"Come on and join our peaceful town," these words fluttered through my head as I departed for my second consecutive Hookahville and the 18th installment of this Bi-Annual festival. Not even gridlock, flight delays, or any other forces of nature were going to keep me from this much anticipated festival. Enter Buckeye Lake in Thornville, OH: a lush, spacious, and easily accessible venue that houses as much history as is does capacity. Weather was good, natives friendly, and good vibe was everywhere as Spring Hookahville 2002 had begun.
Railroad Earth, a fairly new up and coming band made up of musicians from Pennsylvania and New Jersey (including Todd Shaeffer of From Good Holmes) kicked started the festivities on Friday afternoon. Fresh off their new CD Bird in a House, the band had the incoming crowd drinking "Dandelion Wine" as the town's construction began. The tight blend of traditional bluegrass and Celtic roots rock seemed to be too much for mother nature as the mini-set was cut short by a storm, but not before everyone had a chance to see the capabilities of a band that is omnipresent in the festival circuit this summer.
By the time the sun had broken through the clouds, special guest Bela Fleck and the Flecktones had taken the stage. Bela, Vic Wooten, Jeff Coffin, and Futureman laid down a very zesty blend of Flecktation and improvisation, seemingly being the backdrop for a "Fleck meets Hoo" performance that contained a wide array of everything from hints of "Under Pressure" to "Dueling Banjos." Jeff Coffin's sax work was exceptional considering the fact that he had two horns on his mouth for a portion of the set. Futureman, straight from the year 2050, laid down a nice drum solo that sounded like three drum sets on stage, and Bela and Vic ended the set with a slap boxing exhibition while playing each other's instruments in the process. A great performance from some kind of amazing band.
As sunset approached it was time for our friends from Ohio, ekoostik hookah, to take the stage. Take it they did as they opened Hookahville up on a "Raging River," as swarms of Hookahvillians flowed down to the stage. "Godspeed" followed as rhythm guitarist Ed McGee's astounding voice covered the campground and filled the drying air. Hookah was then joined by Bela Fleck, Jeff Coffin, and members of Railroad Earth as bassist Cliff Starbucks led a cover of "Little Maggie," that gave everyone on stage an opportunity to share in the bluegrass groove. Cliff then dedicated "Highway 61" to Bob Dylan on his 61st birthday as the filled stage pulsated with talent. As the guests left the stage, "Chicago>Hookahville>Chicago" gave the percussion section (Eric Lanese and Johnny "Starcatt" Polansky) a workout and the first set ended with some of McGee's extremely poetic lyrical work contained in "Alexander I & II."
Nightfall had fallen upon the camp and bonfires lit up the venue as the ever-increasing energy in the crowd was coming to life. The second set began with the multi-faceted Dave Katz's singing "Backwoods Rose" and really set the hard rocking tone of the set. Then came one of my personal favorites, "Spiders," followed by a new Katz tune, that segued it's way into "Thief." The ending was tremendously harmonic and as the "Seeker of Advice" lyric hits you deep, it is a reminder of the continual journey to find the balance of intellectuality and spirituality that we so need. Katz then picked up the acoustic for "Silver Train," off Hookah's newly released studio album Seahorse, a country rockin' bluegrass jam that got the crowd in full swing and made it impossible to sit still. The encore was the psychedelic composition of "Slipjig Through the Poppy Fields." This gave the band the opportunity to really showcase lead guitarist Steve Sweeney's truly amazing guitar work, some of the finest I have ever seen. The man is extremely in touch with his music and really can make you feel the notes and not just hear them; I mean genuinely feel the music, what a great feeling!
The second day at Hookahville brought the sunshine out and dried up our saturated campground, but our spirits were still wet with elation from what we had experienced the night before. Buckeye Lake was alive and the ample vending and art gave the crowd a time for appreciation before Chicago's own Umphrey's McGee took the stage. A band that I had never had the opportunity to hear gave an outstanding performance including "Ringo," "Push the Pig," and a nice cover of Zeppelin's "The Song Remains the Same" with a nice tease of the "Rain Song" to boot. A good mix of rock, funk, and bluegrass made for a good early afternoon treat and got the late bloomers out an about.
