Review of Hookah in the Hills – Night 2

Poston Lake Music Park – Stewart, OH – 10/6/12

By Ryan Neeley exclusively for Appalachian Jamwich

Twenty one years is a long time to do anything, especially when it comes to playing in a band.  While some bands playing together this long obtain high accolades and honors, with hit records or playing before tens of thousands of fans in arena-filled stadiums, many are just as happy to throw it down with a thousand of their closest fans in their home state on a crisp autumn weekend – And it seems that Ekoostik Hookah is one of those select few regional bands who, after over 20 years in this tumultuous industry, can still “get it in” like they have for years in front of 25,000 at major festivals or partying with the thousand or so folks that braved the cold autumn air to check out one of Ohio’s most tenured and loved jambands this past weekend.

 In pulling into the gate, we were greeted by smiling faces and hugs.  Festival organizer Curtis Manley of Big Events Presents smiled and quipped, “Best turnout for Hookah in the Hills yet!” and from the looks of things, things were bumping!  Tents were scattered throughout the dense green lawn surrounding the lake, with fires dotting the hillside looked like stars beaming in the night sky.  We quickly got to our spot and saw Birthday Girl – in the flesh – Angela Keener of Claysville, PA – with her crew already in full celebration mode!    Of course, we joined in and headed down to the stage area to get ready for Hookah.

The boys came out and put on a fiery set, with a frisky Keeping Time, “People all together, reaching for the sky. Brothers and sisters we’re all trying to get that high.” And the crowd was kicking up grass and dust in front of the stage.  Lead Guitarist Steve Sweeney, who is known for his shredding abilities, didn’t let anyone down and effortlessly blew through each selection, every so often getting the opportunity to stretch out and wow the crowd with his ferocious psychedelic licks and chord progressions.   Other highlights of the set were a sing-along to Hookah-head favorite Ohio Grown –   “Sunset on the water, as I live in my daydream”– with singer/keyboardist/guitarist Dave Katz jumping from acoustic guitar on the gentle opening to ripping the keys apart and pouring emotion into the microphone during the meat of this thoughtful composition.

The second set would be more of the same from the boys, with old favorites getting the crowd fired up and getting down – But the highlight of the night would be the Three Dog Night cover Mama Told Me Not to Come, which was originally written by Randy Newman for Animals frontman Eric Burdon’s first solo album in 1966, with drummer Eric Lanese belting out lyrics to the crowd’s delight.. “That ain’t the way to have fun…Son.”

The band layers blues rock with funk and adds a touch of bluegrass that shines through in their live performances, which are polished yet just free-form enough to not come across as “radio rock”.  In speaking to original member/singer/songwriter Dave Katz, the weekend turned out nice, “The weather cooperated at least and we had a nice turnout,” he stated.   Although many in attendance were hoping for a reunion of sorts with some former members who had played earlier in the night, it just wasn’t in the cards on this evening.    But nobody who walked away from the performance could say that they were disappointed, as Ekoostik Hookah once again proved that they are one of Ohio’s favorite sons.