Editor's Note: To describe the Insane Clown Posse's Gathering of the Juggalos as one of the more outrageous music festivals is, perhaps, an understatement. To fully grasp the infamy surrounding the fest and the entire Juggalo subculture, one must experience it. So we sent Billboard.com contributor Kevin Rutherford to Cave-in-Rock, Illinois to fully emerse himself in the Juggalo "Family" this weekend (August 10-14). He'll provide daily updates on his travels and catch up with Gathering of the Juggalos performers... assuming he survives.
"Let the world know: There ain't no party like a Juggalo party!"
So proclaimed '90s rap star MC Hammer at Thursday night's Gathering of the Juggalos. And he couldn't be more on point.
Hammer Time at the Gathering
I entered the 2011 Gathering quite unsure of what to expect: the aforementioned party? Ear-pleasing music? The opposite? Chaos and anarchy amidst the cornfields of Southern Illinois? The drive into the grounds was itself an adventure -- a long, winding dirt road with a car whose drivers (and, I'll wager, passengers) had no business driving a car on a straight, paved road let alone one which transported travelers into the Mecca of all Juggalo-kind.
But what's been great is that -- and bear with me here, because I'm probably going to be writing this a lot this weekend -- that each and every apprehension I had prior to venturing seven hours southwest is quickly disappearing. Sure, this is the Gathering of the Juggalos, a congregation of one of the most openly-ridiculed subcultures the world over. However, after spending an evening in their esteemed company, one realizes that, to quote Dr. Evil, "We're not so different, you and I… well, except maybe for the face paint part." (Yes, he really did say that last part!)
The Gathering bills itself as an underground music festival, with artists the general public rarely catches wind of. Many of these artists are signed to Psychopathic Records, the label run by the "Miracles"-loving Insane Clown Posse, who also preside over the event. But unlike some similar festivals, that almost -- if not completely -- hold true to that notion, the Gathering also brings in quite a few artists who are either currently or were once in the public conscious. MC Hammer, E-40, Busta Rhymes… we're talking rappers you might still be listening to today. Or did listen to. Or your parents listened to.
Before my ears could even come close to achieving cheesy '90s rap nirvana, setting up camp was a must. And I mean that literally -- camping is free with your ticket here. But arriving early was a must (our neighbors hail and drove from Denver and arrived on Tuesday. Many more have been waiting outside the fest for prime spots for up to a week), and with the help of fest security man Danny (Happy birthday, dude!), my car was weaved near-perfectly through the masses of already-parked cars and pitched tents.
Video: ICP's 2011 Gathering of the Juggalos Infomercial
In midst of a rising chorus of "Whoop whoop!" and chants of "Family! Family!" was the main stage, lit up like a rock concert. And while the fest took a brief siesta so that "Grillz" rapper Paul Wall could take the stage, my eyes came across the first half-empty bottle of Faygo thrown in my general direction. Protip: Juggalos throw things. At whoever and whatever they want. Remaining alert at all times is key.
But Paul Wall couldn't show, much to the chagrin of the restless crowd. More airborne objects. Chants involving the rapper and a certain expletive. Take mental notes, please -- this will be a recurring theme.
This may seem newb-ish, but oftentimes it's as much fun to people-watch as it is to listen to the music at the Gathering. As a first-timer, you take in the scene about you, sometimes quite shocked that you're still in America, since certain rules and laws just do not apply here. In fact, don't bring in and/or throw glass bottles and you're fairly golden.
Here's a rundown so far: people of both genders with minimal clothing (or none, in the case of certain females), hair braids so plentiful that Coolio would be proud, a swimming hole called Lake Hepatitis which I think I will avoid, glow sticks galore, an as-of-yet unused wrestling ring, a man carrying around an actual battery-powered lamp in the crowd. Beer and Faygo flow freely. Artists such as the Dayton Family can be found traversing the grounds in golf carts. It's a truly familial experience, something you can't get at too many festivals.
But this is a music festival, and the music is still very important to festivalgoers. Important in the I'll-throw-stuff-at-your-stage-if-you-don't-give-us-something-to-listen-to-way. DJs playing everything from Skrillex to Tinie Tempah would appear on occasion, but if you aren't on the main bill, you don't matter much. Stand between a Juggalo and his or her E-40 only if you have a death wish.
Video: MC Hammer, "Can't Touch This," Gathering of the Juggalos 2011
MC Hammer brought the most noise of any. As he's getting on in age, you might think that Mr. Hammer Time would be unable to pull off the devastating dance moves which helped define his career. And you'd be wrong. Hammer's still got it, and he can work a crowd like no other. Except for Busta Rhymes, who followed Hammer with a career-spanning set with songs dating back to 1992. Busta was late -- very late -- but if anyone was upset with the rapper, all was soon forgiven.
In fact, Busta called the performance -- his first at the Gathering -- a "defining moment" in his career, and hadn't had that much fun in quite some time. Understandably, the crowd ate this up, ingenuous or not.
Video: Busta Rhymes, "Dangerous," Gathering of the Juggalos 2011
Today begins another day of live music and fun times with the Family. The Kottonmouth Kings, Ice Cube and Lil Jon are among the performers, and seminars with ICP and more are to follow. Further immersion into the Juggalo culture is imminent. Stay tuned.