Story and photos by Curt Robbins

Labor Day weekend brought some spectacular old-school jam-bands and unusually cooperative weather to Central Ohio’s premier outdoor music festival, Hookahville. Host band and headliner Ekoostik Hookah celebrated 12 years of its homegrown semi-annual music festival with Hookahville XXIV.

Infamous for soggy weather, especially at the spring event, the latest Hookahville showered fans with only clear skies and the quality musical acts for which it has become famous. The fall 2005 lineup included classic jam-band Little Feat and the jazzy witch doctor himself, Dr. John. Fans were also given healthy doses of lesser-known bands, such as upstate New York’s eclectic Donna the Buffalo, Wisconsin’s the Smokin’ Bandits, New York’’s turntable master DJ Logic (who sat in with Hookah for a few songs during the festival’s first evening), and Virginia’s Hackensaw Boys.

In the past, this Midwestern outdoor music festival has boasted attendance as high as 15,000 herb-smoking, tent-toting fans. Hookahville has become Ekoostik Hookah’s own mini-Woodstock. “It attracts a wide audience,” said the band’s drummer Eric Lanese. “There are babies and there are grannies.” The family-friendly environment revealed many tie-dyed children, as well as some wizened veteran stoners who were self-medicating with the kind herb long before the average Hookahville participant was born.

The merch tent offered each evening’s Ekoostik Hookah performance on CD for $20. Made with inputs directly off the main mixing board, the sound quality on these discs is impressive and will leave any Hookahead satisfied. Few things can replace the thrill of a well-oiled stoner jam-band captured with studio-quality fidelity.

“Hookahville is the best party I’ve ever thrown,” Hookahville founder and band keyboardist Dave Katz says. “It’s just a big party. We put ourselves on a tremendous stage with great lighting and a top-notch sound system. We invest a lot of money to be sure Hookahville looks and sounds great.”

After headliner Ekoostik Hookah mesmerized the audience for nearly four hours of tight improvisational jams on the main stage, musical entertainment was provided on the Historic Bluegrass Stage until 4 am each morning. Bluegrass Stage acts included The Maji, Mike Perkins, Rattletrap, Vince Herman (who jammed on stage with Hookah during the second evening and acted as festival emcee) and Delyn Christian.

Approximately 4,000 jam-band fans attended the latest edition of Hookahville. For a festival that has had as many as 15,000 attendees in years past, the numbers could be viewed pessimistically. But, according to Katz, Hookahville is about more than the numbers or making money.

“The numbers were definitely down a little from what I’d like to see, but that’s been pretty consistent with most festivals,” he says. “Gas prices, the economy, and I think people have gravitated to Bonaroo, as far as this part of the country goes. That has taken up a lot of the money out of the average concertgoer. Most people can only go to so many [festivals]. I think that by having the grandest festival of them all, Bonaroo has disturbed every other one a little bit.”

Prior to Fall Hookahville, rumors circulated among fans that this would be the last Hookahville, or that it would be the final festival with the current band lineup. Band members, however, were quick to put such hearsay to rest. Prior to the festival, the band’s management distributed a message on its Web site officially announcing that Hookah would be taking a multi-month hiatus for the he first time in its 14-year history.

“We don’t have anything set in stone right now, such as a specific date to come back,” says Katz. “The plan is to take a few months off and just let everybody sit back and relax. We haven’t really discussed our future plans. But there is no truth to the rumor that there will not be another Hookahville.”

Currently, the band has at least five side projects, including One Under, an ambitious and funky sextet featuring Hookah poet/songwriter Ed McGee and gregarious percussionist Johnny Polansky.

Hookahville Herb Report Card
Of course, this progressive, open-minded festival tucked in the middle of conservative Bush-voting country wouldn’t be Hookahville without quality herb. Sour Diesel and Lemon G were among the most popular top-shelf strains making the rounds among Hookahville residents. A local strain called Dumpster, reportedly from the Ohio State University campus and sporting some Hawaiian genes, was recommended by the locals.

Throughout each concert, stealthy glass one-hitters and small pipes emerged, emitting the sweet smell of what is arguably nature’s finest aroma. Canadian tokers would be shocked by the lack of joints, but Hookahville fans are fond of their glass. However, few grinders or water bongs could be found.