Inside The Gathering of the Juggalos: Boobs, Bud, and Civil Chaos

Fighting the FBI’s ‘gang’ designation in the courts, Insane Clown Posse held its 16th annual festival in Ohio filled with clowns and Faygo galore.

07.27.15 5:18 AM ET

THORNVILLE, Ohio—Fuckin’ concert logistics, how do they work? And really, who cares?

Thousands of Juggalos, most of them clutching tickets to the Gathering of the Juggalos, stood in a muddy line for six hours Wednesday in a withering summer sun waiting to get their wristbands. Some had held tickets for months, yet were forced to wait in an endless line for the wristband that proves they have that ticket in order to get past the hallowed gates of Legend Valley, the concert shed in southern Ohio that is hosting the 16th annual Gathering.

While that sounds like a dose of physical hell with a pinch of overall frustration—yes, it was—there was no fighting. No shoving. Juggalos, including a group formed just for such a mini-crisis, the Scrub Care Unit, passed out water to each other, held places in line (no cuts), and overall treated each other like family.

“Yea, that’s exactly what we are, one big dysfunctional family,” explained a muscled guy who looks like a Living Colour outtake, only with a slim patch of purple and yellow hair atop his otherwise shaved head. He said his name is “Freekshow,” and you’re inclined to believe him since it’s stenciled across the back of his red, short-sleeved bowling shirt that reached below his knees. It was his 10th time to hit the Gathering since 2001. “For us, we have the Gathering, which is like Woodstock meets Sodom and Gomorrah,” he said. “And this is something, today, that we get through together.”

Oh, they griped. Once the line reached the single portable trailer and the three people that were—slowly—handing out the admission bracelets, it was on.

“I’ve never been in a line this long—not even at Walmart,” barked a chunky gentleman into a portable megaphone, the kind you can buy at Walmart. “It’s like being at the DMV—three people, 1,000 waiting.”

While many of those in line were veterans of the Gathering, some with 10 or more trips under their belts, Sahara Stewart, from Madison, Indiana, was hitting her first.

“I’m not sure it’s worth this,” Stewart mused. She was one of the most unfortunate—a fair-skinned patron turning several shades of pink, her first memento of life as a follower of Psychopathic Records, the label operated by Insane Clown Posse which presents the four-day festival.

She’ll get used to it.

“Family can hang out and enjoy each other’s company, that’s part of the experience,” said Rob Van Winkle aka Vanilla Ice, a devoted Juggalo who has played the Gathering several times since its inception in 2000. “They come in from everywhere in all manners. There are people hitchhiking in, driving in, from all over. If you don’t mind sitting by the side of the road with your thumb out, you sure don’t mind standing in line. Plus, girls come by with their boobs hanging out, and that’s also the experience and what to expect.”

True. One of them was selling kush at $10 a gram to boot.

At least 60 percent of the people who attended this year’s Gathering were repeaters, said Jason Webber, spokesman for Psychopathic.

The difference, this year, is that there are a “lot of new faces,” he said. Added Scott Donihoo, aka ScottieD, who runs the Juggalo news site and has become the Walter Cronkite of Juggalo happenings, “There are more first-timers here than I have seen before.” This from a guy who’s never missed a Gathering.

The crowd is larger, too—the largest in five years, well up from last year’s 4,500. That’s because ICP, through longevity and skill, is finally getting a bit of love from the world. More people at the four-day Gathering, some solid record sales, and an even-handed interview with Rolling Stone.

But there are still the obstacles.

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* * *

Very few bands have sued the federal government, although many have been tracked, pursued, and looted by it. Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope—the members of Insane Clown Posse—and four Juggalos sued the FBI in 2014 after being deemed a gang via the agency’s bi-annual “Gang Threat Assessment Report,” in late 2011.

The case was tossed by a federal judge in June 2014, and last month, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals heard the Juggalo appeal. 

Department of Justice attorney Lindsey Powell argued that the gang designation caused no harm to Juggalos. The claim aroused the court.

“You believe there’s absolutely no harm, but, not to be facetious, but could you pass the FBI background check and be in your job if you were a member of the Juggalos?” one of the justices asked Powell.

It was the first time a federal judge ever uttered the word “Juggalos” in a context that could be construed as positive.

“Aah, I have no reason to think that I, I could not, your honor,” Powell stammered.

Courtesy of Hazin

If the Juggalos are thwarted at the appellate court level, the last place to try is the U.S. Supreme Court. “We’ll go as far as we have to take it,” Shaggy said. Visions of a Juggalo march on Washington have already been discussed if the case gets to SCOTUS.

For now, Shaggy and J have stopped asking their lawyers for updates on the case.

“It’s so depressing after the judge threw it out the first time, I kind of avoid it,” J told me a couple weeks ago as we sat in the Lotus Pod, the recording studio at the band’s two-story label headquarters in the northern Detroit suburbs. “I mean, they cold threw it out.” Neither of them listened to the arguments in the appellate case, “although I heard about them,” J added.

