Are you ready to rock and roll????
Imagine being the manager of a rock-n-roll band that falls apart a half-hour before the opening of a sold-out show. Like a scene from Spinal Tap, the lead guitairst has shut herself in her dressing room and refuses to come out. The pianist is engaged in an obsessive bout of self-grooming. The drummer has bolted and is cowering beneath the bleachers. Just another day in the life of Rock Cats, a rockin’ rollin’ trio known more for their looks than their musical (musicat?) talent.
Their manager, Samantha Martin, is brutally honest in her assessment of the band’s talents. “Their music sucks. I mean, when they’re playing, they’re not even playing the same song,” she says, while standing in the wings wearing a black velvet body suit and felt cat ears. “I don’t think they realize they’re supposed to play together.”
Yet, tickets to see them are HOT HOT HOT and their swag is selling of the shelves.
Rock Cats perform with the Circus Cats to packed houses and the audiences love every minute of it (well, who wouldn’t?) The troupe consists an unpredictable group of 13 catsmostly orphans and strayswho walk the high wire, roll barrels, skateboard, leap to platforms and play miniature musical instruments as a kitty rock band.
Martin never knows when one of her purrsnickety stars will not be in the mood to purrform. She keeps two backup drummers (Waldo, a short-haired tabby, and Fiji, a long-haired Himalayan) at the ready, just in case. Often, mid-performance, a cat will walk to center stage but instead of doing the long-practiced trick, the cat will streeeeetch, lick her paws and stare absently at the audience. Martin is left with nothing to do but smile, throw up her arms showgirl-style andignoring the gooftriumphantly declare “ta-da!”
Martin started out training rats (which landed her on Leno) and exotics, but four or five years ago she says, “it dawned on me, there’s so many cat lovers out there. And then I’m thinking that you don’t see any trained cat shows.”
Her first shows were more like exhibition cat herding, but she still found herself and her feline charges playing to packed houses. As the cats’ fame grew, Martin bought a used RVtricked out with cages and a play areaand they hit the road, crisscrossing the country for shows in Missouri, Wisconsin and Florida. Last summer, the cats landed a sponsorship deal with Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Co., further fueling dreams of hitting it big. “If the right person sees the cat band,” said Martin, “these cats could be like the next Taco Bell dog.”
What has she learned in the last couple of years? “The cats are really like diva actresses,” Martin said. “They can’t be pleased and they’re always walking off in a huff.”
On that recent night, the cats pulled themselves together just before the curtain fell. As circus music filled the theater, the cats tottterdone by oneacross the high wire. The show picked up its pace, and the cats ran an obstacle course, swung from a rope and competed in a bowling contest against a chicken (Tuna, a white domestic shorthair, won with a strike).
For the grand finale, the Rock Cats took to their instruments, drawing ooohs and ahhhs from the crowd. Amid the waves of applause stood Martin, beaming like the Cheshire Cat in her velvet cat suit.
Does she regret becoming a purrfessional cat herder? “No, not at all,” she said, feeding the guitarist some tuna. “Because, when it works, it’s a great thing. It’s something that no one else is doing. There aren’t a lot of people who are excited about getting up in front of a crowd and being humiliated by a bunch of cats. So, you know, I feel like I’ve got a corner on the market.”
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