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'A full blown Juggalo riot': Revisiting the first Gathering of the Juggalos, 20 years later

It was summer 2000, and Detroit’s music scene was scorching.   

Eminem, the biggest pop star in the world, was riding high following the release of his “Marshall Mathers LP.” Newly minted superstar Kid Rock had just released his “History of Rock” compilation and had several times over fulfilled his “Devil Without a Cause” promise of going platinum. The White Stripes were playing small clubs in the Cass Corridor and were a year away from their national breakthrough. And Hart Plaza had just hosted the first Detroit Electronic Music Festival, a massive honorarium of the city’s rich history as the birthplace of techno music.

Meanwhile, out in Novi, a small piece of rock history was getting ready to take root.

Notorious Detroit rap duo Insane Clown Posse was prepping to host its first Gathering of the Juggalos, a two-day celebration of the duo’s music, fans and the mystique surrounding its Dark Carnival.

Nobody was quite sure what to expect from the event, not even ICP themselves. It was part convention, part concert, and it featured sets by ICP, Twiztid and other artists on the Psychopathic Records roster, along with autograph sessions, seminars, wrestling, tattooing, a haunted house, video games, contests, an ICP memorabilia museum and more.

“It’s a pioneering moment, not just throughout the history of rap, but throughout the history of music.” That’s what ICP’s manager, Alex Abbiss, told The Detroit News at the time, and if it sounded like hyperbole then, over time the Gathering of the Juggalos lived up to that lofty billing, becoming infamous and even pioneering on the American festival landscape. And the fact that it’s still going strong 20 years after the fact speaks to the strength of what took hold at that first Gathering. (The 2020 GOTJ was canceled due to COVID-19, but otherwise the fest has never missed a summer.)

Following that initial fest, which drew an estimated 7,000 fans to the Novi Expo Center on July 21-22, the Gathering would eventually evolve into an outdoor fest known for its lawlessness and wild infomercials that would go on to be parodied on “SNL.” It has never returned to Metro Detroit.

Cover of the program for the Insane Clown Posse's first Gathering of the Juggalos convention at the Novi Expo Center, July 21st and 22nd, 2000.
Cover of the program for the Insane Clown Posse's first Gathering of the Juggalos convention at the Novi Expo Center, July 21st and 22nd, 2000.
Psychopathic Records

But that first Gathering remains magical in the eyes of those who experienced it, save for maybe the management team at the Novi Expo Center, who after the event is said to have handed ICP a lifetime ban. (Multiple attempts by The News to reach management for the Expo Center, which later became the Suburban Collection Showplace, were unreturned.)

It was two days of Faygo-soaked madness, raised middle fingers and unabashed clown love. This is an oral history of the first Gathering of the Juggalos, told by those who were there. 

The Foundation

In 2000, ICP had spent 10-plus years cultivating a fanbase feverishly dedicated to its carnival-style horrorcore hip-hop sound. The group was five albums into its first series of “Joker’s Card” releases and was working on two new albums set for a fall release, while also wrestling for World Championship Wrestling and becoming embroiled in a heated feud with fellow Detroit rapper Eminem, who had made several unflattering references to ICP on “The Marshall Mathers LP.” The Gathering of the Juggalos was conceived as an all-in festival celebrating ICP and everything the group represented.  

ROB BRUCE, aka Jumpsteady, brother of ICP’s Joe “Violent J” Bruce and the mastermind of the Gathering: I came up with the idea for the very first Gathering after going to this gaming convention, Gen Con, in 1998. It was held at the time in Milwaukee. Mostly it’s a nerdy gaming convention where like 50,000 people gathered to game for the weekend.  

I’m a nerd. I grew up gaming, playing Dungeons and Dragons, all that stuff, and at the time, at Psychopathic, a lot of the people that were working at the office were nerds. Not so much the artists but the people that we brought in were gamers. 

When I was at Gen Con, one of the things I noticed in the program was there was so much to do you couldn’t do it all, you had to make a plan for what you were going to see and what you were going to do. So when I pitched the idea of the Gathering of the Juggalos to everybody, Gen Con was the only thing I had to go on, because at the time I had never been to a music festival. Even to this day, it’s still kind of like the same concept: there is so much to do, you can’t possibly do it all.

JESSE SATTERFIELD, a Juggalo from Los Angeles who attended the event: There wasn’t really anything like that. It had everything from wrestling to music to games, anything you could possibly think of. It was innovative. At the time, there was no other artist that was doing anything close to that, and that was the appeal.

SHAGGY 2 DOPE, aka Joseph Utsler, one-half of ICP: Originally, we didn’t even know it was going to be a Gathering. We did a phone line and we gave out a bunch of clues, I don’t even remember what it was, but we hyped a big event coming up. We were like, “what should we do?” We didn’t really have anything planned.

We kind of brainstormed together, and it was like let’s just do a big event, you know what I’m saying? I didn’t think we called it a festival at all when we first started doing it. I don’t think we considered it a festival, because when we first started doing it, there wasn’t all these Coachellas and Bamboozles and all this. It was Woodstock, and that was it.

We just wanted to do an event, we weren’t even planning on doing a second one or nothing, we were like, we’ve gotta throw this thing because we said we were gonna.

ROB BRUCE: The first time we talked about it, it was probably about two years before it. When we first started seriously working on it, it was probably like a year out. We probably talked about it for a year, just the idea of it. 

