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Published: 2001/09/18
by Todd Justus

Hookahviile, Buckeye Lake Music Center, Hebron, OH- 9/2-4

Fall Hookahville 2001: We are not alone in the universe

A good concert or festival can leave you with a colorful spectrum of
experiences. Sometimes you laugh, sometimes you cry, sometimes you vomit due
to over-indulgence. Every now and then, you pull a hat trick and do all
three.

It's the increasingly rare show, however, that selflessly delivers the
affirmation that we as fans of improv rock so desperately seek – the exact
combination of elements and attitude necessary to transport us to that
plateau where every note is hit, every solo extended, and every smile
returned. Labor Day weekend at Buckeye Lake this year featured the full
package (I laughed, I cried, I puked) and went one better: it revealed the
existence of extra terrestrials (but more on that later).

Hookahville XVI seemingly had all of the stars aligned in its favor for a
return trip to Buckeye Lake Music Center. The torrential rains that plagued
the Spring shows at Frontier Ranch were only scheduled to make a brief
cameo, and Acoustic Productions' familiarity with the terrain at Buckeye
Lake ensured that Pat McCarville and his staff would be able to push all of
the right buttons to program another successful festival. Improvements to
the concept were quickly visible to those that arrived on Thursday night for
early-bird camping. The stage was slightly moved to create better views from
throughout the venue, and an expanded vending area was relocated from the
top of the hill to the border around the main stage area.

An angry storm front circled the skies as fans filtered in Friday morning to
set up camp, dropping the occasional shower and threatening more. The
weather relented in time for All Mighty Senators to take the stage at their
scheduled 3:30 start time. If you haven't caught this funk-infested band
from Baltimore, it's time to get on the bandwagon. The Senators got the
swelling crowd moving with creative subject matter (Chuck Norris and porn
stars, among other things) and Zappa-esque riffs from guitarist Warren Boes.
Lead vocalist and fledgling superhero Landis Expandis kept the beat from
front and center of the stage with his stand-up drum kit, while bassist Jack
Denning dropped bombs that would make Bootsy Collins proud. The kicking horn
section led by David Finnell made me hope they would bust into a heavy
version of Stevie Wonder's Sir Duke. The band even paid a visit to bluegrass
with an urban reading of Rocky Top. Although they are currently playing a
string of dates in Europe, the Senators will be back in the states at a
concert hall near you in the coming weeks.

As if to show approval for the first act of the weekend, the rain stuck its
head through the curtain of clouds in a heavy round of applause as Little
Feat set up stage. Little Feat has reemerged on the scene in recent years to
introduce themselves to legions of music fans that were too young to make
the scene when the band was in their prime. They showed no rust, however, as
they weaved through an excellent set that featured many of the Little Feat
classics: Fat Man in a Bathtub, Dixie Chicken, and others. They also paid
tribute to the Dead with a fun version of Tennessee Jed and a tease of Dark
Star that really raised the excitement level in the crowd. I was impressed
with the overall tightness of the band. Often, when musicians have been
playing some of the same songs for a number of years, they can get sloppy –
Little Feat played with a freshness that was appreciated. The highlight of
the set for most occurred when hookah's guitar-slinger Steve Sweney and
percussionist Johnny Polansky joined the band for a run of songs including a
cover of The Band's Rag Mamma Rag. For long-time Little Feat fan Sweney, it
was a moment he would cherish, as illustrated by his enthusiasm before,
during and after the set.

