As summer nears to a close and the festival season begins to wind down, it’s good to know that you can still “follow in the footsteps of Uncle Bill, and come to Hookahville!” Hookahville is a festival so diverse in nature that it can create a mixing bowl rich with guitar gods and Grammy winners, interstellar space travelers and Santa Claus. It retains the ability to do this not once, but twice a year and do it with the promise of “No Hassles or Bad Attitudes.”

Returning to it’s new home Frontier Ranch in Thornville, OH - a modest venue with ample space and easy accessibility - the festival kicked off on Saturday afternoon with the world renowned Leo Kottke. Playing tunes on his 12-string Taylor and reminiscing about old friends like Doc Watson and Tammy Wynet. Kottke is a seasoned performer whose ability on the guitar may only be matched by his ability to tell a story and identify with a crowd. Look for Leo to be touring with Phish bassist Mike Gordon this fall.

Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder took the stage with the sun high in the sky on a perfect day for music. The band played an extended set and delivered their brand of “Bluegrass in your face with an attitude.” The “Real Deal” hit home with “Uncle Pen," “Pig in a Pen,” “Little Maggie,” and “Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms.” An extremely conversational and thoroughly polite performer, Ricky gave Hookahville a top-notch performance. From his days with The Stanley Brothers as a teen, to the legendary career that followed; Ricky Skaggs is a complete professional. Surrounded by tremendously talented individuals, one of which being Cody Kelly, whose acoustic guitar work was superb, with blazing speed and accuracy. It was truly a special treat for a Bluegrass freak.

As dusk settled over Frontier Ranch, Ohio natives ekoostik hookah took to the stage. They opened the 19th installment of Hookahville with "Through Hiker">"Amazing Grace">"Through Hiker," and encouraged the large exuberant crowd to “follow our dreams.” Gracing the set was a song by rhythm guitarist Ed McGee, “The Risk,” that illustrates the taking of chances in life and exploring free will. It does not however forget to earmark the sullenness may ensue due to these risks, but it is better to try and fail than never to try at all. The band reinstated the fact that they are “Ohio Grown” before welcoming very special guests Ricky Skaggs and Cody Kelly to the stage for a couple numbers. They performed “Highway 40 Blues” and hookah’s “Keepin Time” in which lead guitarist Steve Sweney, Skaggs, and Kelly, took turns trading solos back and forth. It was definitely a sight to see these gentlemen giving it all they had in true genre-bending generation bridging fashion.

The second set kick started with “Change,” giving a shout out to the percussion section. “Thief” followed and contained a masterful guitar riff that is very serene and changes the tempo of the song almost enough to give it a life. Drummer Eric Lanese took on lead vocals for “Highway Home” off of the bands new album Seahorse. The band performed “Raging River,” a Dave Katz original that I feel signifies connectivity and an unyielding togetherness that the band feels when they are on stage. The encore was “Sister Sugar.” Sandwiched in between was a rendition of Sly Stone's “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" that fit in aptly with the bass heavy song. A nice touch that would only serve as a pre-cursor to what was to follow.

As the second day began, there was not a cloud in the sky and the temperature was just right. It seemed the festival had grown exponentially overnight as the peaceful town’s construction continued. When the music began I saw the venue take on a transformation of sorts from Frontier Ranch to Funktier Ranch as Robert Randolph & The Family Band’s, highly combustible funk-blues-rock explosion took place on stage. I had never seen this band, and they blew my mind. The set included tight original songs entwined with pieces of Jimi’s “Foxy Lady” and Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.” Randolph can really get a crowd into the music, especially during “ I Don’t Know What You Come to Do.” With consummate enthusiasm and slide guitar ability that is unparallel. Randolph and family brought Dr. Funkenstein into the sunshine and left their mark on the Hookahville stage.

We then were visited by a flashback from the 70’s as WAR took to the stage. Although Leroy “Lonnie” Jordan is the only actual member of War still in the band, they delivered a polished performance. Crowd favorites including “Low Rider” and “Why Can’t We be Friends” showed new light in the set. I always enjoy the aspect of longevity and Jordan displayed that as well his ability to still bust a move on stage without herniating a disk.

Next up was the six-piece funk ensemble from New Orleans - Galactic. Although the set seemed a little short and the band seemed to lack a little gusto, the performance was enjoyable. I was extremely impressed with Stanton Moore’s drumming ability and the fervor that made him jump out of his chair and beat the skins with baked potato appeal.

Hookah again took to the stage Saturday night. Opening up with the ever-significant “Schwa,” “Dragonfly,” and a new Katz tune “Back Seat.” The light show was remarkable as Veteran Phish light man Chris Kuroda did a great job all weekend long. The band invited WAR members Marcos Reyes and Aaron Aptor on percussion, and Tetsuya Nakamura on harmonica to join them on stage. Also joining the band was Kevin Oliver on guitar, Stanton Moore on drums, and the Tower of Shower (Shawn Behanna on sax, Mike O'Herron , Ansyn Banks on trumpet, and Bryan Casey on trombone). Bassist Cliff Starbucks led the all-star jam through renditions of “Let’s Make It”>”Boogie Chillun,” one on my favorites from the late great John Lee Hooker. The extended jam ended the set and exemplified how well the band can make their guests feel welcome on the Hookahville stage.

The second set began with “Godspeed.” Dave Katz grabbed an acoustic guitar for “Loner” and the new tune “Sheepdog,” a new bluegrass ditty that got the immense crowd in a continuous motion. Voodoo Soul guitarist and long time Columbus native John Boercholer joined hookah onstage. They performed “Another You” and “Life is Good” together. John and Steve Sweeney really fed off of each other's energy, and from what I gathered there is a real synergetic relationship between the two and it showed on stage. The band ended the set with the appropriate “Music,” as the horn section was added.

The band returned again for an encore that ritualistically was loaded with cover songs. Not to disappoint the band began with The Eagles “Hotel California,” and really nailed the song. An extremely difficult song to cover, the band did an excellent job and even had the fortitude to add a little hookah into the version. The Tower of Shower joined the band for KC and the Sunshine Band's “Boogie Shoes” as everyone in the crowd commenced in putting theirs on. Next was The Allman Brothers’ “Hot Lanta,” and I can really see this influence in the band as the generations fused together to form a huge steamrolling freight train of a cover tune. As if this were not enough, Shane Frye from The Shantee traditionally joined the band and Eric Lanese took on lead vocals for a cover of Blue Cheer’s “Summertime Blues.” Ending the extended encore with a guitar-smashing cure and sending another Hookahville into the history books.

Hookahville’s diversity is what I think sets it apart from any other festival. It is a mosaic of culture and a community rich in individualism. The band and the music have intimate ties to the state of Ohio and show their gratitude for its majesty. The music never seems rushed and is far from disposable. I want to thank ekoositk hookah and Acoustic Productions for continuing to put on the one the best music festivals I have had the pleasure of attending. To all of you out there in Jam Nation, I urge you to visit Hookahville if you get the chance, and to always Go See Live Music!

Scott Rosner
JamBase Midwest Correspondent
Go See Live Music!


[Published on: 9/8/02]

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