JAMIE MADROX, one-half of Twiztid, a protégé group of ICP signed at the time to the band’s record label, Psychopathic Records: We would sit around and talk, and then Alex (Abbiss, ICP’s former manager) would get worked into it, and before you knew it, it was this gigantic thing. We were gonna make it happen, it was this family reunion, people are gonna come, we’re gonna perform and it’s gonna celebrate this whole world that we’ve created through Psychopathic.

Flyer for the first Gathering of the Juggalos convention at the Novi Expo Center, July 21st and 22nd, 2000.
Flyer for the first Gathering of the Juggalos convention at the Novi Expo Center, July 21st and 22nd, 2000.
Psychopathic Records

VIOLENT J, aka Joseph Bruce, one-half of ICP: I think there was a lot of fear, a lot of worry about the whole thing in the beginning. I know that I was under a lot of stress. Panic attacks were new in my life, I had my first panic attack in ‘97. I tried not to think about the Gathering a lot, I tried not to think about it coming up. I sort of left it on my brother. I was going through a lot, and I felt like my plate was full. It was so much to take on and try to do that so I just was like, “I’ll be there.”

I was just too worried about it. Was anybody coming? Was it just going to be a concert, a regular local concert crowd? Was anybody actually coming from out of state? Were they going to walk around and see everything and then be bored? I don’t think I grasped how much Juggalos just enjoy each other’s sheer company. I could tell you for a fact that we didn’t grasp that. We still haven’t grasped that!

I just had never heard of another band doing anything like this. We’ve heard of Kiss conventions, but they weren’t thrown by Kiss. You know what I mean? We’d never heard another band doing anything like this. I’m sure there has been, but we had never heard of nothing like that. One of the worries I felt was, what makes us think we’re so special we can do something like that? And that’s what I was thinking when my brother would be telling me what was going to be there. I remember thinking, who wants to walk around our old stage sets? Who cares about that? No one’s going to care about that. And I’m thinking, that’s a lot of work, you guys going and getting those old stage sets out of storage, setting them all up for nothing.

But I was wrong! I underestimated how into everything people were, how interested in getting to see everything up close, all that type-of-stuff.

I was just under so much pressure. But then again, the appeal for most Juggalos was to come spend the weekend with more Juggalos.

Novi expo center sign
The marquee outside the Novi Expo Center during the first Gathering of the Juggalos in July 2000.

ROB BRUCE: We pretty much called all the big expo centers, there was only a few at that time, and Novi Expo Center was one of the ones that was receptive to the idea.

They didn’t know anything about Juggalos. They were totally clueless. And I don’t think they did any research on it either.

JOE VAUGHN, a Detroit-based photographer who covered the festival for Spin magazine: I don’t think the Expo Center had any idea what was going to happen. It was just another event to them.

I think because it was in Novi and at a convention center, it set this tone that we’re in regular America.

I didn’t think anything could go wrong because we were in Novi. How crazy could it be? I think that’s probably what the owners of the convention center thought. Nobody would do anything crazy in our venue. No one would push our boundaries, we’re just a regular convention center in Novi. But little did they know.

Suburban Novi was even more suburban back then. There was that weirdness, that contrast. If that thing would have been in Detroit, it wouldn’t have been as interesting. I think they picked that venue because they wanted to invade suburbia, or maybe it just the right size venue for the right price. It created this really bizarro contrast, which made it even more funny, seeing this all unfold in strip mall hell.

The Novi Expo Center was the site of the first Gathering of the Juggalos festival in July 2000.
Rob Bruce

GEORGE VLAHAKIS, an ICP fan who would later go on to manage Twiztid: 12-, 13-year-old me, I would be on the internet constantly, going to ICP’s website, hitting refresh, waiting for any kind of news update on a daily basis. I remember them releasing this big statement, it was a black background with yellow font, and they were talking about the Gathering.

This was going to be the biggest event in the Juggalo universe. And I read through it, I was getting all hype, and then it says it's in Novi, Michigan. And I grew up in Northville. It’s right there, it’s right across the street from 12 Oaks Mall, this is insane! I remember running upstairs into my mom’s room. I was like Mom, look at this, I have to get tickets to this. My parents, I remember they were planning a trip to Greece at that time. And I’m like I’m not going to Greece, I’m going to the Gathering.

ROB BRUCE: Nobody knew how big it was going to be. They asked how many people it would draw. I probably told them, like, 1,000? Nobody really knew quite what to expect.

VIOLENT J: There was really no idea to know what it was going to be like. Even when you were looking at ticket sales and things like that, you don’t know how good of a time people were going to have when they’re there for the weekend, you know what I mean? It was just such a new endeavor for us that I didn’t like to think about it, because I felt like my mind was already stressed out.

I just remember there was so much going on, it wasn’t all super enjoyable. It was it a heavy time. It was a grind.

SHAGGY: It was a ridiculously busy time, every day was just packed full. Traveling, flying, doing shows. The rock n’ roll lifestyle. 

Ticket stub for the first Gathering of the Juggalos convention at the Novi Expo Center, July 21st and 22nd, 2000.
Ticket stub for the first Gathering of the Juggalos convention at the Novi Expo Center, July 21st and 22nd, 2000.
Ticketmaster

VIOLENT J: The Gathering was this new, mega thing added to it all. You know? It’s never been done. Is it going to work?

MIKE E. CLARK, ICP’s longtime music producer: I knew it was going to be awesome.

VLAHAKIS: Everybody was excited, but we didn’t quite understand what it was. We didn’t know the Comic Con world yet. I hadn’t experienced that. Really it was a Juggalo Comic Con, from the sounds of it and the feel of it, but I didn’t process that. I just knew Twiztid was headlining night 1 and ICP was headlining night 2, and I couldn’t miss it. Everything else was just a bonus. If all I got was a concert in a parking lot, I was fine. I was sold.

