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Are Juggalos the next Deadheads?

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Juggalo and Dead mascots engage in some good, clean fun.
  • Juggalo and Dead mascots engage in some good, clean fun.
In October of 1995, two months after the passing of Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia, the Insane Clown Posse charted for the first time. “Come see the show, big top show,” the clown-faced proto-Juggalos rapped on Riddle Box’s opening track. “Walk in and hang with the Dead Carnival.”

Yet against all odds, the Deadhead phenomenon continues to replicate itself. Go to this summer’s Dead & Company show at Boulder’s Folsom Field, and you’ll find fresh-faced Deadheads alongside their ’60s elders, one tie-dyed rainbow family swirling together before the altar of original members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann.

Is there any other pop subculture that revolves around a single act as obsessively as the Deadheads? There have, of course, been pretenders to the throne, including Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters, Justin Bieber’s Beliebers, and Jimmy Buffett’s Parrotheads, as well as fans of jam-bands like Widespread Panic and Phish. But none of the above have been ready, willing or able to cross the line from conspicuous consumption to full-on international cult.

For that, we have Juggalos, a nomadic tribe who, like Deadheads, will gather together any time, anywhere to create makeshift communities where peace, love and happiness are expressed through sex, drugs and music.

Next week, on Feb. 13, Juggalos and Juggalettes will gather in the Black Sheep parking lot, many of them wearing Hatchetman necklaces, Psychopathic Records hoodies, and caked-on face paint. Inside the venue, Insane Clown Posse co-founder Shaggy 2 Dope — the one who wondered how “fucking magnets” work in the ICP song “Miracles” — will be headlining the evening to promote F.T.F.O.M.F. (“fuck the fuck off, motherfucker”), his first solo album in a decade.

Shaggy and ICP co-founder Violent J have earned their reputation for horror-core lyrics that are outrageously obscene, violent, misogynist and homophobic. But they also rap about how “The country we live in was built by slaves / Beat down and murdered and stuffed in their graves.”

And while there have been well-documented incidents of violence connected to Insane Clown Posse shows, the Dead have their own dark history in that regard. As Joel Selvin chronicled in his book about Altamont, the 1969 concert that brought lethal mayhem to the flower-power generation, it was at Dead manager Rock Scully’s suggestion that the band’s friends in the Hells Angels provide security.
Here’s another distinction the Insane Clown Posse and Grateful Dead have in common: Both managed to attract the attention of the FBI.

The Dead’s 14-page dossier, some of which was written in the wake of Altamont, has been largely redacted. But it does include this classic observation: “It would appear that this is a rock group of some sort.”

The FBI was less generous in its designation of Juggalos as a “loosely-organized hybrid gang,” which prompted a Juggalo march on Washington back in September. The group has also filed suit against both the FBI and the Department of Justice, both of whom are more preoccupied with Trump at the moment.

Jeremy Grobsmith has managed the Black Sheep for the better part of the past decade. He booked the Shaggy 2 Dope show in mid-January, which would have been a risky move with a lesser-known act.

“You don’t need more than a month to promote a Shaggy 2 Dope show in a town rife with Juggalos,” he says of the venue that’s hosted such Juggalo-friendly acts as Twiztid, Boondox, Axe Murder Boys, Twisted Insane, Da Mafia Six, Kottonmouth Kings, Blaze Ya Dead Homie, Prozak, Esham, Hed P.E. and Tech N9ne.

“There’s always been a strong Juggalo community in Colorado Springs,” he continues. “Sometimes it fizzles and there’s a definite lull at shows, but then it springs back to life. Juggalos don’t throw money around if they don’t have it. So if they’re not coming to shows, it’s usually because they’re at work trying to save up for the next big show. They have a conflicted spirit in that, one week, nothing can hold them down, and the next week, they feel crushed by life’s burdens. It’s a very bipolar way of life.”
The same can be said for many of us, although there does appear to be a significant demographic gap between ICP and Dead fans. According to a 2015 Mellman Group poll, 45 percent of people who earn more than $100,000 have a favorable assessment of the Dead, compared to a mere 20 percent of those who make $35,000 or less. (Unfortunately, no such study has been made of ICP fans.)

Meanwhile, a single Dead & Company ticket will range from $59.95 to $149.95, and that’s before scalpers swoop in. By comparison, this summer’s Insane Clown Posse-sponsored Dark Carnival Games Convention will only set you back $50 for a three-day pass that includes performances by ICP and other Juggalo favorites.

The convention promises a “spectacle of games, arcades, contests, gameshows, autograph signings, seminars, movies, Juggalo gladiatorial combat, inflatable games, and concerts,” all designed to capture the spirit of the earliest Juggalo gatherings.

A lot of Juggalos tend to be of working-class origin, which partly explains why they’re treated with a condescension normally reserved for the shoppers portrayed on the “People of Walmart” site.

“There’s a certain entitlement about the Deadhead crowd that the Juggalos don’t embody,” says Grobsmith. “Trust fund Juggalos aren’t a thing. Craft beer drinking, twirling, prancing Juggalos aren’t a thing. They come to drink cheap beer, party and have a good time.”

As fate would have it, the Shaggy show will be Grobsmith’s last at the Black Sheep; he and his family will be moving down to Charlotte, North Carolina, three days afterward.

“It’s an absurd way to go out, for sure,” he says, but it’s also somehow fitting. “I think I’ve received as much honest praise and thanks from the Juggalo scene as any other scene in town. People say that punk rock and hardcore accepts the outcasts, but the Juggalo scene is truly an inclusive, all-encompassing scene.”

None of that is to suggest that Grateful Dead fans are any less prevalent here in Colorado Springs. Conor Bourgal, who records and performs as the Changing Colors, is one of many local musicians who consider themselves second-generation Deadheads. He still has his father’s original vinyl copies of the band’s albums and is familiar with more versions of “Dark Star” than most of us ever will be.
Event Details Dead & Company
@ Folsom Field
29th Street and Colorado Avenue
Out-of-Town
Boulder, CO
When: July 13-14, 6:30 p.m.
Rock/Pop

Dylan Teifer, whose band Blue Frog hosts a Tuesday jam night at the Townhouse, believes the Insane Clown Posse phenomenon currently pales before that of the Grateful Dead.

“I just took a look at the 2018 ICP tour schedule,” he says. “They are playing small venues, country clubs, and waffle joints. The surviving members of the Dead are still playing to capacity crowds in football stadiums. So, as far as scale is concerned, there is really no comparison.”

But when it comes to sheer devotion, it’s hard not to see Juggalos and Deadheads in the same light: “I think no matter what the size, if you’re a Juggalo at an ICP concert, or a Deadhead at the Dead & Company show, you feel like you’re at a family reunion,” says Teifer. “You’re already friends with every one there, because you share this passion for something weird and incredible that most people don’t seem to get.”

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