Partying Onstage with Motherfucking Vanilla Ice: Day Three at the Oklahoma City Gathering of the Juggalos
“I can’t believe it! I just partied onstage with Vanilla Ice at the motherfucking Gathering of the Juggalos! I can’t believe it! I grew up on that motherfucker! I grew up with that motherfucker!” shouted an ebullient Juggalo to his friend as we shuffled out of the main stage where, as this young man so excitedly proclaimed, he had just partied onstage with Vanilla Ice at the motherfucking Gathering of the Juggalos.
The friend didn’t really need this information. After all, I’m guessing the friend was right up there with him, partying with Vanilla Ice, a motherfucker he grew up on, onstage at the motherfucking Gathering of the Juggalos. But this young man was not talking for his friend’s benefit. No, he was so bursting with joy and excitement and happiness that he felt like he had to share it with the world.
He was overflowing with some crazy combination of adolescent nostalgia and adult jubilation. That’s a rare and beautiful feeling I see a fair amount at the Gathering and also at Phish shows, and it also helps explain why I keep coming back.
Yes, the 18th annual Gathering of the Juggalos got off to a bit of a slow start for me, and for seemingly many of the other ninjas in attendance as well. The brutal, Gestapo-style crackdown on open nudity and people with elaborate signs selling hard drugs via megaphones was a straight up Gathering-wide bummer, and fans were more than a little disappointed by the absence of favorite acts from year’s past.
But last night l felt like it turned a corner. The oppressive heat and Dust Bowl-style conditions cooled down a bit, transforming Lost Lakes from a dry, dusty inferno into something lovely and mild. After midnight, Juggalos in inner tubes and rafts watched a double-feature of Jaws and Piranha 3-D that, to be brutally honest, closed stronger than it began.
And I found myself immersed in the kinds of experiences you only really have at the Gathering of the Juggalos. At a Gathering in Cave-In-Rock many years ago, I had the surreal experience of watching MC Hammer, who at one point was the most popular rapper in the world, perform an extended, endless, glorious version of “Can’t Touch This” onstage with a hundred and fifty grungy Juggalos overjoyed to be the presence of one of their childhood heroes, the magic dancing man with the crazy moves from the MTV.
Well, tonight I had the equally surreal, and equally awesome experience of being high out of my mind at midnight at the Gathering when motherfucking Vanilla Ice, who was at one point the most popular rapper in the world, with the possible exception of arch-rival MC Hammer, performed a crazy, seemingly 20 minute long techno remix of “Ice Ice Baby” with a stage full of Juggalos backing him up with looks of pure nostalgic ecstasy.
Who is Vanilla Ice in 2017? Well, as Juggalos know, he’s a longtime Juggalo. He’s even signed to Psychopathic Records, although I would be surprised if he ever releases an album on the label. He has too many other things going on, including headlining 90s nostalgia tours, appearing in Adam Sandler movies (if I may heap upon Ice the very faintest of praise, he is easily the best part of That’s My Boy, except for all the hilarious times they say “Whassup?”) and his home renovation show on HGTV.
But Vanilla Ice has dabbled in horrorcore so it was interesting to see and hear the Juggalo side of Ice for the first time but I am not going to lie: I really just wanted to hear “Ice Ice Baby”, the “Go Ninja, Go Ninja Go!” song from Teenage Mutant Ninja Heroes 2 and his other hit song. Ice knew that. He knew that even at the Gathering, they just want to hear the hits.
So Ice, whose voice is so raspy that he sounds like sentient charcoal, didn’t just make “Ice Ice Baby” a song, he made it a whole experience, a crazy spectacle, seemingly half of his set. The track kept switching genres and sounds and styles but always came back to that inimitable bass line, that glorious groove that is, as Ice himself has pointed out, marginally different from that of “Under Pressure” due to the high-hat or something.
When he hit the charts back in the day, Ice was as mainstream as they come but that didn’t matter to the Juggalos assembled. No, what mattered was that a very long time ago this one time mega-star made music that became part of the soundtrack of their childhood, and that he came to Oklahoma City to kick it with his fellow Juggaos and not only accepted and celebrated their lives and their passion but invited them onstage to help him perform a song everyone knows.
Vanilla Ice was preceded onstage by another former mainstream superstar, Waka Flocka Flame. As a strikingly handsome black gangsta rapper from the south with some huge mainstream hits to his name, Flocka might seem like an odd fit for the Gathering. But I saw him perform at the 2015 festival and after a tentative start, he won over the crowd with his sweaty charisma, pummeling intensity and willingness, even eagerness to engage with Juggalos in the most visceral possible way.
