There are few subcultures that rely on their community more than Juggalos. As has been documented in pretty much every article ever written about the Insane Clown Posse and their fans, when you look past the cartoonish violence, adolescent chaos, and intense obsession with seeing boobs/buttholes, Juggalos have built an incredibly welcoming and supportive community, a place that people living on the margins of society can call home.
So it was with much excitement that the community was able to reunite last weekend for the 21st Gathering of the Juggalos in Thornville, Ohio—the first in two years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It fucking feels amazing,” said Janie Hughes, a Juggalo who was at the festival with her husband. “We missed it last year. Fuck COVID, man.”
Almost every Juggalo I spoke to during the festival told me they’d struggled with the isolation of the pandemic. “It was really, really hard,” said Sander Howe, a Juggalo from Philadelphia who was selling coffee at the festival to raise funds for a Juggalo-friendly coffee shop she hopes to open. “The Juggalos reset me. They keep me going. They keep me positive, uplifted. I need it.”
I’d never attended the festival before, but this one, which featured performances from ICP, Vanilla Ice, and Danny Brown, alongside events like game shows and costume contests, played out pretty much exactly as I expected: in a series of random and completely chaotic moments spread out over several stages and campgrounds. As I wandered the site, I encountered surprises around every corner, from a guy letting people staple dollar bills to his head and chest (as long as he got to keep the dollars); to a stunt troupe on one of the smaller stages that featured a woman performer being pepper sprayed in her butthole; to Chris Hansen, the former host of NBC’s To Catch a Predator, taking to the mainstage to provide the introduction for a metal band called Upon a Burning Body.
Unlike other festivals that have happened this year, COVID-19 safety measures felt pretty much non-existent. There were no testing or vaccine requirements, and very few masks, though the festival was outdoors.
But there was plenty of the trademark Juggalo sweetness. At one point, I met three generations of the same Juggalo family. “My grandmother was actually the first member of the family to get into ICP,” said Tadd Charlton, who was at the festival with his Juggalo son and Juggalo mother. “She’s passed away.”
At one point, a crowd that was waiting for ICP erupted into a huge projectile fight between people in the front of the crowd and people in the back of the crowd. People were pelting each other with everything from metal water bottles to trash cans to dirty diapers, a few people started throwing rocks, and the mood of the crowd completely flipped. “Don’t throw stones,” yelled a guy with a megaphone. “We’re not trying to hurt each other, we’re still family.” Eventually, dueling chants of “Fuck the front!” and “Fuck the back” morphed into a communal chant: “Don’t throw stones!”
After a few moments of ceasefire, the crowd ditched the rocks and reverted to throwing marginally less painful items at each other, like full cans of beer and bales of hay.