The Arrival

The event, which cost $60 for two days, drew fans from all over the U.S. who descended upon Novi ready to share their clown love.

SCOTTIE DONIHOO, a fan from Dallas who would later go on to run ICP fansite Faygoluvers.net: Me and my friend Daniel, we were both lower-middle class kids and we didn’t have a whole lot of money, so we booked a Greyhound from Dallas to Detroit. And online we met somebody else that was going, so we met her at Greyhound station and she came with us. It was 26 hours there and 29 back.

If you’ve never been on a Greyhound, they’re not fun. There’s lots of sketchy characters on there, especially in the middle of the night in like Memphis or whatever.

Scott Donihoo rides a bus on his way from Dallas to Detroit to attend the first Gathering of the Juggalos festival.
Scott Donihoo rides a bus on his way from Dallas to Detroit to attend the first Gathering of the Juggalos festival.
Scott Donihoo

The Greyhound lost our luggage on the way there, too, so that was also fun. We had our wallets and the clothes on our backs.

SATTERFIELD: Little did I know that plane tickets were pretty much the same price as Greyhound tickets, or I would have just taken a plane. But I took a Greyhound, and that was the first time and the last time I’ve ever been on a Greyhound bus.

The trip was pretty awesome. I’d never been on the road like that. You get some particular characters that jump on and off the bus. We had our bus pulled over because we had some runaways on it. We had a guy that looked like Howie Long and he was trying to get somewhere because he wanted to kill someone and he was telling us the story and we were like, “Hmm, sounds interesting.” And then one morning at a diner he bought us pancakes, so I guess he wasn’t that bad of a guy. I’m not sure he ever went through with the murder, he was just a couple cents short. 

As we went on, Juggalos started jumping on more and more and more. Back then, as today, your first response is a whoop whoop.

MILINDA VILLEGAS, a fan who came to the festival from Adrian, Michigan: Me and a friend had made reservations at the Double Tree in Novi. It was a real fancy hotel, there was a chandelier in the lobby, and they didn’t know what we were doing there or what to expect or anything. I do remember the front desk people kind of raising an eyebrow, but they were polite.

There were no big-time shenanigans going on, because there was only a few of us that were staying there. But it was kind of funny to walk into this fancy hotel, and seeing kids with facepaint on and spider legs in their hair and different color hair and whatnot just chilling out in the lobby. It’s like, we made it. We fancy now.

DONIHOO: We had a reservation for our hotel, but we weren’t 21, so when we got there to check in, they said they couldn’t honor our reservation. So here we are, 1,100 miles away from home, and we had no place to crash. That was our first adventure, trying to find a new hotel spot. We went to a Denny’s to talk it all out, and there was a Red Roof Inn right next to the Denny’s, and they actually had some vacancies, so that’s where we ended up crashing. 

There were definitely some Juggalos already staying there. It wasn’t a huge pack of people, but you saw Hatchet Man stickers on cars. We didn’t feel like we were out of place or anything.

Fans spray Faygo soda in the parking lot of the Novi Expo Center at the first Gathering of the Juggalos festival.
Fans spray Faygo soda in the parking lot of the Novi Expo Center at the first Gathering of the Juggalos festival.
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ALEX CHRISTODOULOU, a fan who, at 12, traveled to the festival from Long Island, New York: We got there the day before the Gathering opened up. Early in the afternoon, like noon the day before. I remember we went to a store to get some stuff, and I bought a bunch of Faygo, and you have to remember I’m like 12-years-old, I’m in it. At that age you’re impressionable, you’re the definition of a fanatical fan. So I remember I get to the venue and me and a few Juggalos are out there spraying Faygo and hanging out.

VINNIE MONASTIERE, aka “Vinnie the ICP Kid,” an ICP super-fan from Roseville: We had this fresh ninja, he was 12-years-old at the time, he came with his father from New York in a minivan. And he drove in, slammed on the brakes and popped open the doors, and he must have had 100-300 2-liters stacked in this thing and he emptied them into the parking lot, and ninjas came running like roaches for the pop. In my opinion, it was the first official Faygo Armageddon, and we did it right there in the parking lot.

DONIHOO: I remember standing outside of the Expo Center. There were a ton of Juggalos wrapped around the building. People sprayed Faygo on everybody, everybody was sticky. I remember seeing some guys that were powerbombing each other into a dumpster over and over again.

CHRISTODOULOU: People obviously got a kick out me being young, they thought I was cool. My dad, for the most part, dropped me off and he hung out in the car. And he would come back repeatedly with Faygo. And it was cool, because he didn’t understand why a bunch of kids were dumping soda on each other’s heads, but he was still cool enough to know it was something we were having fun with. So he would show up every hour or two and he would have the whole car filled with Faygo. And he would bring cheeseburgers for people and hand out a bunch of food. So he was the first official Jugga-dad, so to speak. We spent all day and night just throwing Faygo and hanging out.

A Juggalo prepares to punt a 2-liter of Faygo in the parking lot at the first Gathering of the Juggalos festival.
Scott Donihoo

SATTERFIELD: We arrived that morning of the Gathering, our bus pulled in at like 7 or 8 in the morning. And we got down to the venue and the line was already 3.5 miles long. I thought we were going to get there and there would be 300 people, it was a pleasant surprise to see that I wasn’t the only one, and to see that wow, there’s people all over the world that are just like me. As different as we are, we have that common band, and it felt like a family.

