Well, I’m back.
Those were the words Sam Gamgee spoke to Rosie Cotton upon finally returning from the end of his journey. Sitting in the air-conditioned silence of my office, only days after the ending of the Gathering of the Juggalos, I feel rather the same.
The real world I’ve returned to is less vibrant than the one still teasing the edges of my memory—threatening to pull me blindly back through time into a realm I would rather remain.
The Gathering of the Juggalos 2022 was dubbed the Gathering of Dreams, and in many ways, that’s certainly how it feels. Too quickly it passed, and remains now as a constant dream in the back of my mind of what was, and what will someday be again.
The visions are a seemingly chaotic collection—a kaleidoscope of carnival imagery, camaraderie, and concerts.
With the lingering taste of midway food and the smell of stale soda, faces pass through my mind. They are a shockingly varied group, united by looks of grudging exhaustion, glee, and more than anything else, a burning sense of appreciation for the moment they’re in.
I was able to reconnect with old friends, and meet new ones. At a Gathering, there’s a pervasive sense of familiarity that makes real the repeated claim that these events are not merely a music festival, but rather a family reunion for the most reviled and feared lineage in music history.
Faygo flew through the air, raining down on anyone below before crashing with a colourful splash into its target. Juggalos set up slingshots to launch Faygo or water balloons into the crowd, while others struggled to outfox security and make it up onto the dinosaur’s back.
Fireworks blasted continuously in the background, and clumped in wet heaps on the ground at many points were the burned rags of confederate flags. Passerby’s would spit on them and laugh. One danced upon it. “Be careful,” said a nearby stranger, “I did that earlier, and there was shit all over it.”
I think I’ll always remember that quote.
Juggalos are a direct sort of people, and if they are passionate about displaying their hatred for hate (ironic as that may sound) so too do they celebrate what they love with ferocious vigour.
The pits in front of the ICP concerts saw split heads and shattered teeth. Strangers crashed into each other, then hugged like old friends. Mortars shot off, smoke filled the air, and people choked and gasped together. Fresh Faygo washed away blood and sweat alike.
Even amidst this atavistic revelry, there is gentleness and respect. No one who falls stays down for long, and even as they land are greeted by a rush of hands ready to pick them up and let them try again.
That’s sort of what the Gathering is about. We take care of our own. Whether it’s helping a wounded comrade out of the pit, putting together entire campsites to take care of people lacking supplies, or finding random and wonderful ways to entertain one another, Juggalos never cease to amaze with their ingenuity and unique charm.
I remember on the final night as ICP held everyone in thrall, I caught a funny sight out of the corner of my eye. It was like a white blob moving through the sky. I stole a look over, and saw that it was a Hatchetman. Someone off to the side was creating them out of foam and sending them up to dance over the crowd.
No matter where you go at the Gathering, you’ll see something memorable. I appreciate that about Juggalos.
Of course, there are scheduled events too, and some of these were chief in my priorities. Among the top of that list was the Morton’s List Revealed Seminar—at which the creators of the beloved game would reveal all the secrets of its past, and discuss the game’s future.
Despite the excellent turnout, this felt like a surprisingly intimate affair. The three creators of the game—Jumpsteady, ‘Ninja’ Nate Andren, and ‘Tall’ Jess Deneaux—shared stories of their childhoods, the creation of the game, and the magical experiences which culminated in this epic release. A photo was shared of the original inspiration for the name of the Morton Boulder, and thus the game itself.
The game’s creators had tracked down their old friend, the eponymous Morton recently, only to find that he was deceased long past. Their mission ended with celebrating the life of their friend—reckoning themselves with the clutches of mortality even as they reminisced on the days of youth, life, and blind ambition.
Morton’s List brings us full circle like that sometimes, it’s part of the game’s chaotic magic, and provided for a touching seminar.
I was able to connect with my friend and one third of the creative force behind Morton’s List—Ninja Nate—out on the grounds. He was driving the golf-cart around for those who needed transport, but spared me the time to chat. Then, he gave me a lanyard with a card for his new game, Stranger Tales, explaining that he passed one to each person he encountered, and that the symbol on the back was the harbinger to some magical connection. It was up to me to discover the meaning of that for myself.
My card showed a series of exploding fireworks. I didn’t know what it meant then, but I nevertheless wore it with the youthful enthusiasm so necessary to a festival like this.
At 15 years old, I could hardly have dreamed of an experience like this.
