Note: Bless their souls, the folks at our sister paper Riverfront Times have ventured into the breach that is the Gathering of the Juggalos in Hardin County, Illinois. Rocks Off will be following their exploits all weekend, and praying for them.
Nate "Igor" Smith A juggalo photographed on Wednesday, the first day of The Gathering, 2013.
Some of these preconceived notions are warranted, and some are not. Here are a few of our first impressions of the Gathering, now that we have spent a full day on the grounds.
We are probably not going to be murdered by Juggalos here.
When I initially volunteered for this assignment, many of my friends and family members assumed that this would be the last they would ever see or hear from me. I would be quickly outed as an interloper, it was assumed, and would shortly thereafter be subjected to the glee-filled pool-ball-in-a-sock wrath of the Juggalo Family.
The band's "psychopathic clown" motif and violent imagery seem to lend credence to this notion, but in reality nearly every person that we have come in contact with has been very nice.
One thing to consider is that this is the one event of the year at which these misunderstood societal misfits can gather in large groups without fear of ridicule or judgment from outsiders. Truly, the inmates are running the asylum. In keeping, attendees wander around with joy in their crazy clown hearts and smiles on their painted faces. The calls of "Family!" and "Woop woop" are each shouted in order to express solidarity between kindred spirits, about every ten steps or so.
One caveat: Information for the press that was dispensed included a list of tips -- things like "bring mosquito netting" and "wear sunscreen." Also on this list was an explanation concerning the "woop woop" and "family" call-outs. It was strongly recommended that when someone says these things to you, you should most definitely respond in kind. The repercussions of not doing so were not made clear, but suffice it to say I have loudly been parroting back clown love to all who have expressed it in my direction. Which I suppose could possibly help to explain my continued survival.
Nate "Igor" Smith
Take, for example, the man with the "Bet you can't hit me with a quarter" sign. His pants were barely able to stay up, due to the weight of the jangling coins in his pockets. He even paid his way into the festival in the first place with change.
Elsewhere, a man with an unreal amount of facial tattoos had dollar bills stapled all over his body pitched his talent like a carnival barker. "Step right up, one dollar! The is a real staple gun; this ain't that fucking kiddie shit like you used to do when you were a kid. This shit really hurts." I probably saw twenty blood-smeared dollars hanging off of his skin.
Then there was the topless girl offering "boob squeezes" for only $3. Yes, there were takers.
Jesus Christ, there are drugs everywhere. This is not a revelation, I know. Tales of the "drug bridge" at the Gathering are well known. Actually walking across the thing is a whole different story though. Every single drug that I have ever heard of is represented, in large quantities. Salesmen peddle their wares loudly to all who walk by--at 5 in the morning we were offered "cocaine for breakfast" by a heavy-set fella still stationed at his post.
Many dealers not on the bridge wander around with megaphones, loudly advertising whatever mind-altering substance it is that they have to offer. And one of the very first things we witnessed upon arrival was an abundance of individuals wandering the grounds double-fisting balloons of nitrous oxide. Still, I have seen surprisingly few people passed out face-down in the mud -- Juggalos have a knack for handling their chemicals, I guess (although we were told by a police officer that the had been ten overdoses on acid in the first day; apparently some bad stuff is going around).
Nate "Igor" Smith A few juggalos photographed on Wednesday, the first day of The Gathering, 2013.
On the one hand, the men on the grounds seem to have the same mentality as those who attend Mardi Gras celebrations, and are often boorish in their approach. On the other, it is hot outside, and I have definitely taken my own shirt off, so why shouldn't the ladies do the same?
Either way, there are boobs everywhere. What's funny about it is that in the dark, it becomes difficult to tell if you are seeing the breasts of a shapely female or those of a big fat guy. Both are well-represented.
Nate "Igor" Smith
The point is, danger lurks around every corner. Though I truly believe that these people don't explicitly mean harm to anyone here (even us press dorks), this does all amount to a recipe for potential disaster. There is very nearly a complete lack of supervision, coupled with reckless intoxication and a pervasive "fuck everything" attitude (no seriously, I read that on a shirt this guy was wearing).
How long can this possibly continue to go, right?
Follow Daniel Hill on Twitter @fatrobocop, and watch for more Gathering coverage to come.
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.