Road warriors Ekoostik Hookah return to Jimmie’s Ladder 11
By Rusty Pate
Photo: Ekoostik Hookah will perform at Blind Bob’s on July 18
Ekoostik Hookah has become an institution on the Ohio live music scene. Formed in 1991 and weathering more lineup changes than most bands could handle, Hookah has built a following the old fashioned way – through constant touring and with an undeniable on-stage energy.
Drummer Eric Lanese has been with the band for more than 21 years. Only founding members Dave Katz and Steve Sweney have longer tenures. Lanese said the approach and process has changed over the years, even if it is hard to put a finger on just exactly how.
“It’s definitely changed in so many different ways,” Lanese said. “When you’re part of it, it’s hard to see because it happens so gradually. It’s like watching a kid grow up or something – when you’re there every day, you don’t really notice it. There’s songs that we play now where I listen to the old recordings and they’re almost unrecognizable. They breathe, they grow and they change over time, but we don’t notice it as much because we are right there in the mix of it.”
Part of the group’s indelible history and mythology revolves around their bi-annual music festival, Hookahville.
It began as a simple little show with like-minded friends in 1994, but has grown into one of the region’s seminal events, drawing large crowds and some of the most legendary names in the improvisational music scene. Those bands include the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Gov’t Mule, Leftover Salmon and Ratdog. It has also dipped into a multitude of other genres, with artists like Bruce Hornsby, The Wailers, George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic and Sam Bush taking the Hookahville stage in previous years.
In 2013, the event moved to a new home, Clay’s Park Resort in North Lawrence, Ohio, and was rechristened to simply The Ville. It came of age in an era that saw a new subgenre of music emerge: jam band. The name is perhaps purposely vague and has become an umbrella definition that draws in many seemingly unrelated styles of music. The average jam band fan might be just as into bluegrass, hip-hop or jazz as they are the Grateful Dead.
Lanese said Hookah definitely felt – and still feels – very much a part of that scene, even if defining exactly what that scene is today becomes increasingly difficult.
“I always had a hard time with ‘jam band,’” Lanese said. “The only band that’s not a jam band really is like a Broadway show or an orchestra; they’re reading music and playing it exactly the same. Most rock ‘n’ roll shows are going to open up a little bit. I think the scene has changed somewhat because there’s a whole new generation of people. The people that were seeing us back in the day; they’ve got kids and some of them grandkids at this point. It would be hard to expect the music people like now to be the same as back then. That whole vibe has changed a little bit.”
The band has expanded well beyond their home state of Ohio to play in more than 30 states, as well as internationally. While viewed primarily as a live act, they have sold more than 100,000 combined copies of their eight official releases, and a wealth of other live recordings exists due to the bands policy of not only allowing audience members to tape shows, but encouraging them to do so. That mindset has cultivated a loving fan base in many places, but Ohio fans certainly have embraced their hometown heroes. Lanese said the band always held Mick Montgomery and Canal Street in a special place in their hearts and Dayton was one of those shows that felt like it was in the band’s backyard.
“The fan base there was always a good mix of people from Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton,” Lanese said. “We could always go and have a great crowd. I’ve got fond memories of several shows in Dayton.”
The one constant in that world is evolution. Hookah exists in a space that not only nurtures growth and experimentation – it almost requires it. They have seen that scene morph and change with time. Fads have come and gone, audiences have expanded and receded – yet, Hookah remains, above all else, a group of guys that find solace in those few hours they get to play on stage.
Ultimately, that’s all that really matters to them.
“I think we still have the energy we used to have,” Lanese said. “It’s still a lot of fun to play.”
Ekoostik Hookah will play perform on Friday, July 18 at Jimmie’s Ladder 11, 936 Brown St. Also on the bill is Magic Jackson. Advance tickets are $15. The Ville festival will take place Aug. 29-Sept. 1 at Clay’s Park Resort 13190 Patterson St. Northwest in North Lawrence, Ohio. For more information, please visit ekoostik.com/index.shtml or thevillefestival.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.