Of course, dreams blend and shift as we look back on them. They merge and intersect, building on one another as they exist at once in the past and the future. Every minute since I’ve been back, different memories have bounced and played before my tried eyes. Friends and strangers, concerts and events. I saw amazing performances from Sir Mixalot, Onyx, The Hatchetman Project, Esham, KRS-One, Slick Rick, and the legendary Mike E. Clark among others. The latter of these even DJ’d live for ICP, and is featured heavily on their new EP, Pug Ugly.
I watched a live Palcast Hotdog eating contest, and witnessed Babytron live up to his name as he fled the stage early for this year’s Bubba Sparxxx award (IFKYK).
As is tradition, ICP were late for their yearly seminar, and the Trash War which ensued in the meantime was one for the books. Faygo, garbage, fireworks, smoke bombs, and even an octopus took to the skies, most often connecting with some unsuspecting sucker who’d gotten himself in too deep.
Sometime around 2011, venues stopped providing chairs for this event, and opted instead for bails of hay. The rationale was that the bales would be less easy to throw at one another than the chairs, but this assumption was sorely tested. I not only saw hay bales thrown at Juggalos, I saw Juggalos themselves hurled through the air as improvised projectiles.
It was fantastic.
An improvised Zen of Love Show took the place of the traditional seminar. It was fun, but many regretted the lack of significant news or updates in the Juggalo world.
Of course, at any Gathering of the Juggalos, the ICP concerts are an undeniable highlight. This year, we had two on offer, with the first of them being a Night 2 performance focussing on rarely or never-before-played songs. This ‘Juggalo Jukebox Show’ was a legendary performance, and will likely be held in the upper echelon of ICP’s storied concert history. It opened with ‘Here Comes the Carnival’ from the recent LP ‘Yum Yum Bedlam’—the live debut of a song likely to be a live classic. As fate would have it, this writer was able to get right up to the front of the pit.
It was about then that I realized it had been ten years since I’d been in a Gathering pit, and I was not the young man I used to be. It was a battle to be sure. Faygos launched like missiles before and behind me. Crowd-surfers—many with steel-toed boots—crashed towards my head from the smoky stretches of humanity pressed behind me, as the sweating masses clawed for my position.
It’s not a scene for the faint of heart, but even in the mud and mire of this battleground there is beauty and friendship. Juggalos scream the words into each other’s faces, and support one another when they fall. In rare moments of reprieve, they share stories of past battles, exchange notes on the setlist, and speculate on what will come next. Namelessly, bonds are formed, only to be torn asunder by the raging movement of the crowd as the set resumes.
The bonds remain.
As the final song started, I saw my moment come, and with Faygo Armageddon in full effect, I pulled myself over the rail and onto the stage.
Watching from far off, my partner shared that she saw me make it up, and knew that it was me when I turned to pull up those struggling behind me. That made me smile.
I danced in the Faygo rain for a long while—handing out 2-Litres, helping protect the security line around J, and hugging strangers with paint smeared smiles as they stood dumbstruck by the celebration of love, madness, and unity strobing around them.
After the set, I sat soaking and trembling with an energy rarely achieved in normal life. As my partner purchased herself a corndog, I sat on a rock, staring up at the starry sky. The myriad colours of the carnival lights bounced off my wet shirt, and I knew in that moment with a clarity reserved usually for youth and the insane that this was a special moment. It was one that I could hold, turn about and examine for years to come. It was the high-watermark of a week-long dream. The terrible, white face of the iceberg—visible and real—and acting as the portent of all that might bob and heave beneath the surface of immediate recall.
Then, as I sat there staring in wonder, the fireworks went off. Dozens, in all the colours of the rainbow, exploded above, sending their dying tendrils of smoke and sparks raining down over the grounds like a final baptism.
I clutched at my chest, where my Stranger Tales lanyard showed a similar row of fireworks. It couldn’t have been clearer to me just then. Of all the dreamlike, esoteric joys I’d had, and all of those yet to come, I knew that I’d found my moment. I was simply, purely happy, and that’s a thing not easily achieved these days.
It was a like dream, and it remains such.
Some dreams never end…
Now, I’m back. But I’ve said that already. The dreams of this vacation stretch behind me like a map to a place I never knew existed. Talking about it to those who have never been there feels like a futile effort. I would come across like a child trying to relay the contents of a fairy tale to some stranger with a briefcase.
These memories are not of this world. They are for somewhere better, a dream-like place that exists still in my past, and lingers upon the edges of certainty, somewhere ahead, like a castle in the fog, or a road stretching off into the clouds. It is the promise of joy, of community, of all the things so necessary to our humanity, yet all too often eschewed in the daily grind to survive, rather than to live.
To the Juggalos, that dream will never end. Someday, I hope that you can join us.
There’s always room on our wagons.
Much Clown Love,
-Brad OH Inc.