Hookahville, Legend Valley Music Center,Thornville, OH – 5/25/-26
Photo by Frank Lanza
The 37th Hookahville festival, held Memorial Day weekend at Legend Valley Music Center near Thornville, Ohio, featured performances by Gov’t Mule, Yonder Mountain String Band, Oakhurst, and Cabinet, in addition to two nights of Ohio’s stalwart jammers Ekoostik Hookah and a host of regional acts.
Legend Valley is an outdoor amphitheater in an area of rolling hills and farmland 30 minutes East of Columbus, Ohio. The venue, known to Deadheads as “Buckeye Lake,” and scheduled to host the All Good Festival later this summer, is known best as the home of Hookahville, a biannual festival thrown by Ekoostik Hookah since the summer of 1993.
The festival began on Friday May 25th for “earlybird” campers, with performances by Shrub, Freekbot, and former Ekoostik Hookah lyricist John Mullins. The music really got going on Saturday, though, beginning with a buzz-worthy set by Cabinet. Amongst a bluegrass-laden lineup that also featured the likes of Oakhurst and Yonder Mountain String Band, Cabinet stood out with a unique sound that is at the same time traditional and danceable.
Yonder Mountain String Band returned to the Hookahville stage as a fan favorite, playing a daytime set to a crowded field. The set also included a special dedication to the local Sheriff’s Department, with whom the band has some Hookahville history.
The Saturday night Ekoostik Hookah show featured a special treat—-the appearance of relatively unknown songwriter Ryan Beke. Beke, an Ohio native now living in Boston, co-wrote several of the songs performed by Hookah’s Eric Sargent and Phil Risko. He joined the band onstage to play his song “El Bandito” as well as “Sure Cure for the Blues.”
Sunday afternoon was about keeping cool in the record-breaking heat. Legend Valley property owners Laura and Steve Trickle helped in this effort by creating a giant slip-and-slide on the gently sloping hillside near the stage. Kids and adults were allowed to take turns sliding down the 60’ slide.
Ohio reggae group The Ark Band played a mellow afternoon show that set the perfect relaxed vibe for keeping cool in the shade. However, there was no stopping the heat once Gov’t Mule took the stage. The band opened with “Railroad Boy” segueing into “Child of the Earth,” bringing the campers out of their hiding places in the trees to stand in awe in the stage area. The highlights of the set included a meandering “Effigy > HeyJoe > Effigy > Folsom Prison Blues Jam > Effigy” and a blistering “Thorazine Shuffle” to end. The band then delighted the Ohio crowd by returning for an encore with Ekoostik Hookah guitarist Steve Sweney on the song “Sco-Mule,” and then adding Hookah’s keyboardist Dave Katz on vocals for a cover of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Ohio.” This nod to the festival’s namesakes had fans yelling “Thank you, Warren!” from the crowd.
The surprises continued into Ekoostik Hookah’s Sunday set when Warren joined the band onstage for their original song “Black Mamba” and “Song and Dance,” a cover of the 1970s band Head, Hands and Feet. The sit-in surprises continued in the second set with a high-octane “Rollin’ in my Sweet Baby’s Arms,” featuring Oakhurst’s Adam Smith. (Oakhurst was seen EVERYWHERE around the festival, crashing campfires to play directly to the fans throughout the weekend.)
Hookahville’s big finale is always the surprise encores on the final night, a selection of covers chosen by each member of the band. Rhythm guitarist Eric Sargent took vocal duties on the Queen classic “Fat Bottomed Girls,” followed by Dave Katz singing .38 Special’s “Rockin’ Into the Night.” Both songs featured guest vocalist Amy Hughes from the band Screamin’ Peach.
The biggest surprise of the weekend was next, with the opening keyboard jam into the Phish classic “Possum.” Long-time Hookah fans were shocked and delighted when bassist Phil Risko started into the lyrics of the song, and the entire audience burst into a dancing frenzy. The band performed an enthusiastic interpretation of the song, with Dave Katz bouncing and jumping behind his keyboards. The show closed with the Deep Purple jam “Highway Star” with drummer Eric Lanese on vocals.
Fall Hookahville is scheduled for August 23-25 at the nearby Frontier Ranch Music Center. Artists scheduled to perform include Country Joe McDonald, Devon Allman’s Honeytribe, The Traveling McCoury’s, and Fareed Haque’s Math Games.