CHRISTODOULOU: Over the night, more and more people started to show up. I remember we took a bunch of those dumpsters on wheels, and we started filling them with empty Faygo bottles, and people started climbing fences and diving off and doing wrestling moves into the dumpsters. There was one kid who climbed on top of the Novi Center somehow and he jumped off the roof into this garbage dumpster full of 2 liters. We were just out there acting crazy.

VLAHAKIS: We get in line and I remember just being around more Juggalos because again, being from Northville, there was 10 kids that were into it. But going there and seeing 2-3,000 people in line, it’s like damn, there’s a lot of us. And I think that’s the beauty of the Gathering.

A fan tosses a fellow fan into a dumpster at the first Gathering of the Juggalos festival.
A fan tosses a fellow fan into a dumpster at the first Gathering of the Juggalos festival.
Scott Donihoo

MONASTIERE: Some kid in line had an Eminem CD, and at that time, it was all real heat. I remember he was like, “I want you to shatter this for me.” I said, “absolutely,” and I shattered that thing like nobody’s business.

CHRISTODOULOU: The first morning of the Gathering, ICP was in NY appearing on Howard Stern show promoting the Gathering. I remember some guy had a convertible hooptie with some phat speakers and everybody crowded around it, and we all just sat there in silence listening to Violent J on the radio. It was cool because we were at the Gathering waiting for the doors to open, and our hero, Violent J, is on the radio hyping it up, and we were right there about to go in.

VIOLENT J: We did Howard Stern the morning of the first day, and I remember talking about the Gathering on there but you know, he’s always so uninterested in what you’re promoting. So we tried talking about the Gathering and he was like “yeah yeah,” you know. But I remember flying back into Detroit and seeing Juggalos at the airport. That was like the first real sign that people are coming in. And then driving to the Novi Expo Center, same thing. We were seeing people in cars the closer we got. It started getting exciting.

SHAGGY: I remember when we got home from doing Howard Stern we were so tired, we were actually thinking about no-showing the first day. We had no sleep the night before, we were so tired, and we called our manager and we were like, “what’s it look like down there?” And he was like, “you can’t no-show, there’s too many people down there!” So were heavily on the tired side that first day.

It was way bigger than any of us thought it was going to be. I remember pulling up and seeing all the cars, it was like holy (expletive)! We had no idea what to expect, we had never done that before. We had never put on something of that magnitude by ourselves, taking care of everything and all that. So it was phenomenal. We were dumbfounded. It turned out to be great, it was the the start of something beautiful, obviously.

A fan jumps off of the roof into a dumpster at the first Gathering of the Juggalos festival.
A fan jumps off of the roof into a dumpster at the first Gathering of the Juggalos festival.
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MIKE E. CLARK: What surprised me the most was when I got there, I was walking in the parking lot and there was like thousands and thousands of cars, and we’re walking in the parking lot and I started noticing all the license plates. I kind of thought it would be like a concert, a bunch of Michigan people, right? It wasn’t that at all. It was Washington, Texas, Louisiana, Maine. All the license plates were from all over! And I just go oh my god, and that’s when it hit me, these guys are driving from as far as you can possibly drive. Florida, all over the place. It was insane! Right off the bat, I knew this was probably going to go on for a while.

ROB BRUCE: From my memory everything was good with the Expo Center team, all the way up to when the crowds started to gather. They started to look at the crowd, and there was one incident of spray paint on a wall, just a small tag, and they really were upset about that and I had to talk them down.

The Opening

Doors for the first day were set to open at 3 p.m. But with crowds mounting outside the Expo Center, that’s not exactly what happened.

ROB BRUCE: We had two full days to set up, which really wasn’t enough. With that size of an event, we didn’t have enough people to set up and we didn’t have enough time.

It was a learning process. That year, we were just trying to get through it. We bit off more than we could chew. It was probably two of the hardest days of my life when the events were going on, and probably the hardest four days of my life when you count set-up days. I wasn’t getting any sleep.

When it came time to open doors on that first day, there was a line of Juggalos that had to have been at least a couple thousand Juggalos. We got some news back, the people that were running the convention center, they were really nervous about it. The main guy kept coming up to me and he was like, “hey, can we open up doors?” He was putting a lot of pressure on it, and I was like, “no, we’re not ready.” On the inside, it was a little chaotic, because it wasn’t the most organized of things, seeing as how we’ve never done anything like that before. So we needed every last minute.

Finally, they just opened the doors. And this is probably about 20 minutes before doors were supposed to open, so none of our workers were in place. We were having a last-minute meeting with everyone, trying to explain everything that was going on.

So when they opened doors, a flood of Juggalos came in, and the first thing they hit was merch area, and nobody was there. And so this looting started, where people were just grabbing stuff. When I came around the corner, I saw it from a distance, and I started running over there, and this group of Juggalos jumped behind the merch booth and they stopped everyone from looting. They were like, “nah, it’s not going down like this!” So Juggalos ended up jumping behind booths to protect the merchandise from the would-be looters, and I never forgot that. It was such a show of respect and love.

A fan's tattoos are photographed at the first Gathering of the Juggalos festival in July 2000.
A fan's tattoos are photographed at the first Gathering of the Juggalos festival in July 2000.
Scott Donihoo

VIOLENT J: I remember I had a super crush on Spice, the Nitro Girl (from WCW’s “Monday Nitro”). I had it out for her bad. So we hired her at the Gathering to be one of the ring girls to hold the cards up in between matches. And I remember when I got there, the first person I saw was Spice. I was like, “oh, hey!” They were just about to open doors or something, and I was like, “let’s walk around and check this out.”