It seems like even the Internal Revenue Service keeps the Gathering of the Juggalos on its calendar.

Last week, on July 15, exactly one week before Day One of this year’s Gathering, the Internal Revenue Service filed a court order to force Shaggy to turn over documents related to $162,417 in back taxes allegedly owed for 2011 and 2012. He has a Sept. 2 court date.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed an order the same day to force Psychopathic Records to turn over financial records. The IRS is investigating the label's tax liability for 2012 and 2013.

The timing was curious, at the least.

“Clearly, [the IRS] is trying to get some publicity,” Jerry Abraham, a former IRS agent, told the Detroit News. The IRS did not return a call.

Despite muted backing from the music industry, which gives only lip service to the First Amendment, and pressure from the government, ICP has outlasted not only the feds but also now-defunct Blender magazine, which in 2003 branded them the worst artist in music history (“trailer trash”), and the print edition of Spin, which in 1998 ran a comic strip that disparaged ICP as a couple of artistically bereft knuckleheads and dubbed them “Mooks of the Year.” Music writer Rob Tannenbaum inexplicably worked himself into a hater-frenzy and dubiously claimed in 2013 that ICP “live to sell products, from DVDs to comic books, to the tune of millions of dollars annually. Like most d-bags, they’re predictable.”

Predictable enough to survive for 23 years not just as musicians but as friends with a successful business, indie label Psychopathic, which every year puts on the music festival that this year was announced as one of the summer of 2015’s must-see music festivals by Rolling Stone.

* * *

Titus Martell stood in the doorway of a Dollar Store in Heath, Ohio with a simple question. “You have Faygo?” he asked the manager, who happened to be walking by the door when he came in.

Martell, 30, is a burly, bearded man with multicolored hair and a bit of a stare. Around his neck dangles a tangle of charms and trinkets, the most important of which is the treasured hatchetman amulet.

“No, we don’t carry it,” came the answer. “Giant Eagle does.”

Jennifer the cashier scoffed under her breath.

“Why would anyone want Faygo?” she muttered. “It costs 60 cents a two-liter.”

Because, of course, it’s the preferred beverage of the Juggalos, revered in song. It peels paint in the right doses and flies off the stage in cannons during an ICP set.

Martell had traveled 1,600 miles from Billings, Montana, in the past week in a van with a half-dozen others, give or take a few who were dropped off to visit friends or relatives along the way.

And now he needed some Faygo in a little town down the road a piece from Legend Valley.

“Nothing but diet, except for ginger ale,” came the report from the Giant Eagle.

That’s no good for the Juggalo Juice. Faygo’s Ohana Punch is a key ingredient. “It’s a mix of Captain Morgan Black Flag, fruit, Everclear,” Martell explained, “and Ohana Punch.”

When it was announced that Martell and thousands like him would be coming back this year for another Gathering, there was no resistance. Local hotels even asked that they come back.

Rose Mary Elson, who manages the Shell station and convenience store next to Legend Valley, made a pre-Gathering hoarding of Faygo from a distributor in Columbus, which stacked over six feet high in a colorful mountain of plastic bottles. She doesn’t even carry it the rest of the year.

“I sold more Faygo than I did beer last year,” said Elson. The Gathering days last year tripled her daily sales, even compared to other events. “And they’re more polite than the people at any other concerts we’ve had here.”

* * *

Inside the Gathering gates, the usual festival antics went down, although the guys have kept their nipples on, unlike 2013, when Adam Roberts had his removed for a cool $100. Mike Busey’s babes The Busey Beauties, imported from the Sausage Castle in central Florida, kept the party rolling on the midway. 

Freakshow Deluxe ate flames and stapled playing cards to eyebrows.

Courtesy of Hazin

Then there are the puzzles: A guy paid $4,000 for a mystery box of Psychopathic items at an auction. Cult rapper Danny KAE was flown in from Anchorage, Alaska, and played an early-morning set backed by a sparse-as-hell tape that few dug but is still being raved about by Violent J: “Anyone who does a song called ‘After School Snack Attack’ is a true ninja.” Puddle Of Mudd played a bar-band horrific cover of “Gimme Shelter” and did not get murdered. And Flosstradamus defied some of its fans—one of whom posted with great authority on Instragram that the move was “career suicide”—and agreed to play the Gathering.

They killed it, but DJ J2K aka Josh Young took a rock to the face in the opening minutes of the set. As Flosstradamus ended, Young addressed the crowd and noted that they handled the shit they got for signing on, but “when we started this set some asshole hit me in the face with a rock,” he said. “Fuck that motherfucker. Everyone else is cool.”

The packed pit went crazy for him.

Young then exhorted the crowd to make the peace sign and fly it high.

That’s how he left everyone. The crowd knowing that one of their own—once again—had, as Juggalos put it, “fucked up.”

This time, the Juggalos didn’t earn the everlasting scorn of the one who bore the brunt of that act.

But for years now, they have had to shoulder a sweeping judgment by the many because some among them, who share the same taste for music considered out of the norm, have committed crimes.

People could get dubbed gang members for something like that these days.