Story and photo by Mir Ali
The Labor Day and Memorial Day weekends in Columbus, Ohio for the past 10 years have been home to Ekoostik Hookah’s music festival, Hookahville. In the past, Hookahville has taken place at different locations around Columbus, including Buckeye Lake. In an effort to both further solidify their foundation and defray costs, the festival is now held at the band-owned Frontier Ranch in nearby Kirkersville, OH.
Since forming 12 years ago, Ekoostik Hookah have come to define the Ohio jam-band scene with their blend of bluegrass-tinged rock-jazz. Scheduled to perform two sets a day, they were joined at the Labor Day show by a thoughtful, eclectic mix of artists from genres as varying as funk (George Clinton), bluegrass (Railroad Earth), and zydeco (CJ Chenier). Paid attendance hovered around 10,000, the largest turnout ever for a Labor Day Hookahville.
While heavy rain was limited to Friday, the wearying fear of more precipitation mixed with a whole lot of mud made Saturday equally tiring. Salvation, of course, lay in the music, with three acts on Friday and four on Saturday supporting the two closing sets performed nightly by host Ekoostik Hookah.
The Shantee, a late addition and the only act other than Hookah playing both days, drew first blood with an extended folksy 90-minute set. CJ Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band played an abbreviated 30-minute set due to their late arrival, coupled with a thunderstorm that lasted for just over an hour. Chenier, on accordion, led the band through a high energy, dance-inducing performance.
Unfortunately a two-hour downpour prevented George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars from starting on time. The long, miserable wait was quickly forgotten as Clinton and his 20-piece band hit the stage and funkified the delighted crowd (despite sound problems that persisted throughout the hour-long set).
Due to the inclement weather, Ekoostik Hookah played only one set. They were joined onstage by Chenier and his washboard player for a few songs and played their whole set with great vigor.
Overnight campers endured a rainy night in Columbus. Some attempted to sleep in tents, while others conceded defeat and opted for their vehicles. I joined the minority and headed back to Columbus for a warm shower and a soft bed.
Day two of Hookahville started and finished just as day one, with the Shantee and Ekoostik Hookah serving as bookends. Two-year old bluegrass band Railroad Earth followed the Shantee with their take on American roots music. Railroad Earth closed their summer tour with a rousing performance and later joined Hookah on a few songs.
Tribute band Dark Star Orchestra are known for performing specific Grateful Dead shows from start to finish. However, for Hookahville, DSO offered an acoustic set of randomly-selected Dead songs. I would rather have heard another band who played their own songs, but the crowd response was definitely warm and enthusiastic.
The Steve Kimock Band’s instrumental jazz-rock preceded Ekoostik Hookah. After their set, Kimock traded licks with Ekoostik Hookah guitarist Steve Sweeney during the first of their two sets, which was highlighted by the aforementioned special guests. The second set featured strong musicianship as well as the transcendently fluid Chris Kuroda light show. Hookahville XX ended on a heartwarming note as each band member’s parents came out on stage to sing and dance for the evening’s next-to-last number.