Hundreds of people tromp around the Portland, Oregon, convention center, their backpacks growing heavy with cat food samples as they encounter all things feline: makeup school students offering cat-style eyeliner, artist/activist Cat Man of West Oakland leading a Bingo game, a veterinarian explaining how to entertain indoor cats, adorable kittens for adoption. Many of them wear their “cat drip—headlining rapper Moshow’s term for festivalgoers' kitty ears, feline-adorned shirts, and cat jewelry. All are here out of a common interest: cats.
Welcome to POP Cats, a newish festival bringing cats, pop culture, and art together. The festival debuted in Miami in 2017 and has since grown to five cities. In 2020, there will be four weekends of POP Cats festivals: Houston in May, Chicago in July, Austin in August, and San Diego in October. There’s a reason the event has been so successful in its short lifetime. It offers a kinda weird, super fun place to show your love of cats and learn more about them (and play with them!), even if you don't identify as a cat-lover.
Siblings Edgar Alexander and Johana Flores founded the festival out of a desire to celebrate cats and all the people who love them. “The dream to gather people who love cats under one roof was exciting, so we worked very hard to make POP Cats happen,” Alexander says. “We envision creating a young, vibrant experience where even people who have no cats but are curious feel welcome and play for the first time with a cat, sit at one of the talks, enjoy the artists and vendors, and have a great time.” Alexander’s 7-year-old Siamese, Noah, is the face of POP Cats, a blue-eyed flame point wearing spiral sunglasses.
Noah’s playful image matches the tone of festival. At the Portland event, you can find a spread of exhibitors. There's Baby Cats of California, which decorates baby clothes with cat-shaped popsicle prints, and Homocats, which sells fascinatingly bizarre queer political cat zines like Homocats Save Us and politically minded feline clothes like a “Kittens Against Trump” t-shirt.
There's also Matt Bloom and Shelley Simmons-Bloom, who published a series of children’s books about their cat, Bunny. “We adopted Bunny in 2014 from KittyKind in New York City,” Simmons-Bloom says. “We used to imagine these stories of what would Bunny do if she could pay forward her good fortune.” Their first book, Hello My Name is Bunny, is set in Manhattan and features messages of kindness, empathy, teamwork, and inclusion. In later adventures, Bunny goes to London and Paris. The Blooms donate $5 from each book sale to KittyKind pet adoption service.
On the more bizarre end of the exhibitor spectrum, there’s Ohioan Doug Cholewa of Cat Butt Scratch and Sniff, which includes books, t-shirts, temporary tattoos, and air fresheners. “It’s a whole empire of cat butts,” Cholewa says. Portland is his second POP Cats. “Cat people are fun,” he says. “It’s a great environment.” But do his cat butt scratch and sniffs really smell like, well, cat butts? “No!” he says in horror. “That would be gross.”
In addition to exhibitor booths, the crowd goes wild for the presenters. The audience for Hannah Shaw, better known as Kitten Lady, is beyond standing room only. People can’t even get close enough to hear. Shaw, known as a huge advocate for the teeniest unweaned kittens, is the author of Tiny But Mighty: Kitten Lady’s Guide to Saving the Most Vulnerable Felines. Capping off the evening, Moshow the Cat Rapper has the crowd on their feet and waving their hands in the air. His call and response raps get full participation as the audience shouts its lines: “Cats need their paws so you better not declaw!” and “Hands up, let’s adopt a cat!”
So what can you expect if you make your way to one of the four 2020 events around the country? You’ll likely leave carrying some cat art or jewelry, wearing a pair of cat ears, and possibly even snuggling your new pet kitten. But primarily, POP Cats is about fun and education. “We want people to walk out inspired to learn more about cats, or even better, to become active in the cat community by volunteering or spreading with others the knowledge they acquired at POP Cats,” Alexander says. “We also hope that people feel charged with happiness by the end of the day.”
For more information and to buy tickets to a 2020 POP Cats festival, visit popcats.org.