Driving away from last year's Gathering of the Juggalos at Cave-in-Rock, Ill., Insane Clown Posse's Violent J says that he and partner Shaggy 2 Dope felt that "this year (2011) was gonna be the one. We knew it for sure. We were like, 'next year is gonna be THE Gathering.' And we still feel that way."
The clowns and their Juggalos gather for a 12th time on Aug. 11-14 back at Cave-in-Rock, with an expanded lineup featuring more heritage acts (Busta Rhymes, Bobby Brown, MC Hammer, Ice Cube, George Clinton), a wealth of new extra-musical activities and high-profile celebrity hosts -- including Charlie Sheen, who will do the honors from the main stage on July 13.
"My personal thinking is if everybody's making fun of Charlie Sheen, he's welcome with us," says Violent J (nee Joe Bruce). "He can speak his mind, say what he wants to say and I don't think anybody's gonna make fun of him." To which Shaggy 2 Dope (Joey Utsler) adds, "He's a big underdog, which is part of being a Juggalo. It wasn't a money issue; everybody thinks we're paying him out the ass and we're not. He's doing it for...whatever he's doing it for. He's doing it for exposure in front of the Juggalos. I think he's going to get on great. It's Charlie Sheen -- come on, he's got tiger blood!"
The clowns acknowledge that Bobby Brown -- and, to a lesser extent, Clinton and his Parliament-Funkadelic crew -- push the stylistic parameters of the Gathering, which is traditionally a rap and heavy metal dominated affair. But, Violent J explains, "We've considered bringing R&B for awhile because I've always loved some R&B, and once upon a time when I was younger, Bobby Brown was the f*****' king of R&B. There's a lot of cool groups we could bring in. It would be fun to have Morris Day & the Time at a Gathering.
Video: The Epic Infomercial for the 2011 Gathering of the Juggalos
So Bobby Brown is really our test, and I hope it works so it opens the door for new groups." To that end, ICP and the Gathering's production staff has created a separate stage for Brown -- and only Brown -- so that "he's not going on before anybody else and there's not anybody going on after him. Therefore you're not forced to watch Bobby Brown, so the people who show up will want to see him and won't boo him. You'll have to be missing something else to boo Bobby Brown off."
There's a precedent for that now, of course. Last year's Gathering made headlines when Tila Tequila was booed and bottled during a provocative appearance. But ICP says it hopes that proves to be an exception rather than a rule.
"We didn't expect that at all," Shaggy 2 Dope says. "We didn't think she'd get hated on like that. It was a hard stroke of luck. We never intentionally book anybody to be set up or get booed. Our intentions are nothing but to put on the greatest, best show possible....what we think everybody wants to see."
ICP is also stoked about its wrestling offerings this year, including Legends matches that will recreate the July 1985 steel cage match between Greg "The Hammer" Valentine and Tito Santana and a first-ever showdown between ring villains Rowdy Roddy Piper and Terry Funk. There will also be a special wrestler's night on the Gathering's comedy stage.
The previous 11 gatherings have drawn about 107,500 Juggalos total, with a top attendance of 20,000 in 2010. This year they're also offering a virtual Gathering experience with Internet pay-per-view of selected events, which Violent J promises will be "cheap as hell." The duo has already experimented with the pay-per-view for its regular wresting events in Detroit.
Violent J also promises "a ton of news" at the annual ICP seminar he and Shaggy will hold during the Gathering, including updates about the group's next album, "The Mighty Death Pop!" and the debut of "EatS***NDie," the new album by the Psychopathic Rydas all-star group from ICP's label. ICP is "about two or three songs away from completing" "The Mighty Death Pop!" with producer Mike E. Clark, according to Violent J, and the duo promises a fitting follow-up to 2009's "Bang! Pow! Boom!," which debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and No. 1 on the Independent Albums chart.
"It's a phenomenal record so far," says Shaggy. We're having a great time working on it. There's no set deadline, so it's not like rush, rush, rush, rush. Right now it's just turning out great. It's just the return of the Dark Carnival, really wicked s***. It's ICP in its truest form."