Story Caleb Calhoun/ photos courtesy of David Simchock and Front Row Focus.
I’m not a die-hard Insane Clown Posse fan. In fact, the entire idea of me going to the Salvage Station to see them came from my publisher. Me being the broke-ass writer that I am, I really couldn’t say no. I’m a little nervous – a hippie-dancing Deadhead on his way to a metal/hip-hop show. But I’m confident that once I get there and get loosened up a little, I’ll fit right in.
Lil Toenail takes the stage. The first of five openers, this guy is dressed up like a foot and started slinging some sort of knock-off, generic white-boy rap full of entitlement. After leading the crowd in a chant of “Fuck My Ex,” he drops into a song whose chorus line runs something along the lines of, “Now you crying cause you have to lick my nuts, but I don’t care baby cause I’m tryna bust a nut.”
The truth is, this attitude has no place in Asheville (or anywhere else for that matter), and were I not committed to covering what I see around me, the good, the bad, and the ugly, I would pack up and leave right now. As it is I just head outside for a cigarette.
While the overall thrust of the evening seemed to be the collective airing of grievances in an intensely physical setting as a method of coping with the shit-show most of us live on the daily, there were moments during the opening bands where the vibe was bitter and angry and mysogynystic in every sense of the word. This was one.
It’s spitting outside, and cold, but there are quite a few people weathering it. I decide it’s time to make some new friends. I walk around for a while, typewriter in hand, chatting with people I don’t know. The ones I talk to are kind and friendly, unwary of outsiders, actually excited about the opportunity to proselytize.
I’m not wearing face paint, I am wearing a dress, and I can’t name one ICP song to save my life, but I feel accepted, welcomed even, as if anyone who manages to wash up on these shores is given refuge for as long as is desired. I roll back through the venue as the second band is finishing up.
They ask everyone to raise a middle finger into the air and, on the count of three, to scream “fuck you.” I decide to roll with it, raising my fist, finger pointed to the sky, and digging deep to find some primal rage within.
“FUCK YOU,” I yell, in unison with hundreds of others, and it’s in that moment that I understand what’s really happening here. These people are not screaming at each other. They aren’t defending themselves. They’re defending each other.
These are just people. People who have been hurt. People like me. Here they’ve found a family, a family that they will protect. And so, looking in the faces of those around, feeling the energy sweeping, overwhelming me, I realize that for all of the collective anger, for all of the shared frustration and hurt and loss, what they’re really saying to each other is “I love you. I love you, and I have your back.”
What the entire event may have lacked in depth, it certainly made up for in energy.
A couple more bands and then it’s time for Attila, the penultimate act and the most well-known of the openers. I’ve been writing for a while and now it’s time to put down the typewriter and get into the mix. As Attila begins, their dubby, punky, metal blaring over the massive speakers, I make my way into the heart of the crowd. I head into the mosh-pit.
It’s hot and heavy and musky and rough and while the Salvage Station clearly has eyes on the situation, they’ve chosen to allow the fans to enjoy themselves, so long as they aren’t being ridiculous. A young man beside me, maybe five-six, asks me to give him a boost, so I grab him under the armpits and toss him into the air. The tightly packed fans around us realize almost immediately what’s going on and they get their hands up and begin passing him from row to row.
Then it’s on. Attila is begging fans to get on stage and take a dive and we’re all obliging. I ride the crowd to the front and find myself dumped at the lead singers feet. I snag the set list off of the monitor and dive back out into the crowd to once again be carried away. I look to my right and there’s a woman, curly blonde hair, green eyes, surfing the crowd right beside me. I reach out and take her hand and for just a moment we are dancing, suspended on the hands of the fans below, the lighting playing across our faces like LSD.
I crash to the ground and bounce up, elbows in, shoulders out, and dive back into the mosh pit.
When Attila is done, the Insane Clown Posse hangs a curtain over the stage while they prepare for the main event. The energy is anxious. Many of these fans have been here for more than four hours, and everyone is ready.
The curtain drops, revealing two covered boxes on stage. Men in masks come out to carnival music, eventually pulling the covers from the cages, revealing the members of ICP behind glass. As the music kicks in, they knock out the glass, storm forward and begin to rap.
Stage hands pull the props, replacing them with massive coolers full of Faygo root beer, bottles which, for the entirety of the night, will be shaken and then volcanoed over the front rows and the mosh pit.
The crowd surges, the pit closing in, and now there is no space in front of the stage that is safe. It’s like having a herd of elephants behind you, all trying to stampede. The front row is pressed against the stage, eyes nearly popping out of their heads. Everyone has one hand down, protecting their most important parts, and one hand in the air, fist pumping to the beat.
There are hippies with dreads and Juggalos with face paint. There are metal heads and there are fans of rap and hip-hop. There are men and women and trans and queer and straight and gay and bi and black and white and Latino. There are new friends, old friends, lovers and dreamers and workers and taxpayers and non-taxpayers and weed smokers and teetotalers, and Christians and atheists and satanists. Some let their freak flags fly all the time. Some have to be at the office tomorrow at 9 a.m.
But most of all, in this moment, in this space, there is a community. It’s a group of people that don’t give a shit whether you wear a dress, some face paint or a suit. Most of all there is love, love without judgement, love without reservation. There is acceptance, and a sense of peace that only comes from the opportunity to legally elbow someone else in the back as hard as you can.
There is truth and there is beauty, for as Donne taught us, the two are inseparable, and for these fans, in this room right now, this is about as honest as you can get.