The Juggalo Variant

Spreading the cheeks of America’s last subculture at the Gathering of the Juggalos

ICP 2021 (Design: Ron Hart)

As Earth slowly collapses from COVID-19, Trumpism, and global warming, one group of people stands uniquely ready to face the oncoming apocalypse head on — the Juggalos.

It’s the 21st annual Gathering of the Juggalos, an event that nearly got derailed due to the ongoing pandemic. But we’re here at Legend Valley, located in the shadow of Columbus, Ohio during this hot August weekend.

Once upon a time at a Gathering of yesteryear, it was common to hear the familiar festival refrain “Show us your tits!” But now you’re more likely to hear the more gender-neutral exclamation “Show us your butthole.” And dozens of Juggalos—male, female, and non-binary—accept the dare. Even stage host Steve-O obliges the crowd by spreading his cheeks and proudly displaying his gaped rectum, in a moment that recalls a key scene from John Waters’ Pink Flamingos. Journalist Chris Hansen, on the other hand, who’s here doing a seminar on To Catch A Predator, declines the crowd’s request to show his sphincter.


VIDEO: Palcast #77 with Steve-O

And open anuses are just one of the fascinating things to be found at the Gathering of the Juggalos, now the longest-running underground music festival in North America. 

The sense of community at the Gathering is strata thick. Need water or Faygo? Need food? All you have to do is ask your Juggalo brother or sister. The Juggalos for Jesus tent is just steps away from a vendor selling weed and down the path a little further is the Juggalos in Recovery yurt, where about a dozen people stand around discussing sobriety. Over by the info booth is the Juggalo Book Club where you can take or leave a book; so much for the stereotype about Juggalos being illiterate.

The festival lineup is more stripped down this year. No Tech N9ne or GWAR; now it’s Kid ‘N’ Play, Vanilla Ice and DJ Paul. But in many ways, this Gathering is more true to the underground roots of Insane Clown Posse and Psychopathic Records, the whole reason we’re at the Gathering in the first place.

The main stage includes body positive comic goddess Lardi B, who transforms the overplayed Cardi B song “WAP” into “wings and pizza.” Her set goes over really well with the crowd, which is filled with plus sized men and women. The Juggalo community has a strong sense of body positivity and self-love. Literally hundreds of large people walking around in lingerie and little else. It’s an amazing sight to behold and it’s absolutely beautiful.

R.A. The Rugged Man, an underground icon in his own right, is also here, and he’s pissed off at the world. “Fuck Biden! Fuck Trump! Fuck the DEA! Fuck the FBI! And fuck COVID!” The crowd eats this up and lets out an enthusiastic, cathartic roar. Fuck all that shit, indeed. 


VIDEO: R.A. The Rugged Man performs “Legendary Loser” at GOTJ ’21

Last year’s Gathering was cancelled by COVID, and ICP actually got some positive press for once, since they cancelled relatively early on, tweeting out a message saying “We can’t afford to risk one Juggalo life.” This resulted in a small but mighty burst of public goodwill towards ICP. 

This year, all the talk is about the ICP seminar, which acts as an annual State of the Dark Carnival address. What will ICP announce as their future projects? Is Violent J sick? A revival of ICP’s former group Inner City Posse was abruptly cancelled on the second night of the Gathering leading to rampant rumors throughout the Juggalo grapevine. 

When the Duke of the Wicked and the Southwest Strangla appear onstage along with Gathering organizer and Violent J’s brother Jumpsteady, they’re greeted like the rock stars they are. This crowd loves ICP. Loves them. To the Juggalos, J and Shaggs are just the older brothers they always wanted but never had. When Juggalos chant “Family!” they’re not kidding. These people found their tribe and have been accepted for who they are, probably for the first time in their lives. It was Insane Clown Posse that united them. And for that, Juggalos will always love these two scrubs from Detroit.

Turns out the rumors are true: Violent J IS sick, but not with the flu or–thank heavens –COVID. Rather, Joe Bruce, aged 49, is suffering from non-congenital heart failure. As a result, he must step back from the 24/7 touring lifestyle that he and his brother-in-paint Joey Utsler, 48, used to create an empire.

And what an empire it is. In the beginning, it was Bruce, Utsler, and Utsler’s late older brother John rapping their broke and hungry hearts out, releasing their first album Carnival of Carnage in 1992. It’s hard to believe, but  Insane Clown Posse is now 30 years old. They’re still hungry though–they’re on the verge of releasing their new album Yum Yum Bedlam and are planning a farewell world tour next year. Violent J reassures the crowd that ICP will still be performing regularly, just not at the breakneck pace fans are used to.



Many Juggalos weep openly at hearing this news about Violent J’s health, and you can tell these are people who don’t cry easily. But everyone is reassured the following night when ICP takes the stage for the grand finale of the Gathering, performing a show filled with passion and all the songs that have come to define the Juggalo experience: “Chicken Huntin,” “Little Yellow Bus,” “Falling Apart” and many more. Now older and wiser, ICP still delivers the best raucous stage show in the world, with the Faygo flying everywhere. 

Whatever the future holds for the Juggalos, they can take it. Like roaches, Juggalos are hardy and resourceful and scorned by society. They also scatter under light–try to examine them and they’ll often run. Juggalos were once the kids in class who never got included in the yearbook. But here at the 21st annual Gathering, these 5,000 or so misfits and rejects are kings and queens of the underground. As ICP themselves might say, “And fuck you if you don’t like it.” 


VIDEO: Gathering Of The Juggalos 2021 promo video

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Jason Webber

Jason Webber is the author of the critically acclaimed book Purple Bananas: How Prince Saved Me and Other Selections from the Soundtrack 2 My Life.

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