Why I Gather

Not too long ago my wife asked, “Aren’t you done with the Juggalos?” It was a variation on a question I’d asked myself any number of times. Because I am flying to Oklahoma City on Wednesday to attend my sixth Gathering in eight years, and I would be lying if I said there were not moments when I questioned why I was so ferociously committed to going to the Gathering of the Juggalos every year and making writing about Insane Clown Posse and their fans a major component of my career. 

I don’t do it for the money. Most years, I lose money on covering the Gathering, and being one of the world’s foremost experts on Juggalo culture hasn’t exactly done wonders for my career, or my finances, nor for people’s perception of my judgment. It’s not as if I’m flooded with offers to write about Insane Clown Posse. Nope, if I want to write about the Gathering I need to pitch, and pitch hard, and a lot of the time I run into the brick wall of people not giving a mad ass fuck about Insane Clown Posse, or thinking they’re gross and unworthy of coverage, or thinking they peaked culturally ages ago or not having money for anything. 

When my wife asked “Does anybody really care about Juggalos at this point?” I similarly heard an echo of something I’d asked myself at various junctures in the past eight years, particularly after I finished writing You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me was finished and I could officially never write about Insane Clown Posse, or think about them ever again, if I wanted to. 

But I fell in love with the freedom and craziness of the Gathering of the Juggalos in a way that kept me deeply invested in that world even when the responsibilities of writing my book about them ended. I’m similarly invested in Phish. I would love to be at Baker’s Dozen right now at Madison Square Garden but it would probably cost me six thousand dollars and also it would be impossible to find someone to pay me to write about it, since plenty of talented, respected people love Phish and would be overjoyed to write about them, whereas the pool of Juggalo journalists is a whole lot smaller. 

As I’ve written before, the Gathering is a memory machine. I know that things will happen between Wednesday, when the festival opens, and when it closes on Saturday night that I will never forget and that will never happen again, for me, or for anyone else. There’s a sense of freedom and liberation to the Wild West nature of the Gathering but for me I think psychologically I’m attracted to it because it provides a sense of continuity and consistency, two things that I have always craved as a change-averse child of abandonment and trauma. 

At the same time, every Gathering is different, and involves crazy new variables, like the new Oklahoma City location, the fact that this will be the final Gathering before the big March on Washington to protest the F.B.I designating Juggalos a gang, or that many of the acts who have comprised the Psychopathic Records family through the years will not be performing at the Gathering this year, or possibly ever again. 

There is always a chance for absolute disaster at a Juggalo event, or utter transcendence, or some Faygo-soaked combination of the two. And that’s what keeps me coming back despite being a forty-one year old father and previously respectable, employable, educated sort. I know that I am in for an adventure, and while I may not make a whole lot in terms of money, in terms of memories and life experiences and unforgettable anecdotes, finding a way to get to the Gathering every year pays huge dividends. 

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