The Gathering of the Juggalos, which celebrated its 18th year from July 26th through 29th, needs very little introduction. Most people who are outsiders to Juggalo culture but familiar with the festival probably already have some ideas in mind for what the event is like, and some of those ideas are probably true. I went this year to test it all out for myself. Yes, people wore clown face paint. Yes, everything was sticky with Faygo. Yes, "whoop whoop" was repeatedly shouted. But really, the most Juggalo thing about the Gathering is the fact that it’s a genuinely unpretentious fun event. More so than other festivals I've been to, the Gathering was truly all about celebrating a self-defined family formed through music.

Above all, the Gathering was about having a good time, and not just the nudity, open recreational drug use and general debauchery you’d expect from the Gathering. That stuff can happen at any festival, though the phrase "show me your butthole" probably gets shouted more among Juggalos than other groups. However, all of this decadence was somewhat subdued this year. The festival was held in Oklahoma City for the first time, and both venue staff and law enforcement were strict. That meant no fireworks, no flashing, and no posting up signs in front of your camp saying that you’re selling molly. As LA Weekly also reported:

Behind the scenes, the OKCPD was addressing it by threatening to shut down the whole thing even before it began. Once the festival got underway, the specter of overzealous law enforcement manifested in a kind of paranoia and swirl of rumors that ranged from believable to uproarious. Allegedly, Juggalos waiting outside the premises, hoping to land free tickets from generous homies with extras, were ticketed for trespassing; people were getting nabbed for marijuana; a girl got arrested for toplessness; undercover cops were posing as medics. At one point, someone even started a rumor online that Violent J himself had been hauled off for punching a cop. (He was not.) By far the best rumor: "A Juggalo was arrested for showing a cop his butthole." (I wanted this to be real, dear reader, but alas, it was not.)

What can be said with certainty: This was a decidedly neutered Gathering. Nudity, formerly as common as facepaint, wasn’t permitted; some women improvised by fashioning pasties out of stickers. Drug sales were strictly forbidden in any visible way — long gone were the Gathering days when you could borrow a Sharpie, handwrite a list of substances your crew had for sale, and hang that menu on your tent with Band-Aids. Even smoking a blunt had to be a relatively discreet act. Liquor wasn’t allowed on site, either. Beer brought into the venue had to be concealed in bags. Even though temperatures reached 100 degrees, coolers weren’t allowed by the mainstage area.

While people definitely seemed disappointed about that, it would be almost anti-Juggalo to let that stop everyone from enjoying themselves. As Jadyn, a Juggalo from Nebraska who has been to fifteen Gatherings put it, "Until they kick us out of here, it’s a success." There was definitely still plenty of fun to be had on the waterslides, at parties like the Juggalo Yacht Club, and just hanging around the campsites. Of course, there’s also the music. The lineup always features some potentially unexpectedly good non-Juggalo artists, like Waka Flocka Flame this year who ended up moshing in the pit to Drowning Pool’s "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor" during his show. For an idea of how diverse it was, there was everything from gory nu metal band Mushroomhead to former Kreayshawn associate Lil Debbie to "he’s still around?" rapper Vanilla Ice. And then there’s Insane Clown Posse. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Juggalo or not, an Insane Clown Posse show is worth seeing. This is not just by virtue of ICP themselves, but because of the love Juggalos have for the group and the overwhelming passion they put out during the show. When they performed "Thy Unveiling," the final song off the sixth Joker’s Card album, The Wraith: Shangri-La, in which they explain that the Dark Carnival is ultimately about some kind of higher power and guiding Juggalos toward it, I may have shed a tear or two.

There’s been some drama surrounding ICP and other groups who’ve been affiliated with Psychopathic Records, to the point where some staple Juggalo artists like Twiztid, Blaze Ya Dead Homie, and Dark Lotus weren’t there this year. This was another vibe-killer, but not enough to ruin everyone’s weekend. There’s also been some talk surrounding the Juggalo March on Washington in September this year, but I didn’t hear much about it at the festival. Insane Clown Posse spoke on it briefly during their annual seminar, where they said that Juggalos don't need to have their injustice explained to them. They didn't say much else on the March, but that sentiment is ultimately true. Labeling Juggalos as a gang by the FBI seems like a silly thing, but it's had a real impact on people from cities where Juggalos are indeed on the police radar. The dominant police presence at the Gathering was evidence of that.

I got to talk to a lot of people at festival, and everyone spoke on the judgement they’ve encountered from the rest of society. The Gathering of the Juggalos is supposed to be the opportunity to get away from that for a few days and dive into true carnival liminality, and for the most part it still was. Everyone also spoke on their concept of family - that being a Juggalo means they have a group of people they’re tied to for life. "It means a lot to us to be here, despite everyone complaining about the rules. I’m happy to be here because it’s my break away from the rest of society, and if I have to put up with some little dumb shit here, it’s nothing compared to the rest of the dumb shit out there," said Jadyn from Nebraska. What you get at the Gathering of the Juggalos is essentially a guarantee of a down-to-earth fun experience celebrating a culture people love to hate on.

Pictures of the insanity are in the gallery above.

Insane Clown Posse also recently announced a tour where they'll play 1997's infamous The Great Milenko in full for its 20th anniversary, including a Williamsburg show at Villain.


photos by Nate "Igor" Smith

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