Walking through Downtown St. Pete to Jannus Landing Friday night, I felt like that down-on-his-luck movie character who stumbles on the dilapidated cinema palace of his youth; a rumpled newspaper skips by; a homeless man urinates on the boarded-up box office window; and above, a marquee spells out in mismatched letters a ridiculous adult film title like Bazooms from the Moon.
Is this what would become of Downtown St. Pete’s outdoor concert venue? Reduced to low culture and an eventual demise. It certainly started to look like that kind of scenario to me.
No urinating homeless men, but there were a hundreds of empty plastic soda bottles strewn by streams of vomit on the Second Street sidewalk.
And this was before the Insane Clown Posse concert, what Jannus management announced as the last concert at the venerated venue.
I felt a twinge of melancholy and made a mental list of my favorite Jannus Landing memories:
- Reggae and local “Nu-Rock” fests of the early ’80s
- My first headliner concert, the Psychedelic Furs, 1983, age 14, where I looked like a little new wave knockout with poofy hair, Scotch-plaid miniskirt and fishnet stockings. I was excited beyond rationality. Not only was I about to see one of my favorite British bands – during their prime – but all the arty new wavers I admired from afar in the record store and teen club were all congregating in one place.
- I also remembered interviewing the gracious Tonya Donnelly at the adjacent Club Detroit before the Belly/Radiohead concert. I waved a reticent but polite hello to Thom Yorke in the courtyard during the sound check. He looked haggard and put off a “don’t talk to me” vibe.
- Then there was the Lemonheads, whose leads singer, Evan Dando, was an alternative heartthrob in the early ’90s. Former Times music critic Gina Vivinetto met him the day of their concert. The openly gay writer worked with me at the time as a copy clerk and came back to her shift all a-flutter, recounting her starry-eyed admission to him that she’d go straight to be his girlfriend. Later that night after a fantastic and energetic performance, the drummer gave a stick to my friend Brooke Becker, who attended the concert with us in her wheelchair, a short time after recovering from a coma and life-altering head injury.
- I also felt a bit verklempt when I took my nephew Matthew to his first concert at age 15 in 2007 to see reggae legend Toots and the Maytals.
- Also that year, I attended my favorite Jannus concert. It was on April 15, the eve of my birthday: Flaming Lips. I bobbed and weaved dreamily, hugging on my group of close friends as flowing steamers swayed from the big oak tree and big yellow balls bounced through the crowd, a visual spectacle that counterpointed one some of the most inventive and melodic rock music I ever heard.
Thousands of music lovers have their own special memories of Jannus and many have shaken their heads in disbelief that the lights might be going out on a beloved and historic outdoor entertainment venue, one that’s spanned three decades and generations of music lovers, simply because the owner John C. “Jack” Bodziak didn’t manage the books properly and was arrested in May for tax fraud charges.
So, yes, the seedy, absurd and tragic have intertwined once again in Tampa Bay. Sometimes it seems like we have front row seats to some of the universe’s most senseless parlor tricks (e.g., this season’s Buccaneers).
But Friday was ICP’s night. As day turned into night and hundreds of fans lined up to enter Jannus, some six police cars and cops and horses waited on the street, but no major incidents occurred before or immediately after the show.
The mostly white teens and adults in black head to toe, tanktops and black-and-white clown face – the signature look of the ICP ultimate fan, the Juggalo/Juggalette – remained in good spirits and didn’t get out of hand. They chanted “Faygo! Faygo!” in the tradition of Insane Clown Posse’s circus-like spraying of the inexpensive soda brand.
Getting to the door involved navigating piles of litter (somewhere there was a crying Indian) and a friendly policeman helped me sidestep a puke puddle.
Police presence was heavy, so black hip-hop fans: Don’t think you’re racially profiled. Anticipation of violence at what can be construed as some sort of rhyme-ish show is an equal opportunity reality.
My hackles were up too. Having grown up in unincorporated Pinellas and pushed around by rough-and-tumble Latchkey kids, I felt like I was face to face with my childhood nemeses. Phrases like “meth-head convention” and “big night out for obese shut-ins” popped in my head. My inner jerk was in full force and was flinging inaudible insults left and right.
I kept in mind though that the merry mayhem makers of ICP had acquired a loyal following through the years, the “Gathering of the Juggalos,” so I squelched the little smartass devil inside me and began chatting to the attendees.
Every one I spoke to was pleasant and polite.
The “love, hope and family” vibe that ICP espouses – by way of their moralistic-meets-highly offensive lyrics – seemed be in full force at the show that wasn’t the U2 concert.
The mood was upbeat, though some fans conveyed sadness about the looming shutdown of Jannus.
