Some 13,000 people descended on the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand the evening of August 28 for the 2013 Internet Cat Video Festival. Feline fanciers and fanatics were treated to a night of music, comedy, cat videos, IRL appearances by viral-video kitties and their humans, plus the awarding of the second annual Golden Kitty Award. We sent an army of photographers and videographers, who offer these first looks at how the day unfolded.
“I feel like Lil Bub has a substantial fan base instead of just a viral fan base, like REO Speedwagon or Rush,” says Mike Bridavsky. Found by a friend in an abandoned shed two years ago, Lil Bub was the runt of the litter. A “special needs cat,” she has feline dwarfism and osteopetrosis, a rare bone condition seldom, if ever, observed in kittens. Lil Bub’s unique look never fails to spark comparisons from fans, who have called her the “pug of cats” and likened her to Gizmo from the movie Gremlins and Bill the Cat of comic strip fame.
What does creator Chris Torres think is behind the phenomenal popularity of his Nyan Cat, an Internet meme featuring an animated cat wearing a toaster pastry flying through space trailing a rainbow behind it? Based on his cat Marty, a Russian blue who unexpectedly passed away last year, the meme combines different kinds of Internet catnip: “People love cats and rainbows and space and funny music. It’s a perfect storm of what creates an Internet meme.” Modeling a blue T-shirt backstage at the fair, Torres explained the web-meme mashup it depicted: three Nyan Cats configured to reference another viral sensation, the Three Wolf Moon shirt, beloved and ridiculed by Amazon reviewers worldwide.
“All I had was a camera, a cat, a piano, and no money and no job,” recalls Charlie Schmidt of the day in 1984 when he created one of the grand-daddies of Internet cat videos, Keyboard Cat. “It was about 9 degrees at my house that day; the water in my toilet was frozen. That’s why I made that video, because there was nothing else to do.” Now some 32 million YouTube views later, he heads up an enterprise that includes cat-themed art, videos, and an animatronic Keyboard Cat plush toy. But going back to that chilly day in Spokane some 30 years ago, he recently dug up the original outfit worn by his late piano-playing cat; the JCPenney infant shirt is framed behind glass and often joins Schmidt on the road.
Throughout the day, San Francisco–based artist Maria Mortati took her mobile video cart around the fair, asking people to imitate their cat’s meows, hisses, and harrumphs. Editing together the results, she created a video that premiered at the Minnesota State Fair for catvidfest audiences.
A look behind Maria Mortati’s cat-shaped video cart reveals a MacBook used to record some extreme video closeups of fair-goers giving impassioned impersonations of their feline family members. Watch the video here.
Cat-inspired fashions abounded at the Grandstand, from cat-print dresses and cat ears to leggings, T-shirts, face paint, and masks all designed to turn wearers into part-time cats. Also in abundance: water bottles. With a high of 92 degrees, the National Weather Service had issued a heat advisory.
Pudge, the exotic shorthair owned by Minneapolis’ Kady Lone, has the distinction of being a viral cat star discovered on Instagram. Lone says she started putting up pictures of Pudge eating, sleeping, and grooming—admittedly quotidian scenes—and was surprised to see her Instagram stats explode. She’s now got more than 82,000 followers and a shop selling Pudge merchandise. Her explanation for Pudge’s amazing allure? “The moustache, definitely.”
Rudy Fig has done live painting at music festivals, parties, and concerts, “but nothing as cool as catvidfest.” Based in the Twin Cities suburb of Crystal, she says, “I like this because it takes it out of the studio and puts it in a place that’s accessible and people can be part of it.” Of her dress, printed with cats and desserts, she says, “It’s just for tonight. I don’t wear this at home.”
Don’t let the cat shirts fool you: Alexsis Steenson and Jessica Nelson are dog people. “I have three dogs. I’m allergic to cats, but I love them,” says Nelson, who shares that her cellphone is filled with cute videos her dog. “My dog can talk,” she adds. What can she say? “Mama. Right in my face. She has no boundaries.”
Food on a stick—from chocolate-covered bacon, ostrich, and the famed Pronto Pup—has been a mainstay at the Great Minnesota Get-Together, but with catvidfest, this is the first time it’s seen Cat on a Stick, a concept the Walker’s Scott Stulen said he needed to explain often to out-of-state media: “It’s not a real cat.” It’s actually the name for a new category this year for made-in-Minnesota cat videos.
Vanessa Gadberry has fond memories of the inaugural Internet Cat Video Festival. “It was so organic, so Minneapolis,” she says. “I was laughing with a bunch of strangers, sharing their blankets.” But it’s a poignant recollection for another reason: there on the Walker lawn with her in 2012 was her 1 1/2-year old cat, who passed away in the last year. A giant tattoo now commemorates the beloved cat Squirrel, named after its abundantly bushy tail.
The night proved historic in one regard: celebrity cats Lil Bub and Grumpy Cat met for the first time, to murmurs of delight from the crowd. (As both cats are reactive to noise, the audience was asked to refrain from cheering.) Fittingly, the audience included many fans dressed as their favorite Internet cats—including, most frequently, Grumpy Cat.
The spirit of the festival was genuinely warm, yet Grumpy Cat’s demeanor permeated the crowd—as this group’s custom fair sign attests.
The festivities included the induction of seven cat videos into the catvidfest Hall of Fame, including 2012 Golden Kitty award-winner Will Braden, the filmmaker behind the Henri series; Charlie Schmidt, creator of Keyboard Cat; and the team of Lil Bub and Mike Bridavsky. Also inducted, the Minnesota-made video Kittens Inspired by Kittens, which stars a then-six-year-old Maddie Kelly.
Chosen by online voting of nearly 20,000 responses, the 2013 Golden Kitty—the festival’s people’s choice award—went to The Original Grumpy Cat. Presented by the Walker’s Scott Stulen and last year’s winner, Will Braden, the prize was received by Grumpy Cat’s humans, the Bundesen family. Commenting on the honor, Grumpy Cat shrugged: “Whatever.” Watch the 2013 festival playlist here.
As darkness fell on the fairgrounds, audiences settled in for music by Koo Koo Kangaroo and Brian Laidlaw and the Family Trade, comedy by festival cohost Julie Klausner, chats with cat video creators, and more. But it wasn’t until the videos started screening that the audience truly lit up. Missed the festival? Get a feel for it through a video collage by filmmaker Mark Fischer.