along the sandy shores of Hepatitis Lake (the festival grounds’ watering hole), there’s dancing, rampant toplessness, beachballs, cheesburgers galore and — in a truly MTV twist — the biggest pop stars in the world. Well, in this case it was a contest between guys billed as the World’s Greatest Prince impressionist and the World’s Greatest Michael Jackson impressionist. MJ took this one handily, but mainly because Prince never moonwalked. “We’re technically, literally in the middle of f***ing nowhere watching Michael Jackson battle Prince,” said host Violent J. “I don’t wanna even figure it out.” MJ’s victory dance was, of course, to “Thriller,” featuring maybe the original horrorcore rapper, Vincent Price.
• An unprecedented event in the weekend, Violent J’s brother Robert came out to introduce militant, Afrocentric, ’90s rapper Paris. “I used to lift weights to this guy every day… This guy makes the dopest beats.” The undertone was clearly, “We know that you probably don’t know who this is, but please don’t throw shit at him because he is awesome.” Thankfully, the fans obliged as the always-provocative rapper railed against former Presidents as his S1W-style dancers stood guard. After he threw his mic, to the ground with a thump, the audience kind of stood in a stunned silence — the most inspired booking in a weekend full of them.
Christopher R. Weingarten is the author of Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, and Hipster Puppies. He Tweets record reviews at @1000timesyes.
Nate “Igor” Smith is a nightlife and event photographer whose work had appeared in the Village Voice, Vice, Penthouse, Rolling Stone, LA Weekly and XXL. He runs the photo blog Driven By Boredom.