My band, Titus Andronicus, has played a lot of shows since I last blogged about a gig back in late 2009, and if I’m being honest with you, a lot of them have not been fun. It seemed harmless at the time, but I now realize that it was a big mistake to agree to only play Weezer songs at that horrible Vice Halloween party last year. That set a bad precedent. I don’t want to admit to how many private shows we’ve played throughout 2010 where we had to do other people’s music instead of our own, but I’m grateful that very little evidence has surfaced online. I suppose that by mentioning this here it only gives people an excuse to go looking for it. That’s the price of honesty.
Anyway, I don’t understand how the word got out that we could be hired to play whatever by request, but we had some good offers and couldn’t turn down the cash. The weird thing though is that we kinda suck as a cover band, so it’s hard to fathom why people would want to hire us instead of people who do this sort of thing competently on a regular basis unless they just wanted to humiliate us or something. Like, “Hey, here’s some Pitchfork band, let’s laugh at them by making them play Stone Temple Pilots songs instead of their own shit.” I don’t know. Maybe I’m paranoid about this, but it really does feel like people are trying to bring us low by forcing us into these situations.
I should say that not all of these experiences have been painful. We played some rich girl on Long Island’s birthday party, and that was okay enough. At least we had some freedom there–they asked us to play some “’80s music” but nothing specific. As it turns out, it’s pretty fun to play “If This It It” by Huey Lewis. I guess I shouldn’t be too shocked about that. People at that party seemed indifferent to us and were occasionally a bit rude, but at least there was no violence involved, and it wasn’t as tedious as that time we were paid to play “Tubthumping” by Chumbawumba a dozen times in a row for a room full of insurance dudes. It’s kinda fucked up, but after what came before and what came after that night, I’m at the point where not getting punched at a gig is enough to put it in the win column.
I’m beating around the bush, so let’s get straight to it. As you may have read on Pitchfork, Stereogum, and some other music blogs, my band performed at the 11th annual Gathering of the Juggalos festival at a place called Cave-In-Rock, Illinois. If you don’t know, Juggalos are fans of the Insane Clown Posse, who are…. well, insane clowns who rap. They’ve got a whole subculture going on, mostly in the midwest, and the people are like rednecks in Hot Topic gear crossed with what people used to call “wiggers.” I’d never heard about any of this before we got the offer a few months before the gig. We looked into it, and were kinda weirded out, but it seemed like it could be a funny experience, and even if it sucked, it was still $10,000 for a 40 minute set. I have to emphasize: We are all broke and can’t turn down that kind of money.
It was kind of a pain in the ass to get to Cave-In-Rock. We had to fly in to Indianapolis, and then drive five hours out to the location of the festival. We knew to expect some craziness, but I don’t think we were actually ready for the vibe of this place. It suddenly made sense why these guys were all about the cheap soda–it was like walking around in some kind of Mountain Dew commercial fever dream. But yeah, those first couple hours of showing up and taking it all in was the high point. You may have heard about there being magicians and dudes on stilts, things like that? I saw that in person, and frankly, that stuff cannot be denied. A+ on the stilt guys, all the way. Also, I have to say, the guys putting on the show, the people backstage–they were pretty okay. I’m not going to say it was the nicest experience we’ve ever had backstage, but it wasn’t the worst by any stretch. They didn’t give us any shit, and hooked us up with free hamburgers and soda. But seriously, it was all downhill from there on out.
We were not the only indie-type band to get booked for the show. At first it seemed like they were maybe trying to cynically broaden their audience, or maybe they just earnestly liked some of this music, or I dunno, they appreciated other musicians who carved their own path outside of the corporate mainstream. I’m pretty convinced now that they just wanted fresh meat to throw to these “Juggalos,” who are just so fucking vicious and cruel. They basically just show up to heckle any band that’s not ICP. I saw some footage from a year or so back of these people giving Andrew W.K. a hard time, but man, I think these people got more bloodthirsty over time, like it’s become a tradition. You know how you’d get these macho thugs coming to hardcore shows just to beat on people in mosh pits? It’s like that, but less focused, and more obviously directed at the people on stage. To make matters worse, this was another gig where we were required to play someone else’s music, and the request was very specific: We had to perform Kris Kross’ Totally Krossed Out in full. No, I’m not kidding.
