Ekoostik hookah unsure about jam-band label

By John Benson

For nearly two decades, ekoostik hookah has been cherished as Ohio’s jam band with its unique blend of bluegrass, roots and bar-rock musical stylings.

However, ekoostik hookah vocalist and keyboardist Dave Katz isn’t exactly sure of what to do with the “Ohio’s jam band” tag that has seemingly followed the group since its inception.

“You’re probably right, and certainly with the longevity I suppose that’s true, but I don’t want to take the moniker of ‘Ohio’s jam band,’” said Katz, a Shaker Heights native who now calls Shalersville home. “People do say that, and it’s flattering, but I don’t want to take credit for anything. I think we’ve certainly been around longer than any other jam band in Ohio. And I mean there’s some great music that’s come out of Ohio.

“We are what we are. We have our niche and we’re really lucky to have it. We have great fans who have supported us for a long time. All we can do is hope it keeps going. I certainly wouldn’t compare us to anybody like Phish, either soundwise or popularitywise. We’re not that kind of band really.”

If anything, this band – Katz, John Mullins (guitar, vocals), Steve Sweney (guitar), Cliff Starbuck (bass, vocals) and Eric Lanese (drums, vocals) – is quite active, with 2007’s double-disc “Under Full Sail: It All Comes Together” being its latest studio effort. The group also is popular on the festival circuit, which, to be fair, is truly their own festival circuit.

In addition to its popular annual Hookahville festival, which at times has drawn more than 15,000 fans and has included the likes of Willie Nelson, Ratdog featuring Bob Weir, David Crosby, Medeski Martin & Wood, Umphrey’s McGee and dozens of others, the outfit recently booked its 13th annual Summer ekoostik hookah Weekend Party taking place Friday and Saturday at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park in Garrettsville. This year’s bill features headliners ekoostik hookah along with Buckethead, Bernie Worrell & Social Lybrium, The Charlie Wheeler Band, The Station, Moser Woods, Cherylann Hawk Band, Sultans Of Bing, Winslow and more.

“Summer ekoostik hookah is kind of a different animal from the Hookahville festival,” Katz said. “With Hookahville, we do this giant staging and giant lights set up and sound set up, and it’s a little bit more extravagant than the Nelson Ledges shows. But Nelson Ledges has the charm.”

One thing that’s tricky about ekoostik hookah is the group’s affiliation with the jam-band scene. While Katz makes sure he doesn’t offend the patchouli nation, he also doesn’t necessarily agree with the tag the band has garnered over the years.

“What I always say is people talk about jam-band scene, and to me the moniker jam band describes the crowd more than the band itself,” Katz said. “Like when you say jam band, you have no idea what that band is going to sound like. They could be a jazz band; they could be a bluegrass band or a psychedelic band. You just have no idea until you see the band. And when it comes to us, I mean our scene and our crowd is definitely a jam-band scene.

“There’s no doubt about that, but I consider us very song-oriented, and I think that’s what people can get out of it if they’re not familiar with jam bands or they’re like, ‘I don’t want to hear people jam all night.’ Well, we don’t do that. We do jam somewhat, but we play songs. We have great songs, and that’s what we’ve really built our career on is basically having great songs to jam to. So if you like good songs, good music, then hopefully you’ll like us for that, and then the jamming will enhance the experience, basically.”

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