For Flocka’s electric 2017 set, that meant wading into the crowd so he could perform some of his biggest hits within the crazy, aggressive, colliding energy of a Gathering mosh pit. I figured this was probably my only opportunity to cross “Mosh with Waka Flocka Flame” off my bucket list, so I entered the fray and was instantly transported back to the 1990s, when I was not a 41 year old father and husband who needs stimulants to stay up past three, but rather a music-obsessed, tormented adolescent who loved mosh pits because, cheesy as they might have been, they helped me work through both my incandescent anger towards all things, and need for human connection of any kind.
I only got out of the mosh pit when I got close enough to Waka to see a look that indelibly conveyed "Oh shit, this might take a turn" and figured that if a man in his shape was concerned that someone might get hurt, I should probably duck out just to be safe. I would not want my son to grow up an orphan because his daddy died in a tragic mosh pit accident.
Vanilla Ice performed with what looked suspiciously like a scaled-down version of ICP’s set. He had hype men and dancers with Lucha Libre masks onstage, and instead of throwing Faygo, they threw water. Wacka Flaka Flame’s set-up consisted solely of a DJ standing behind a laptop the exact same model as my own.
This led me to wonder if maybe it’s the laptop that does all the work, and that if I were to somehow come across this laptop, then I could replace him as Waka’s DJ. Wouldn’t my friends be surprised if I just kind of became Wacka Flaka Flame’s DJ after finding the magical laptop, with its “Waka Flocka Flame’s set-list” mix?
Waka Flocka Flame wore a tee shirt with a giant image of his own face on it so that even if you were looking at his stomach, you nevertheless ended up looking at his face. The crowd was into it to the point that they all joined him in loudly, joyously shouting out the choruses to songs they had probably never heard before, but instantly became their jam. “I’m the first person to show black people what Juggalos look like!” Flame told the crowd at the third ICP event he’s performed at, following the 2015 Gathering and last year’s hometown Halloween Hallowicked concert.
Flame called Juggalos “the hoodest white motherfuckers in the world” and said that Pirou Bloods (of which he is member) greet each other with “Whoop Whoop” as well. As with his first performance at the Gathering, Waka made an indelible impression on Juggalo nation. He may have just been a fading star picking up a paycheck, but he really got into the spirit of the event.
Last night I finally got to see my friend Cameron Buchholtz perform stand-up comedy. I met him two years ago when he played the Gathering in Thornville. As an Oklahoma City native, he was a no-brainer for this festival although Oklahoma City has so thoroughly failed to wow the festival-goers that he thought about asking Upchuck the Clown, who introduced him, not to mention that he was a local boy.
Instead, he leaned into being a representative of Oklahoma City’s shittiness and did so well that the crowd was begging for more. Cameron was followed by yet another of the comedy tent’s vaguely comedy-related novelty attractions. In this case, that was Darrin Johnson, a handsome, light-skinned black man with a shirt with his name and “Master Hypnotist” on the front and “Let Me Hypnotize U” on the back who was, I quickly ascertained, a master hypnotist who wants to hypnotize you.
Johnson has a very soothing voice, and a lot of his set was less “comedy” than deep relaxation. We were led on calming, soothing exercises. I felt myself get very sleepy, and my arms get very tired. It felt absolutely ridiculous, but then the Gathering is supposed to be absolutely ridiculous, and at its best, is absolutely ridiculous so I figured I would just go with it ,although not to the point where I volunteered to go onstage and be manipulated by Johnson.
The hypnotist doubled as a human metaphor for the Gathering. If you hold back and resist the spirit of the Gathering, then it can just be another music festival, and not a particularly well-organized one at that. But if your mind is open to Gathering, then it can be anything you want it to be. It can be spiritual healing. It can be transcendent. It can be a return to childhood, but with the trauma and pain and rejection replaced with happiness and acceptance and light. I opened my mind to the Gathering Friday night, and consequently it opened itself up to me. I hope to keep the momentum going strong for Insane Clown Posse’s big seminar (which is in about an hour) and then their climactic closing performance tonight.
It’ll be exciting, but will it be “Vanilla Ice performing a half hour version of “Ice Ice Baby” surrounded by Juggalos exciting? Time will tell.
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