It was then time for the world class mayhem of Medeski Martin & Wood from Brooklyn to go on and bring their unique organic brand of jazz-freak fusion to Hookahville that has taken the last decade by storm. A lengthy and extremely tight set, John Medeski, Billy Martin, and Chris Wood displayed their amazing improvisational and experimental showmanship and formed a virtual melting pot for fans to blend into as a cover of Hendrix's "Fire" came to life. MMW's fresh and evolving talent and ambiance was great to see and is available on there new CD Uninivisible and all over the country this summer, check it out.
It was then time for a truly special guest and a man that rarely makes festival appearances, Mr. Bruce Hornsby from my home state. Yes, Virginia. Joined by his band and including his nephew R.S. Hornsby, the band wasted no time and after a brief intro, "White Wheeled Limousine" was staring at the crowd with an extended jam that refracted sunlight to get the butter churning. After a dedication to "Boobalicous," Bruce picked up the accordion and squeezed out a grassy "Jacob's Ladder" while giving props to Telluride and getting the flow down. A true showman surrounded by a vast array of talent, Bruce looked very at home at Hookahville. He knew what the crowd wanted and felt the energy as "Sunflower Cat" hit home, a song influenced by the sampling of our dear departed Jerry. Bruce joined us for an encore before making his way, but in the process, forever engraining himself in the Hookahville heritage. It was great to see this legendary performer and I thank Bruce and his brother Bobby for taking the time to shoot the breeze.
Hookah took the stage a little after 7:00 and opened up with a song that I was grateful to hear. "Dragonfly" is a tune that Ed McGee wrote about the discovery and exploration of free will, a free will that is shared and held dear to not just everyone in attendance, but to everyone that has ever known that they are alive and they can do anything that they put their mind to. "Utopia" was a fitting follower and a good elucidation of the atmosphere. The newer "Another You" followed by the not so new "Old John Henry," "I've Been Down that Road," and "Ole Montana Red Dog." The title track off their new album Seahorse was next, a balladesque poppy jam salad. The first set concluded with "Schwa," a crowd favorite that I think presents the symbolism of the band while displaying history and the psychedelic explosion that we all love so much.
We were informed of a storm heading our way and the band sent Sweeney to change the weather pattern with his tool of choice in the middle of "Keepin Time," and the storm was pushed back by a screaming Les Paul. We were then reminded by Katz that "Life is Good" as the fairy tale-like "The Giant" followed by the new tune "Find Out." Our "Psychic Force field" was in full effect as the Hard rocking reggae sandwich "Lax" grooved on. The inevitable storm finally made its way to the middle of "Ecstasy," causing a brief break for the heavens to take their course.
The summer storm came to a screeching halt as the song was finished in entirety and the inundated crowd, "the cream of the crop," "the hardiest of the hardy Hookahville crowd," got in a continuous motion. The Hookaville Horn Section joined the band for cover of Billy Joel's "Big Shot" served with extra cheese, followed by "Ohio Grown" to pay homage to the home state that was housing our excitement. The band was then joined by Shane Frye from The Shantee on drums as Eric Lanese took on lead vocals for a very combustible version of AC/DC's "TNT." The force of the crowd was strong enough to persuade Eric to light an onstage fuse connected to the fireworks display that shot out backstage and filled the midnight sky with an array of magnificence.
No sooner had the fireworks ended had Sly and Family Stone's "Take you Higher" begun to take the crowd above the lingering gunpowder in the clouds. Cliff took the front and commanded the entire capacity crowd to sing along. His statement truly captured the essence of Hookahville, the band, the people, and a true communal gathering, "There is no I, only we." As the crowd participation came to a climax, screams of "Higher" shook the very foundation that we stood on. As if we couldn't elevate another inch, the band concluded their performance with Santana's "Soul Sacrifice." This was a grand exit to a performance that I can only describe as astounding.
I believe that people look for certain intangibles in life, things that can't be touched or counted. Spirituality, love, free will, togetherness, and self actualization are just to name a few. I can honestly say that we ascertained a great deal of these this weekend and for that we are forever grateful. We give our thanks to ekoostik hookah, Acoustic Productions, Railroad Earth, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Umphrey's McGee, MMW, Bruce Hornsby, and to everyone out there in Jam Nation that loves to go see live music!