So I’m walking around and I remember I was showing her stuff, then all of a sudden these kids start coming in. I was clearly trying to show this beautiful woman around, and they just were merciless! In four seconds, there were hundreds of them all around us. And I felt like such an idiot, because I always she thought I did that on purpose. It was really uncomfortable.

And it was really stale, because Joey and I have a whole thing, we don’t like to be seen until we’re on stage or ready to be seen in the light we’re supposed to be seen in. We don’t walk around venues. And here I am, the very first Gathering, and I’m just walking around. I just thought we had time, like they would have held doors back for me to finish. But we had gotten there so quick, and I didn’t even have a chance to talk to my brother. It wasn’t until they closed at night that I went around and looked at everything.

MADROX: Once doors were opened, we were walking around inside the Expo Center shaking hands and taking pictures. We were trying to be very welcoming to people, thanking them for showing up.

You have to understand, this is a million years ago, this is before VIPs, this is before Cameos, this is before the artist accessibility age. This was the days when people bought your record and wrote you a letter with a pen. To really be grassroots and shaking hands, having people tell you how much you mean to them and cry, it was moving. I think that’s why to this day, why we’re still so dedicated to what we do. To have someone tell you to your face how much you mean to them and not through a computer screen, it means a lot.

BLAZE YA DEAD HOMIE, an ICP protégé who made his official debut at the Gathering: It was my first official performance as Blaze. It was my first anything as Blaze.

The first day I had nothing scheduled, I got to take it all in. I walked around with Twiztid the entire day. I flew under the radar the entire time and I got to experience the entire convention. I had been out the Novi Expo Center before for different comic book conventions, but seeing it the way they had it set up was extra special. Every Joker’s Card theme was set up. They had booths with memorabilia, they had convention rooms where you could go and talk to people. It was a real cool set up.

DONIHOO: I have a picture of Jamie and Paul (Methric, Twiztid’s other half) randomly walking through the crowd, and their eyes were all lit up, they were super excited about it. It’s rare, it’s definitely less frequent at Gatherings in recent years that you’ll just see the artists walking around amongst everybody.

Twiztid enters one of its seminars at the Gathering of the Juggalos festival at the Novi Expo Center.
Milinda Villegas

KEVIN BUCKLEY, a fan who came to the Gathering from Syracuse, New York: It was pretty mind blowing as a 15-year-old. It was such an overload of stimulus, it was like whoa. I have a stack of pictures, I brought a disposable camera for each day. I have like 24 pictures, not all of them came out great. It’s not like it is today with cellphones and cameras.  

MIKE E. CLARK: I had a signing, and that blew me away because I sat there all day and the line never ended. I figured I’d sign some autographs, leave, and it just went on and on and on and on. It was pretty overwhelming.

SATTERFIELD: The lines were just insane. I went to a few of the seminars, which were absolutely awesome. Looking back on it, there was so much going on. I guess you could almost call it a mini-comic con. I remember standing in merch lines for 4-5 hours to buy CDs and jerseys. I think I ended up bringing $2,000 with me to spend on merch, but by the time I got up there so much stuff was sold out that I only ended up spending like $700.

VLAHAKIS: I had about $1,500 saved up, and I just went wild. I bet I spent every dime. I remember telling my dad, “I need $500 more,” and he was like, ‘You’re going to work weekends and pay that off.”

BUCKLEY: I walked in, I went straight to the merch, and I spent an egregious amount of money for a 15-year-old. It was probably around a grand, at least. For the first night of concerts, I had to stand in the back, because I had two garbage bags full of shirts with me.

DONIHOO: We spent the majority of that first day in the merch line. Every T-shirt available, I bought. Every new CD. I was making $8 an hour, but I probably had $700-$800 on me, and that was a ton for me back then. And because we had no luggage, we had to ask the hotel for a trash bag so we could haul our merch back with us.

VLAHAKIS: I remember seeing a girl lift her shirt up, I saw a pair of boobs. I saw a lot of pairs of boobs, actually.

SATTERFIELD: I remember seeing more boobs than I normally see in my life. 

VAUGHN: I’ve got some great shots of people flipping me off. The bird is pretty much the hello of the Juggalo.

VLAHAKIS: I didn’t understand what a seminar was, but the fact that you would be in the same room with ICP and Twiztid and you could ask them questions, that was life-changing at 13.

MIKE E. CLARK: I remember I had to get a mini bike for Joey. Like a Blue Yamaha or a Suzuki or something. It was like a trail bike. For some reason he needed one, he was going to do stunts on it or something? And I remember going and buying it and bringing it so he could do that.

VLAHAKIS: At the end of the ICP seminar, Shaggy had a BMX bike and a motocross bike. I think he rode in on the motocross bike, and at the end of the seminar he put a helmet on, got on this BMX bike and rode over a ramp onto a bed of thumbtacks. And he’s shirtless, and I’m like, that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. 

Shaggy 2 Dope launches himself onto a bed of thumb tacks (ouch!) at the Gathering of the Juggalos. Second Alt Text
Shaggy 2 Dope launches himself onto a bed of thumb tacks (ouch!) at the Gathering of the Juggalos. Kevin Buckley

SHAGGY: I think the first night, I did the thumb tacks, the second night I ended up flipping into some barbed wire or something like that. I was a lot younger back then, I wouldn’t be doing that now, but it was a lot of fun back then. It takes a nice toll on your body.

