Boots the Cat began exactly like any eight-piece, three-drummer, live Afrobeat-inspired band would begin: in an apartment, with a pet.
"It started with a four-piece rehearsal in my apartment in August," says Rheo Rochon, 28. "I lived with a cat named Boots for a couple of years, and I was sitting on the couch before the first rehearsal and Boots was all over my lap, and it just felt natural."
Seven months later, as the cold of winter gives way to sultry warmth, Boots the Cat is ready to purr on stage for the first time, with its unique take on brassy, energetic afrobeat closing out JazzEast's Out Like a Lion festival on March 31.
Despite living in a city that runs the breadth of the musical spectrum, Rochon, who's been playing music for half his life, couldn't find a band that quite shared his affection for the funky-fly, drum-driven, sound credited to Nigeria's Fela Kuti and revived by groups like the Budos Band.
"I wanted to play in a band like this, and soon after realized that I'd have to start it if that was going to happen," says Rochon, who plays bass in the band. "It's kind of a different sound for the city."
Rochon doesn't label Boots' sound---"I just call it party music"---but he said there's a great jazz scene here with "world-class musicians." And with the support that comes from that, they plan to record an album and play more venues. "There's not a lot of venues that cater to what we do, but I think what we do will resonate with a wide enough audience."
But they'll take it one paw at a time. After all, recalls Rochon, the band's namesake cat "just sat in a corner and stared" during their first few rehearsals. "We're just trying to play from our souls, so we're kind of entrenched in that and it's kind of hard to look in from outside," he said. "We'll have to see what the audience's reaction is at the first show."
Boots the Cat w/Uncle Fester - Saturday, March 31 at La Trinidade & The Listening Room, 5171 Salter Street, 10:30pm - $8