After Little Feat had mustered the power to blow the storm fronts away from
Buckeye, ekoostik hookah settled in for their first set of the weekend. The
band demanded attention straight away as Dave Katz strapped on the acoustic
for an intense Artic Song, immediately followed by Silver Train. Ed McGee
stepped up with a grooving Daffodils in Detroit before Katz leaned in with
the classic Backwoods Rose. hookah then did a masterful job with a set-up
punch of To Good Friends Past > Thief before delving into a meaty final
third of the set. Good Time turned Hookahville into a carnival midway, and
the crowd could sense something was up as the band was joined onstage by
Little Feat vocalist Shaun Murphy. What followed was one of the most intense
covers I've ever witnessed by any band. From the initial notes of The
Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter through the powerful climax, McGee and Murphy
sang with soulful inspiration that brought the house down. Murphy's backing
vocals were dead-on and she exited to wild applause. Although the Gimme
Shelter was strong enough to stand as the set closer, Little Feat's Paul
Barrere, Richie Haywood and Bill Payne joined in for Katz's Music to bring
hookah's first set to a close.

Set two of day one came on strong and didn't let up. McGee strummed a
pleasing Lady Vanilla before Katz got down and dirty with Change and
Octofrye, which dripped with ominous jams. It was after Octofrye, though,
that things really got interesting. Dusk had settled over Buckeye Lake,
bringing everyone's attention to Chris Kuroda's stylings on the lights. It
was apparent that Kuroda's work at Spring Hookahville was paying dividends
as he seemed more knowledgeable of hookah's material and blended his lights
into the very fabric of the music like we've seen him do so many times with
that catchy band out of the Northeast. The light show worked well with Bill
Horschke's stage design, which highlighted floating schwas as a backdrop.

When the band started on Thru Hiker, I was excited as this seems to be a
tune that I often miss. When Sweney leapt in on his first solo, things got
scary. Fans that observed Sweney in the jams of Thru Hiker caught a real
treat – a guitarist in his prime going full-throttle with no brakes. It was
here that Sweney truly became an intergalactic wizard, invoking alien forms
from light years away to descend on Buckeye Lake and demand an audience with
our leader. Coupled with Kuroda's mesmerizing lights, it gave the effect
that the mothership was touching down again and again.

Bassist Cliff Starbuck faced the unenviable task of following up the
greatest Thru Hiker in recent memory, and did so admirably as he weaved in
and out of two John Lee Hooker tunes (Let's Make It and Boogie Chillin') in
a bluesy tribute to the fallen legend. The Keepin' Time that followed
suggested that Sweney hadn't quite summoned enough of his Martian brethren.
In a traditional hookah favorite that generally serves as a Sweney showcase,
he rose to the occasion once again as his fingers feverishly did their dirty
work. It was otherworldly. Before anyone could really snap out of the
trance, the band closed with Spiders to round out an outstanding set.

A new tune surfaced as the first encore, Katz's Life is Good with Ordinary
Peoples percussionist Chris Beal joining Eric Lanese and Johnny Polansky on
percussion. Lanese, Polansky and Beal meshed together to provide a smoky,
almost New Orleans backdrop to the tune. A toe-tapping rendition of
Dragonfly closed the set and sent the crowd off to enjoy the pleasing
evening weather. It is shows by hookah on nights like 8/31 that make me wish
that their sets could go on forever.

A beautiful blue sky greeted Buckeye Lake on Saturday, making us
collectively wonder if the UFOs called down by Sweney the previous evening
where the product of a mass hallucination. John Bell of Widespread Panic
filled the first slot of the day to a large crowd. JB seemed very at ease
and genuinely happy to be there as he started in on a set that featured
Coconuts, Chilly Water and the crowd-pleasing Skinny Little Boy from
Cleveland, Ohio. My personal highlight was JB's eloquent cover of Hot Tuna's
Genesis, which I've never heard covered before. JB's presence seemed to
build a bridge between the hookah and Widespread factions in the audience,
and here's hoping that there will be more JB or WSP at future Hookahvilles.

