The Real Magic of ‘The Gathering’

The Gentleman Juggalo LogoAmong the greatest experiences of my life, many have come at the infamous and maligned ‘Gathering of the Juggalos’ (Link), which I have had the privilege of attending three times so far (2002, 2010, and 2012).

The Gathering of the Juggalos (GOTJ) is the annual festival held by the Insane Clown Posse (Link) and their record label, Psychopathic records. It features all the artists of the Psychopathic label, as well as hundreds of other bands. But music is not the only draw for potential GOTJ attendees—wrestling shows, talent competitions, auctions, merchandise booths, autograph tents, band seminars and carnival attractions represent only a small fraction of the entertainment to be had at one of these strange and wonderful events, which historically range from 3-5 days, and tend to occur at the most isolated campgrounds to be found in the American Midwest.

The event has become something of an internet phenomenon of late, with countless articles (Link) being written each year by media interlopers hoping to drop in for one day and capture the essence in a way that can be packaged and explained to the world at large.

As yet, few have come close to accomplishing this goal—at least in its truest sense. Given, these articles have been successful in whipping up the group-think frenzy which the internet makes so common-place, placating the masses with pictures of exposed breasts, faces deranged with excitement, and other unusual sites suitable to inspire the condemnation and ridicule of those who have never experienced the true magic of the GOTJ.

And that journalistic failure is unlikely to be corrected anytime soon. Because the truth is, the Gathering isn’t something that can rightly be comprehended by the curious voyeur, and photographs or video taken at The Gathering capture its essence with no greater efficiency than they would that of a mountain vista or a roaring crowd. That is to say, not at all.

The Gathering isn’t meant to be read about (and the irony of this typed statement is not missed by the author), it’s meant to be experienced. And while I make no claim that an open-minded visitor would be unable to have an incredible time there so long as they were willing to cast aside their biases and take it in with a fresh and open mind, the Gathering of the Juggalos—as implied by the title—is truly meant for the Juggalos alone.

This isn’t to say that there’s any hostility to a well-intended outsider—quite the contrary in fact—but the true magic of this strange event is not in the entertainment scheduled, or the sights to see, but rather in the nuance of the people, and the incredible, tribal culture in which to revel.

At its heart, each GOTJ is nothing more than a campground laid out into sections, with myriad sources of entertainment interspersed among the wooded confines of whatever campground it presently occupies. But within this spread of humanity, an amazing cultural phenomenon can be observed—if one knows where to look.

Really, each Gathering can be viewed almost as a series of tiny villages—microcosms of various aspects of the Juggalo world living in harmony under the greater whole. A quick walk through the grounds, and a trained eye can pick them all out. There are the more old-school Juggalos—with their painted faces, dreadlocks, and Milenko jerseys. Across from them are the ‘Techalos’—juggalos who are primarily inspired by the works of Tech N9ne (Link)—all with their hair waxed into sharp spikes, and white contacts in their eyes. In another direction you might find a group of new generation Juggalos, decked out in more of a ‘scene’ style, and sporting the latest ‘Hot Topic’ shirts of their favourite artists. There are the wrestling kids, the drug crowd, and plenty of Juggalos motivated by the commonly held and generally apt rule that at the GOTJ, there is plenty of ‘love’ to go around.

Despite the differences however, the Juggalos of GOTJ are united under a common identity—that of the former misfit who has learned through adversity and inspiration in equal measure to appreciate the world for their own take on it, rather than forcing it (and themselves) into the pre-defined moulds prescribed by an often uncaring society.

Meeting any of these strangers is no difficult task, and it will soon become evident why so many Juggalos consider the Gathering to be a homecoming. Everyone you talk to is friendly, and all are overwhelmed with a sense of resplendent joy simply for having the privilege to be there. Talk to someone, and they will inevitably invite you to hang out at their campground—leading you through strange twists and turns to their own little tribe among the masses. Personally, I’ve never travelled to the Gathering with anyone beside myself, but I’ve never for a moment felt alone at one. This is the hidden pearl of the GOTJ that inexperienced reporters so often miss out on—as the name implies, it’s really about the people.

So the question becomes—if the GOTJ is such a friendly and welcoming place, a place of open minds and hearts, where does the pervasive feeling of fear and loathing so often associated with the event come from? With no corporate sponsorship or police presence, the Gathering represents a true sense of freedom—a utopian getaway where attendees can truly do as they want and be what they please. As such, it’s only natural that a quick glance around the grounds will reveal an incredible variety of predilections, vices, and lifestyles on offer. It’s a true smorgasbord of people—from every possible walk of life.

You’ll see drunks and druggies, sex and nudity. You’ll hear every curse known to man, as well as every imaginable profession of affection. People will stroll through the grounds naked, filthy, and not giving a damn. You will see madness you’ve never dreamed of—after all, when left to our own devices, us people (and this is by no means limited strictly to Juggalos) are a wild, sordid bunch, capable of great and terrible things.

Of course, the most common reaction to this for internet tourists is abject disgust. People love to look at this free and arguably utopian society and stand in hateful judgement of all they see. They’ll call names, and criticize choices. They’ll eagerly cast aspersions at an entire group of people for not fitting into their own insular worldview. But what does this really say about the person judging? If they find themselves in a place where they have the ability to be anything at all, and end up only being angry, judgemental prudes, then truly what has been revealed is not about the majority of Juggalos in attendance, but rather what rests deep within themselves.

If you can be anything at all—don’t settle for merely being hateful. This isn’t the high goal held for humanity, and it isn’t the intention of the Gathering. Like Yoda’s cave, what you find at the Gathering is more often than not only what you bring with you. That’s the magic that few beyond the Juggalos can ever fully comprehend, and that’s why the Gathering will and must always be, above all else, the true home to those strange, unwieldly, open, caring, earnest, and unusually strange men and women who proudly call themselves Juggalos.

-Brad OH Inc.

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