By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
The Gathering of the Juggalos is an annual summer pilgrimage for people who know they are among the most hated on earth. Nestled deep in the Illinois woods, the Gathering is "the biggest family reunion on the planet" for the "most misunderstood people of all time" (their superlatives).
United for four days in one place from around the country, the Juggalos testify to conjuring a magical solidarity that is, according to one of the event's inspirations, a 38-year-old father of two famously known as Violent J, "What I imagine it's like for the Muslims to visit the Holy Land of Mecca."
Except here, there's a Ferris wheel.
The Gathering of the Juggalos is a campground retreat for followers of Insane Clown Posse, a Detroit horror-core rap duo who paint their faces like evil harlequins and talk about 'ho's, hatchets, and dicks. For nearly two decades, MTV has ignored Violent J and his partner-in-clown, Shaggy 2 Dope. Spin famously crowned the minstrel-descending "über-wiggers" 1997's "Mooks of the Year." Malls across America ban shoppers from wearing ICP gear. The band itself has waged bitter public feuds with Disney, the Beastie Boys, Eminem, Sharon Osbourne, and, last month, reality star/Playboy model Tila Tequila. (See "Tila Tequila vs. The Gathering of the Juggalos: An Eyewitness Account.")
Probably the nicest thing any professional music critic has ever said about ICP is that they're "dumb": USA Today awarded them "Worst Album of the Year"—twice. Even the company behind generic soft-drink Faygo, long associated with the band, which purchases it by the truckload to spray in fans' faces—on the brand-loyalty scale, it's what Adidas was to Run-D.M.C.—only politely acknowledges their existence.
"Not only do people diss us for what we do, but it's almost to the point that they want us to stop!" Violent J yells over the phone from the band's bootstrapped label, Psychopathic Records.
Insane Clown Posse have wisely turned this cultural leprosy into an elevator pitch. Over the course of nearly two decades, the wicked clowns, who bought their mamas houses on cartoon massacres and butt, nut, and slut jokes, have sold more than seven million releases, racked up three gold and two platinum RIAA-certified records, and accrued millions of dollars in merchandising. They advertise the Gathering as "the Most Controversial Music Festival in the World!" and promote ICP as the "Most Hated Band in the World." Both are spins few would debate.
As high-profile lowbrow exiles, Insane Clown Posse have become magnets for hundreds of thousands of fellow outcasts who call themselves Juggalos and Juggalettes, bonded by their outcast status. For approximately 10,000 of them, the Gathering is a yearly reminder that these white-rap-loving black sheep aren't alone. It is also an opportunity to shower in a trailer, ride in a helicopter, and get tattooed in the back of a pick-up truck.
"It's a motherfuckin' Juggalo Woodstock, only better," Violent J has written. "There's more to do, more to see, more 'ho's to fuck, and it's all insane as hell."
"I would almost compare it to that movie 28 Days Later," jokes comedian Tom Green, who was onstage when Juggalos pelted reality star Tila Tequila with rocks, referring to a horror film about the spread of an apocalyptic "rage" virus. "Just me running all the time: Don't let them get too close to you 'cuz they may eat your brains!"
For 96 hours in mid-August, Psychopathic Records transforms HogRock Campgrounds into a shantytown psycho-porn amusement park. The privately owned property spreads across 115 acres of Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, an Ohio River–traced village that "has a history of violence as long as your tattooed arm!" and a tradition of sheltering "river pirates, smugglers, counterfeiters, ghosts, and some of the nation's first serial killers!" (Both are blurbs, now deleted, from the "Site Attractions" page of the official Gathering website.)
It's a setting that is ideal for self-contained outlaw culture. The police force of surrounding Hardin County consists of a sheriff with only four deputies. For the Gathering, seven additional officers are hired to pitch in for the weekend—two, when there are biker rallies in the same spot in June and October—but even with the additions, the department is only equipped to intervene outside of the gates. Local laws don't require any permits to throw an event like this ("Nothing," confirms the County Sheriff), so once the grounds are rented, organizers can set up shop without bureaucratic hassle. Events are BYOB, the nearest package store is 14 miles away, and a weekend like this triples the county's population of 4,700.
A map given at the entrance shows how HogRock has been carved into an Insane Clown Posse theme park: Three camping areas are rechristened the "Chaos District," "Loonie Boonies," and "Red Mist Mountain." Scattered around them are six separate stages, a wrestling ring, and an autograph tent. There is the Main Stage, where ICP will headline and Method Man will get his cheek bloodied from a flying object. There is the Second Stage, where bong MC Afroman will get figuratively stoned and reality-TV star Tila Tequila will get literally stoned. There is the Seminar Tent, where omnipresent porn icon Ron Jeremy will initial the sunburnt breast of a Juggalette already sporting a neck hickey, then take her inside his trailer. There is the Freakshow Tent, where a Ms. Juggalette contestant will ejaculate on command (and win), Vanilla Ice will unleash "Ninja Rap" (his contribution to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II soundtrack) at around 4:30 in the morning, and one of the Half Pint Brawlers (a little person wrestler) will get a dollar bill stapled to his testicle.