Everyone has a favorite music group. But would you be willing to give up your current life and follow your favorite musicians around the country? While many bands inspire die-hard fans, a few have reached an almost mythical status. It’s as if we’re seeing modern-day versions of classical cults, such as those that followed the Greek god of wine Dionysus, running wild through the woods. Many of these groups have few — if any — best-selling songs and are either loathed or ignored by critics. Yet their longtime fans remain ever faithful. And in many cases, the original fans have been joined by their children and even grandchildren, making these followings not just relevant in the 1960s or ’70s, but today … and possibly for decades to come.
5. Insane Clown Posse
“And magnets, how do they work?” asks the Insane Clown Posse’s 2009 song Miracles. Physics easily explains how magnetism works (including the magnets in the ICP’s amps) but explaining the enduring popularity of the Insane Clown Posse is tougher. A rap metal group virtually indistinguishable from any other in that dated genre, the Insane Clown Posse has somehow established a devoted “Juggalo” movement. Founded in 1989, the ICP features a “horror-rock” live show, a style pioneered by Alice Cooper in the 1970s. And fans can’t get enough. The annual Gathering of the Juggalos (often simply called “The Gathering”) debuted in 2000 and is now held at Legend Valley near Thornville, Ohio, attracting up to 20,000 fans each year. These might be tough times for Juggalos who don makeup, given the rash of “evil clown” sightings nationwide.
True story about the band Phish: It descended (twice) on a former U.S. Air Force base in sleepy and remote northern Maine on Labor Day weekend, with mayhem and Woodstock-like results. Known as “The Great Went” of 1997 and 1998, the event featured side-stage acts, fire-breathing stunts, and the event’s very own broadcast radio station. Like the Grateful Dead, the Vermont-based band founded by Trey Anastasio is known for improvisation and extended jams. Phish takes things one step further, however, and aims to create concerts that are true one-of-a-kind events. Although recent performances by the band have been sporadic, the group still plays Madison Square Garden every New Year’s Eve.
Are you a solider in the Kiss Army? Kiss has been around so long, the Kiss Army is now more or less like rooting for a jersey than actual members of the band. Founded in 1973, the band emerged from the brief “glam-rock” trend in New York City, and successfully made the transition to mainstream rock. It’s hard to imagine a time when no one knew what the members of Kiss looked like, and that this topic even spurred controversy. Kiss took their makeup off in the 1980s, only to put it back on again in the 1990s for what seems like an endless succession of reunion tours. Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons are the two enduring members of the band, which has sold 100 million albums worldwide.
Started in 1975 by two fans, the Kiss Army played a key role in promoting radio airplay for Kiss in the early days, and served as a prototype for the multitude of mail-order rock fan clubs that sprang up in the mid-1970s. The Kiss Army was first officially promoted by the band on the group’s 1976 album Destroyer, and through the years, has included such notable honorary members as Condoleezza Rice, Kevin Bacon, LL Cool J, and Lenny Kravitz. While it’s been the butt of many a late-night joke, the Kiss Army still claims tens of thousands of members worldwide.
2. Jimmy Buffet
The closest thing that middle-aged suburbanites have to a cult movement, fans of Jimmy Buffet (known as “Parrotheads”) wear Hawaiian shirts and parrot hats, drink Margaritaville Rum (branded and marketed by Buffet himself) and follow Buffet from show to show. Strange-but-true fact: Longtime Eagles bass player Timothy B. Schmit, who spent time in the Coral Reefer Band, coined the term Parrothead. Buffet first noted the movement in the 1980s, and has helped make it a great marketing success, with 239 Parrothead Club chapters in the United States alone as of 2011.
The annual Meeting of the Minds Parrothead event held in Key West, Fla., attracts some 3,500 Parrotheads (and Parrotkeets, the children of Parrotheads) each year. Stop by Buffet’s Margaritaville Restaurant in Key West, and you might just catch an unannounced performance by Buffet himself. A movement that doesn’t really take itself seriously, Parrotheads have raised money for Alzheimer’s and cancer research.
1. The Grateful Dead
Serious longtime Deadheads may resent being grouped with the likes of Phish fans and Parrotheads. Part of the reason might be because these are the fans that started the whole phenomenon of a cult-like following. Founded in 1965, the Grateful Dead began attracting a community of fans determined to see every Dead show, following the band from venue to venue. Many of these hard-core fans eventually figured out they could support their travels by selling their homemade goods (T-shirts, crafts, etc.) outside Dead concerts. Deadheads have their own counterculture slang, and also led the way for the bootleg tape-swapping rock culture that started in the 1970s, long before Napster and the Internet. Although founder and frontman Jerry Garcia passed away in 1995, the band lives on via Dead & Company and several other related bands.
Member John Mayer told Billboard magazine in an early 2016 interview that, “I will do Dead & Company as long as fans want it and as long as it feels like there’s something on the table to try to get right and explore. On the band’s legacy, bandmate Bob Weir went on to say, “What are they gonna be saying about that (the Grateful Dead’s music) in 200 or 300 years at the Berkley School of Music?”