VAUGHN: There was a Faygo dunk tank. You threw a ball, hit the button, and somebody would get dunked in Faygo.

ROB BRUCE: The Neden Game was like "The Dating Game." I think there were five contestants and they were trying to win a date with a female, and she would ask these provocative questions. If you won, you got to go to the hotel room and get a massage. I don’t know if anything else went down. And we paid for that.

I actually called up these kind-of seedy masseuses, and I would pitch them the idea. “We’re doing this convention, can you come down and be in a participant in the game show, and whoever wins you take them back to the hotel and you give them a massage?” And they did. It was crazy. You’d be surprised at how easy it was, they were just like, “oh, OK cool, no problem.” They must get a lot of weird requests.

MIKE E. CLARK: I remember they had an ICP museum which I thought was awesome, I think I contributed some stuff to that as well.

Freak show: The first Gathering of the Juggalos festival at the Novi Expo Center in July 2000.
Freak show: The first Gathering of the Juggalos festival at the Novi Expo Center in July 2000.
Scott Donihoo

MONASTIERE: There was a Miss Juggalette pageant, it was like Miss America.

ROB BRUCE: We had a Win a Date with Shaggy contest. You got to come in and play like a bingo-style competition, and whoever won got to go on a date with Shaggy.

VIOLENT J: Back then Joey was the hot guy. I was never looked at as the hot one in ICP to the girls, you know what I mean? That was always Joey. That’s why nobody asked me about doing that. He was always the one with his shirt off and all that.

SHAGGY: I remember going back and forth, are we really going to do this? But we had a contest, we had to honor it.

So I did the contest, we ended up flying the person who won in, I don’t even remember who it was. We hung out a little bit, they brought a friend or whatever, we went out and got something to eat and then just chipped ‘em off a bunch of swag. Nothing romantic happened, nothing came out of it, no girlfriend, no wife, nothing. It was just a couple hours of platonic hanging out, and that was that.

But I’ll tell you what, J was awesome that night, because he came through as a wingman. So that was cool. That made it a lot more comfortable for me. 

DONIHOO: That was the first scavenger hunt they ever did. I remember you had to go to a pharmacy and take a pic of you buying the most embarrassing item you could find.

One of the items was “get a menu from a Canadian restaurant.” So we were hanging out with a couple of Juggalos that lived in Detroit, and we headed to Canada.

We made it to customs and they pulled us aside, they searched the car, they were like, “what are you guys doing?” We’re all in ICP gear, one guy’s got his face painted, and the guy that we were rolling with had some Polaroids of naked girls in the car. They were pulling this stuff out, and he was like, “I forgot I had those.” We were detained for an hour and a half at the Canadian border, and they turned us away. By that time it was super late, so we blew off the rest of the scavenger hunt and got a couple hours sleep before the next day.

MONASTIERE: There were so many people passed out that had rooms that were so (messed) up they couldn’t get back to them. Drugs weren’t really that big a thing at that first Gathering, some people smoked a little weed, most people were just drinking.

Everybody was (messed) up, passed out in parking lots, laying on top of cars because the hotels were getting so hot because people were everywhere. People were sleeping in closets. I had a ninja who needed somewhere to stay, so I stuffed him in the closet, and put him face down so if he puked he didn’t die. There was people under beds, laying on countertops. It was wild. 

VILLEGAS: I think it was the first night, me and my friend stopped at a gas station to get some snacks. In our room we had two queen beds, and at the gas station a little red Ford Festiva was in the parking lot and there was three or four Juggalos sleeping in the car.

I don’t know if I would do this today, but that night — because you felt everybody had a little bit of a bond with everybody — we tapped on these guys’ window, asked them if they had a place to stay, and we invited them to stay in our room because we had the extra space. It was like a literal clown car when they started getting out, and five of them came out of the car. We didn’t ask them to chip in on the room or anything, and in the morning they asked if they could use the shower and we told them go right ahead. That’s what it was like. I don’t remember their names or where they were from or anything, but that’s how comfortable you feel with so many of these people.

The Chaos

Among the attractions at the Gathering was a wrestling ring, where ICP held wrestling school tutorials and participated in matches. Not everything went as planned.    

MONASTIERE: At the end of ICP’s match, they took off their belts and threw them in the crowd, took off their jerseys and threw them in the crowd, took off their boots and threw them in the crowd, and then all of a sudden Violent J encouraged everyone to get in the ring. Everyone got in the ring, and it dissipated. They destroyed that ring. Bolts started popping out of the sides, like holy (expletive), man. Wild. Who does that? Who trashes a $3,000 ring because they can?

I definitely rushed the ring and I couldn’t get in, there were that many people in there. It was that much chaos and insanity, it was a full blown Juggalo riot. And it was totally cool. I bailed out, I wasn’t gonna risk twisting an ankle. Like, let’s go get out of here and on to the next. 

Shaggy 2 Dope in the ring at the first Gathering of the Juggalos festival.
Rob Bruce

DONIHOO: It was pandemonium. Everybody’s in the ring jumping around, acting a fool, and then all of a sudden you don’t see those people anymore. They just sort of disappear into the rest of the crowd.

VIOLENT J: I’m pretty sure we didn’t want to break the ring, because that was our last ring. I didn’t think it would collapse. You live and learn, you know? It all went like a pancake, so it wasn’t like a bunch of people got hurt. It wasn’t like half the ring went and everybody fell over. And that’s just typical insanity of the Juggalos. But that’s not what was going through our minds, it was more like there goes however-much the ring casts. But we’re not showing it on our face.