Look, we take our job seriously. We spent two weeks learning and rehearsing this album, and you know, it wasn’t easy figuring out how to play this early ’90s hip hop as a rock band. We had to be clever, and I had to learn the lyrics to an entire fucking rap record. I like rap fine, don’t get me wrong, but man, I am not someone who should ever be rapping. But there we were, 3 p.m. on a side stage in the middle of this bizarre manchild festival in the middle of nowhere, about to launch into “Jump.” The cruel thing about doing Totally Krossed Out is that you have to play the big hit first, and then you have to keep going through all these album tracks no one is going to recognize, but we were contractually obliged to perform. I’m going to be so bold as to say that we kiiiinda had these people on our side for “Jump,” but by the time we were halfway through butchering “Lil’ Boys In Da Hood,” we were doing everything we could to avoid getting hit by all the shit being hurtled at us by this small legion of creeps. (I wish I wasn’t being literal, but I’m pretty sure some actual fecal matter ended up on Eric’s drum head.)
Anyway, anyone who was in front of the stage was there entirely to make us feel awful and unwelcome. Everyone else was off stuffing their faces with junk food or watching wrestling matches or stand-up comedy or waiting in line for a helicopter ride. These were the most committed haters on the face of the earth.
Yeah, there were helicopter rides. They had them at the festival last year too, and it was a big deal. Everyone was really into it, so they went a little further and got these old-timey locomotives and set up tracks all around the festival site. It would have been kinda cute, but of course, this is set up for the largest congregation of dumbasses in world history, and so everything went fucking haywire. For one thing, these idiots would not get off the tracks. They’d just wander on to the tracks and hang out there and shout at the oncoming trains, who had to stop to keep from running these guys over. But you know, the dudes running the trains were no better, and I think some people actually got run down. I wasn’t there when this happened, but I guess near the end of our set, this pack of drunk goons decided to derail one of the trains, and don’t ask me how, but they managed to do it. I heard an explosion. There were people running, people screaming. Our stage caught on fire-again, don’t ask me how. It’s all this horrible nightmare blur in my mind.
I remember certain images, but I think we were all in some kind of primal survival-driven fugue state. The things that stick out in my memory are so weird I can’t believe they happened, but it’s like, I know it happened, I can’t un-see it. For example, when I was fleeing from the burning stage, I saw this big fat guy throw what I believe was a goat at one of those dudes on stilts, and he just toppled over on to this upended railroad spike. So fucking gory, man. I definitely remember seeing two of the Vivian Girls running by with bologna slices stuck to their bare skin, and Andrew Bird getting kicked in the stomach by some kid riding by on one of those mini four-wheelers. You’ve probably already read about this in the news, I don’t need to tell you everything. It was a tremendously fucked-up scene. I probably wouldn’t be alive today if Will Oldham hadn’t rescued myself and Antony and shepherded us to safety on a John Deere tractor. I swear, the only thing that kept me sane in that moment was trying to get that Faygo-bottle ball gag out of poor Antony’s mouth.
I’m glad to have blacked out the worst of it. I remember the heat and noise of the explosions, but I have no visual memory of when that helicopter that got commandeered by some Juggalos on PCP crashed into Panda Bear’s stage, or how the “flesh heap” out by the barbecue area caught on fire. (I don’t think it was a connected chain of events.) I should be grateful that my entire band made it out of there, and none of us managed to get any significant injuries. We got paid enough that losing all our instruments and equipment wasn’t such a big deal.
When it comes down to it, as scary as this stuff was, it was still better than working some day job. This time last year I was pissed off about shady security at a VICE party, and now that just seems quaint after an event that may as well have been called “Altamont X-Treme.” My faith in having a “career” in music is rattled, but I don’t want to lose track of the positive things by dwelling on all of this trauma. After all, attendance was pretty good for our club tour in support of our second album, we got a few good reviews online, and one of our songs was #4 on the Hype Machine. That’s got to count for something, right?
That Guy from Titus Andronicus
Matthew Perpetua is the proprietor of Fluxblog.