Posse Galore: ICP fans celebrate the 14th Gathering of the Juggalos in Middle-of-Nowhere, Illinois

Posse Galore: ICP fans celebrate the 14th Gathering of  the Juggalos in Middle-of-Nowhere, Illinois
Nate "Igor" Smith
Cody Morin, a sick teenager sent to the Gathering by the Make-A-Wish foundation, receives a lap dance from a sympathetic juggalette.

It is 2:45 on a Saturday afternoon in Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, a small town filled with beautiful parks and untouched wildlife, located about three and a half hours southeast of St. Louis. The sun has finally poked out from behind the clouds after days of overcast skies and intermittent rain, driving the temperatures into the mid-90s.

"Come on, when is this thing going to get started?" inquires a heavyset man standing amid a crowd that has assembled in and around a large tent, dabbing his forehead with the T-shirt from which he has divested himself. Staining the shirt along with his sweat are smears of black and white clown makeup that are melting off the man's face in the heat.

This is the Gathering of the Juggalos, an annual music festival, now in its fourteenth year, produced by Insane Clown Posse, a Detroit-based rap group largely responsible for revitalizing the "horror-core" genre of hip-hop in the 1990s. ("Juggalos," for the uninitiated, is a term that fans of the group and their related acts use to refer to themselves.) The affair, which transpires over a five-day summertime stretch on private land in middle-of-nowhere Cave-In-Rock, brings thousands of face-painted fans to the tiny Illinois town. The Seminar Tent, which occupies primo real estate at the center of the Gathering, serves as a platform for performers to address their fans at scheduled times. ICP's seminar is the biggest draw, with hundreds jammed into a space designed to accommodate far fewer.

Nate "Igor" Smith
Nate "Igor" Smith

See Also: - Our Complete Gathering of the Juggalos Coverage

At about three o'clock, nearly an hour behind schedule, two men whose faces are obscured by clown paint take the tent's minuscule stage. Immediately the beach balls that had been batted about overhead to pass the time are forgotten and left to fall.

Joseph Bruce, better known as to this group as Violent J, is first to speak. "We'd like to thank all of you for coming to the seminar," he says. "We think about this — this exact moment — all year. Because we see you guys as the most elite juggalos on the planet. There are juggalos all over the world, but you guys are the ones that came here. It's like you've come to Mecca, and we're gonna tell you some shit, and that shit is going to be spread throughout the whole juggalo world."

The crowd cheers in approval, yelling "woop woop!" as is the custom.

Bruce and his stagemate Joseph Utsler, better known to the crowd as Shaggy 2 Dope, comprise ICP. Despite a lack of mainstream assistance, the two have built an empire for themselves. Their Psychopathic Records label is said to bring in $10 million in gross annual revenue, according to the group in a 2010 interview with Nightline. In addition to music, the company has interests in merchandise, professional wrestling and video production.

"Nah, I can't," Bruce says to a fan in the front row who's offering him a hit off of a blunt. "We perform tonight, and my voice is sounding good so I don't want to fuck it up." Even as he is declining, he is reaching his arm forward, seemingly subconsciously, toward the kid. "All right, fine," he relents, grabbing the joint and taking a long drag. "You don't have to ask me twice."

The crowd screams its approval.

The ICP seminar plays out like an infomercial: There's the upcoming tour's itinerary, which includes Albuquerque — despite that city's then-mayor having banned the group after its last visit, according to juggalo residents in attendance — and Canada — "Believe it or not, Shaggy is finally off probation, so we're headed to Canada!" Bruce announces. Following the tour, the group will reenter the studio to record the followup to 2012's The Mighty Death Pop! Fuse TV is airing a new TV show, ICP Theater. ICP's streaming audio show, hosted by artists on the Psychopathic roster, will take up where it left off when it went on hiatus last November.

"We don't make money on it," Bruce says of the show. "It has always been a loss for us, but we do it anyway, for you guys! For the juggalos!"

Bruce says the Gathering itself is a money-losing proposition. That might be so, but there's definitely money to be made here.

It's virtually impossible to walk ten feet on the festival grounds without being approached by someone selling something. Offerings range from illicit (drugs, moonshine) to run-of-the-mill necessities (toilet paper) to...truly bizarre.

Like the young man near the entrance who traveled all the way from Maine to attend but had failed to make arrangements for the return trip.

"Kick this kid in the balls for five dollars!" a man with a megaphone bellows on the kid's behalf. "Fifteen dollars to fuck him in the ass with a Sharpie!"

See Also: - The Gathering of the Juggalos' Best Overheard Quotations

A passerby in her twenties plunks down a five-spot and promptly levels the poor fellow with a sneaker to the crotch. "Thank you," he says, wincing, as onlookers happily throw in dollar bills for the privilege of having borne witness. The woman tries to double down, insisting that she should get two shots because the kid flinched the first time, but the crowd is having none of it. "He's suffered enough," she's told.

Next Page »