SHAGGY: I was able to get out right before the ring collapsed, I could feel it going. I don’t think since I’ve ever been in a ring that collapsed like that. But rings aren’t meant to hold like 50 people, you know what I’m saying? It was mayhem. You couldn’t move or anything and I knew it was going, so I had to skate out of there.

ROB BRUCE: The ring collapsed, it was a cluster-(expletive). It was bad. We were literally just making things up. We didn’t have anyone to talk to about how to do it. Walking through the halls, nobody was where they were supposed to be. It was just a bizarre scene.

The Insane Clown Posse's Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J in a wrestling ring -- before it collapsed -- at the first Gathering of the Juggalos festival.
The Insane Clown Posse's Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J in a wrestling ring -- before it collapsed -- at the first Gathering of the Juggalos festival.
Milinda Villegas

We had this Haunted House that we brought in, we called it the Terror Town Haunted House. It was basically set up in the middle of one of the halls. We had paid a lot for this, I think it was about $16,000 for two days. They had like 40-50 costumed employees, it was a full on giant haunted house.

I remember on Day 2, I finally got a chance to walk through it because I wanted to see what it was, and there was, like, nobody there. None of the employees, they all had all skated off, they were just enjoying the Gathering. I was like oh, we should have been overseeing this to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. And then it occurred to me we should we probably have supervisors for all our employees, checking on them all day long. 

Even the concept of security, we didn’t have enough security at that first Gathering. It was a skeletal crew at best. That was just a concept we didn’t really understand back then. We were like, “this is a family,” and it was, but there’s always a few knuckleheads there to cause trouble whenever you get a large crowd together.

The Music

There were just seven groups scheduled to perform at the Gathering – Insane Clown Posse, Twiztid, Psychopathic Rydas, Myzery, Kottonmouth Kings, Blaze Ya Dead Homie and Project Born – a far cry from the stacked lineups of future Gatherings.  

MADROX: I puked my guts out before I went on stage. I looked at Paul and he was like, “you good?” I was like, “I am now.” We went on, and we walked on stage and we killed it.

BLAZE: Everything happened for me the 2nd day, and everything just kind of just clicked.

It was my first time performing. There were thousands of people there, and I remember getting ready in the back of a semi, because there were two semis that were pulled up in the back. One was stacked with Faygo, the other with stage props. We got ready to roll out on stage. It was me and ABK, and I remember looking at him, like, “you ready for this?” And boom, we hit the stage. My EP had just dropped that weekend there at the Gathering and it sold out in the first 35 minutes. I was thinking, is anybody going to know what we’re playing? And sure enough, they knew it. I went out there and did every song I had, and it was a great time.

Fans pack the concert area at the first Gathering of the Juggalos at the Novi Expo Center.
Fans pack the concert area at the first Gathering of the Juggalos at the Novi Expo Center.
Photo © 2000 Joe Vaughn

VAUGHN: I was on the stage for ICP’s set, and I was actually able to shoot from up there. I had to protect my cameras from the Faygo. I had to put plastic bags over my cameras to try to not get sugar water all over my equipment.  

I didn’t really feel any danger. Maybe it was being naïve because I had shot so many shows in my life at that point. But even though the crowd was rowdy, no one was being violent. No one wanted to hurt anybody. It was aggression, but not towards humans. Everybody was yelling and pushing, but I think if anybody would have fell, you would have seen somebody’s hand reach out and pick somebody up. I think that’s also what the Juggalo thing was about, it was about the fellow man.

DONIHOO: For ICP’s set, I remember being so crammed, even though it was outside, that I was able to lift my legs off the ground while swaying with the rest of the Juggalos because it was that tight.

CHRISTODOULOU: I was on the barricade for ICP’s headlining show. I was front row, in front of the left speakers. A bunch of cool Juggalos were nice enough to fight me up there, it was during “Lil Somthin’ Somthin’,” ICP called for all the girls to go on stage, but naturally everyone just started going crazy and everyone tried to go on stage.

So I’m on the barricade, and the whole crowd starts to try to get up there, and I got crushed. The dude behind me was leaning on me, I’m sure he didn’t mean to, but I remember being literally folded in half and I couldn’t breathe.

I started to panic and I distinctly remember thinking this isn’t good. I can’t move and I can’t breathe. And right at the critical moment where I legitimately felt like I would have been injured or would have died or something, the barricade broke and snapped in half, and I was just able to slip through, escaping what I thought would be certain death to the tune of “Lil Somthin’ Somthin’.”  

After that thing broke open and I slid through, I jumped up on stage and started throwing Faygo. One of the guys in the clown suits yelled at me and told me to get off the stage, but at that point all chaos had broke loose.

DONIHOO: At that point, I was pretty green on the stage-crashing scene, and I remember staying away from that. The last thing I needed was to be in a hospital 1,000 miles away from home.

ICP's Violent J performs at the Gathering of the Juggalos in 2000.
Kevin Buckley

VIOLENT J: We didn’t invite nobody on stage, they just came. We had a killer show prepared! Every Gathering that they’ve ever stormed the stage, we had a bomb-ass show that we spent weeks memorizing. We never wanted people to come on stage and overthrow the stage. We had things planned! But when it happens, what can you do?

The Gathering was something special, so we tried to do obscure tracks, all kinds of things. We had to memorize all of that, and then we ended up not doing any of it.