The Wailers joined into the fun shortly after 4:20 pm for what was arguably
one of the most anticipated performances of the weekend. The Wailers
featured a diverse setlist that went beyond the popular "Legend" material,
tight musicianship and a political conscience as they played to the largest
non-hookah crowd I've ever seen at a Hookahville. The vibes that they put
forth extended throughout the campground and helped to reinforce the kind
spirits that were already freely flowing. The Wailers played a great set and
squelched any concerns that they were merely a tribute band rehashing
over-tread ground. Columbus artist Dan Mesner followed the Wailers for a
short, unbilled acoustic set that featured, among other things, a Psycho
Killer cover and a version of Sheila E's Love Bazaar complete with Ed McGee
joining in on the chorus.

Mesner's brief interlude helped set the table for hookah's festival-closing
show. As is the tradition at Hookahville, most fans milled around wondering
how hookah could top the previous night's entertainment. The band was up to
the task, creating a first set that sprinkled a few newer tunes in with
tried and tested classics. Godspeed > Raging River kicked things off before
the power guitar and quick changes of Moonstone. Three jewels in the hookah
crown soon followed. Schwa was played with the dizzying effectiveness that
hookah fans have come to expect, with Sweney hinting that there were more
little green men to follow in the darkness that would surround the second
set. Katz followed with the tender and rare Seagull before the full band
jumped in with the festival's anthem, Hookahville. After a brief stopover
with The Risk, JB unexpectedly joined the band to share vocals with Katz in
a cover of Blood Sweat and Tears' And When I Die. Once again, JB was
well-received and left many hoping for future collaborations. hookah closed
with a powerhouse version of Slipjig as if to say, "the show isn't over yet,
folks."

The entire venue was abuzz as hookah opened their final set with Ecstasy
before letting everyone take a turn on Riversong. As Starbuck laid out the
initial notes of the Sugar jam, many expected that they were hearing what
would be the meat and potatoes of the second set. It turns out they were
only getting started. Sister Sugar gave way to a vocal jam of My Old Banjo
before coming back into an insane jam of Sugar with more inter-planetary
work from Sweney. No Hookahville would be complete without Cliff giving us a
bluegrass number, and no one was disappointed when he laid into Rollin' in
My Sweet Baby's Arms. The band was quickly joined by members of Columbus
Kick Ass Brass for Bone, and they stuck around for an extended Float with
more sick jamming. By this time, the aliens called down by Sweney were
standing in front of the stage, twirling with the spinners, buying blown
glass out on Shakedown…I'm telling you in all honesty, IT WAS ON. After
madness like that, hookah seemed to know exactly how to put the finishing
touches on the set with the anthemic Loner featuring a nice Grass sandwich
in the middle for good measure.

Now if you've been to a Hookahville, you know that the Saturday night
encores are a spectacle not to be missed. They generally feature a cover or
two and the outrageous antics of drummer Lanese on at least one number. To
get things started, local legend and member of The Grinders Janette Williams
joined the band for a beautiful version of the Derek and the Dominoes
classic Bell Bottom Blues. As with the Gimme Shelter from the night before,
hookah played like they had been doing the song regularly for years (even
though they'd never played it before), and the performance really benefited
from the backing vocals by Williams. Up next, Shane Frye slid into Eric's
seat and all knew it was time for a treat. Dressed in a tutu complete with
pasties, Lanese led the band through an entertaining and surprisingly
rocking cover of Cheech & Chong's Earache My Eye. The band countered the
metal/rap fusion of Earache by sliding into a smooth cover of Chicago's
Beginnings with Columbus Brass joining in to supply the horn section.
Beginnings ended on a high note with every band member and several guests
including Frye and Beal getting it on with a percussion jam that featured
Eric and Johnny getting down at the front of the stage.

And before you knew it, it was over. Fans (and probably a fair amount of
alien life forms) partied through the night, and thanks to the diligence of
all, clean up was completed at Buckeye Lake in record time. Facts gleaned
from the experience:

1. hookah is playing as well as they ever have.
2. Hookahville continues to be one the best festivals in the country, from
both a music and operations stand point.
3. Steve Sweney is unreal…the truth IS out there.

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