“I love this place,” said Chris Peoples, 37, of St. Petersburg, a thin, fit woman with a mohawk and tattoo of Elvira at the center of her chest. “I’ve seen the Genitortures here, plus Twizted, GWAR, Ministry.”
Michael Brownwood, 29, of Brandon, attending his third ICP show, said his first concerts at Jannus were Rancid and the Descendents.
No mentions of U2, performing across the bay at Raymond James stadium, could be heard by ICP or openers Southwest SOL and Hed PE. ICP fans fought U2 concert traffic to come from Tampa and Pasco County to see ICP with nary a complaint. They drove from the south and west.
Young Juggalo-costumed couple Justin Mullis, 21, of Crystal River and Julie Brengle, 21, of Lecanto waited in the back by Tamiami, getting some quiet time together while hordes of smelly and shirtless young men caused a ruckus by the stage.
Hanging out back, a mom balanced a toddler in Juggalo face on the wooden handrail of the rear elevated deck. At the Tamiami, the bar at the back end of Jannus, a Juggalo dad and daughter pair from Newcastle, England, showed off the best costumes of the night – she in polk-dotted dress and striped stockings and he in green died hair, mock prison shirt and big red rubber nose.
Plumes of marijuana smoke wafted nearby, smelling piquantly like what I can only imagine was high-grade chronic. People-watching for the first two-thirds of the night offered more entertainment than the lackluster openers, Southwest SOL (Dirty South hip-hop) and Hed PE (some kind of California nonsense). Sure the rhyming skills were there, but the mixes were lacking, the bass lines overly simplified and lyrics completely inane. Though ICP sprinkles in the shocking content (a la Eminem) and expletives, they don’t use them as a crutch. ICP had much better flow and more originality than the predictable hacks that microwaved the crowd. Much hotter than all three: the Apache summer heat that broiled the courtyard.
The crowd packed in front to end. Beyond capacity? Don’t know. Considering the dubious machinations that have gone on behind the scenes, one can only wonder about issues like capacity, security checks (I witnessed none), insufficient Port-O-Lets, overpriced beverages and other tactics that have besmirched the glory of Jannus.
I had lots of time to philosophize while being bored by Hed PE. The clown-face band (yes, how original) went from hardcore to hip-hop to reggae in such a by-the-numbers fashion, you’d think they were following a horror-core for dummies instruction manual.
Jokes told in what was ostensibly a clowning style, were worse than what you’d hear from openers at Coconuts Comedy Club. The band’s front man (Jared Gomes) immaturely riffed on emo kids and said he loved his girlfriend because she watched the fight with him, cooked for him and swallowed. The crowd cheered. And then he said, “My wife doesn’t swallow.”
ICP were an agonizing 30 minutes late to the stage, but was – to my surprise – worth the wait. What a spectacle. Sure it was no 360 setup with a sci-fi contraption at the center, but they came on strong with a stylishly splashy backdrop: the dark carnival, one of the band’s motifs. A sign bearing the band’s current LP title, Bang! Pow! Boom!
Girls in red burlesque gowns sauntered downstage. Vivid red and teal stripes drew the eye to the back wall, where sideshow acts “Ape Boy” and “Many Faces” danced in cages. Clowns in glitter jumpsuits ran to and fro and around white barrels covered in shiny foil stickers. Those barrels held the Faygo for audience-spraying, which a roadie in zombie face would replenish throughout the show.
After getting the crowd excited with the rousing and catchy Jack Jeckel and its “boom shaka boom shaka” chants, the energy dipped a bit, but the duo regained momentum for what was most definitely the best moment of the night, a fantastic performance of its cheesy 80s dance hit cover, Lets Go All the Way by Sly Fox. During the entertaining number, the glitter clowns tossed tons of confetti into the air and shot toy bazookas of soda to the crowd. The surreal reverie harked back to the Flaming Lips concert of ’07 – but with much less complexity and artistry.
Toward the end of the concert, I spoke to Brandon Ready, 13, of Sarasota, who cheered when ICP announced it would start another series of apocalyptic joker cards, which so far have represented the bands albums. Brandon and his friends wore shirts bearing logos of the cards and showed them off.
That kind of excitement reminded me what the collective, joyous experience of Jannus concerts is all about. No carelessness and corruption can take that away.
Talk to concert-goers of all types, the sentiment is unanimous: the hope that someone, or a group of investors, comes along and keeps the tradition alive.
And ICP, not so obnoxious after all. After the concert, the soda stash was revealed to be diet, so they were either looking out for setting a healthier example or didn’t want to get the crowd sticky. How considerate of them!