SHAGGY: We weren’t able to even finish our set because the stage got rushed so hard. I remember this vividly, because we were maybe like three or four songs in, it happened so soon. We had a semi-truck on the side of the stage with the back open to it, for the stage props or whatever. I was on that side of the stage, so I started dipping back, and next thing I know, I’m in the semi-trailer, pinned against the wall, in a whole trailer full of people. I don’t really remember how I got out of there, but I got out. Back then our shows were always nuts, but this was nuts on such a bigger scale.

The Aftermath

Problems aside, the event quickly became legendary to those who were in attendance, and talk quickly turned to future Gatherings.

VIOLENT J: I remember the Expo Center didn’t want us back, and that we were banned, meaning we couldn’t come back there or anything.

But I wasn’t really worried about it. I don’t think the plan was to go back there anyway. They opened the doors without us knowing, all kinds of things they did that were really stupid. Plus I don’t think it was big enough, there was a problem with space. 

Fans at the Gathering of the Juggalos at the Novi Expo Center.
Fans at the Gathering of the Juggalos at the Novi Expo Center.
Photo © 2000 Joe Vaughn

ROB BRUCE: The main thing is everybody loved it, no matter what was going on behind the scenes. The Juggalo family really loved it, and that’s what made it worth the sacrifice.

MADROX: It the greatest experience in the world, especially if you were following that Psychopathic Records vibe that we were pushing. It was the best place to be.

I’m thankful it went great, and it was an epic moment in our career, and that was one of those things that laid that first brick of many we would go down on that road.

SATTERFIELD: It felt like a dream. When we were on the bus coming home, I couldn’t believe that just happened and I couldn’t believe it already ended.

MONASTIERE: It went so fast. You were so mind-blown. It was so impressive, there was so much to do. It was a veritable real life choose your own adventure book. It presented a Juggalo paradise. It felt like each day went by in two hours.

SHAGGY: At the time, it was so great, we were like we’re like we’ve gotta do this again. We did not know it was going to turn into what it turned into. No clue. That’s an ongoing theme in our career, when we do stuff, it just takes on a life of its own. We did not know, we had no idea it was going to turn into. 

It made for a superfun time. It made us want to do it again and again and again, that’s for sure.

VIOLENT J: A second year was always in the plans, it was in the plans from the first year on. I didn’t think there was ever not gonna be a second one, I don’t ever remember saying, “let’s do another one.” I thought it was just going to be something we do from then on.

A fan is seen in the parking lot at the first Gathering of the Juggalos festival at the Novi Expo Center in July 2000.
A fan is seen in the parking lot at the first Gathering of the Juggalos festival at the Novi Expo Center in July 2000.
Scott Donihoo

VAUGHN: I think the concentration of the fanbase all in one place was the most amazing thing to me. We’d all heard about the movement, but to see it, all in one place and realizing people came from far and away to be there showed their dedication. You didn’t see things like that. You maybe liked a band, but not to the level of this.

I respected the brotherhood of it. I think I didn’t really realize that until after the event. It was like everything a family would be, with Faygo and makeup and the music to connect them.

CHRISTODOULOU: It was definitely something special. That was the first time that Juggalos started becoming family. There was camaraderie for sure, but this was the beginning of something bigger. We came here for two days, chilled and did all this crazy stuff together.

DONIHOO: It was so new to everybody, it just seemed like Juggalos were walking around just mesmerized, including the artists. This was a new feeling, and there will never be another first Gathering. It was kind of that magical feeling of getting able to experience that.

Fans of the Insane Clown Posse gather at the first Gathering of the Juggalos festival at the Novi Expo Center in July 2000.
Scott Donihoo

MONASTIERE: It was the ultimate play test for a true a family reunion. It’s way more than a celebration, it’s way more than a Gathering, it’s way more than a concert, it’s way more than partying, it’s way more than assembling. It is a real deal family reunion, and that’s incredible. And the fact that these guys came from broken homes, and not having family who supported or liked ‘em, they created what they didn’t grow up with.

ROB BRUCE: It was the first event where Juggalos from all over were coming together. Before, they were just in their town with their friends in that town. Here, you got Juggalos coming from states away to come to this event. That’s what was so dope about it. For some Juggalos, they weren’t even doing anything, they were just hanging out with friends and connecting and just so excited to be with other ninjas that felt like that they did, that had a passion for the music, that had a passion for the family. It was huge to them and to us, to be able to facilitate that and create that environment so we could have this family reunion, which is really what the Gathering is. It’s the biggest family reunion on the planet.

VIOLENT J: The main thing I underestimated was what we now know is the real magic to all of us: It’s not ICP, it’s the Juggalos. It’s the Juggalos having company with each other. The camaraderie, the family, the brotherhood. I know every band alive, every one of them, they say, “us and our fans are a family.” Well, that might be. But I challenge anybody to show me a tighter family than Juggalos. It doesn’t have anything to do with ICP, except we kind of coordinate where the meetings are going to be. That’s it. it’s not about a family of people that worship ICP. It’s a family of people who worship each other, and the ICP is just the jukebox, the soundtrack.

I have no question at all in my mind, if I had some kind of disease or sickness, and I couldn’t attend a Gathering or Joey couldn’t attend a Gathering, the Gathering would still happen. There’s no question about it. No one‘s not gonna come because ICP isn’t there. They’ll come because the main reason they’re coming is because they’re all friends, they’re all homies. 

Workers clean up a trashed parking lot at the first Gathering of the Juggalos festival.
Workers clean up a trashed parking lot at the first Gathering of the Juggalos festival.
Scott Donihoo

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama