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50 Years Playing The Cat’s Cradle

Photo of the Cat's Cradle from behind the stage at a show.
Courtesy of Steve Balcolm
The Cat's Cradle is known for packing the house for benefit shows for organizations like The Be Loud! Sophie Foundation

At 17 years old, he was barred from entering the front door of the Cat’s Cradle, so John Howie Jr. instead got on the stage of the Chapel Hill club.

He was the youngest member of a college band. It was 1986 and the drinking age had just been raised to 21 in North Carolina. Music venues all over were struggling with the loss of revenue. It was in that slump that Frank Heath took over the Cradle and started booking bands with high school-age drummers. 

Credit Kevin Clark
John Howie Jr. opened for Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr. and Uncle Tupelo at the Cat's Cradle.

His now-multiple stages continue providing footing for the area’s young music scene. Whether as openers for assured crowd-magnets (in Howie’s case, Nirvana) or arranging showcases of up-and-coming artists, the Cradle has served as a springboard for now-national acts like Mandolin Orange and Superchunk.

Host Anita Rao highlights the venue’s history with Heath as well as Steve Balcom, a lifelong fan and the owner of The Splinter Group, a Carrboro marketing agency. The Cat’s Cradle continues celebrating its 50th anniversary with over 20 bands throughout the weekend of January 3, concluding Sunday, January 5 with John Howie Jr. and the Rosewood Bluff performing, along with Mandolin Orange, Southern Culture on the Skids and other friends of the Cradle. 

John Howie Jr. will also peform at 9 p.m. on January 18 at Monstercade in Winston-Salemand at 2 p.m. on January 26 at the Wake Forest Listening Room.

Grant Holub-Moorman coordinates events and North Carolina outreach for WUNC, including a monthly trivia night. He is a founding member of Embodied and a former producer for The State of Things.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist, host, creator, and executive editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health.