An Interview with Ekoostik Hookah's Dave Katz
Formed in 1991 in an Ohio basement, Ekoostik Hookah is one of the country’s most original and energetic acts due to the band’s improvisational psychedelic rock, blues, funk, jazz and bluegrass. Having played more than 30 states under their eight releases and sharing the Hookahville stage with national acts such as Ratdog, Little Feat, David Crosby, Keller Williams, Galactic, Umphrey’s McGee, Steve Kimock and more, Ekoostik Hookah has inspired bands around the country and ignited the festival scene to what it is today.
M&M Entertainment got the chance to talk with keyboardist, vocalist and guitarist Dave Katz on the upcoming Hookahville 50, their most recent album Halcyon, Katz-n-Jammers, and his dream venue to perform at.
M&M Entertainment: How did Hookahville get started, and did you ever imagine you’d be getting ready for the 50th Hookahville?
Dave Katz: It got started in 1994, and we were sitting around just talking about things and we thought it would be pretty cool to play outside in the middle of nowhere haha. At that time there weren’t that many festivals in this part of the country at all. But I happened to live on 18 acres of woods about an hour north of Columbus, Ohio and thought we’d give it a shot and tell people we’re playing and see what happens. Well about 800 people showed up and it was pretty cool, that was on Memorial Day weekend. We figured we’d try Labor Day weekend and moved it to an actual venue with a stage and then more people showed up. We just kept it going on those two weekends and every year it got bigger and bigger. It got to the point where it was the biggest festival east of the Mississippi and people were coming from all around the country and having some big names play with us onstage. Eventually, people caught on and a lot of other festivals crept up all over the place, not just bands having them but huge corporations, and it kinda drowned us out a bit. The attendance of Hookahville started to go down as these huge festivals came about. But we kept it going, it was a fun thing with all of our hardcore fans, family and friends. It’s lasted through up until now, and here we are at number 50.
So would you say that you guys starting Hookahville kind of ignited the festival scene that’s so prominent today?
Well there wasn’t that many festivals throughout the United States at the time. The festival scene was not nearly like it is today. I can’t sit around and take credit for it or anything like that, but the facts are there. When we were doing it, nobody else was doing it. Now there’s a lot of festivals so I guess you gotta fill in the blanks as far as that goes. I think Hookahville had a huge impact on the festival scene, probably not only east of the Mississippi but also around the whole country.
That’s truly amazing, good for you guys! You’ve had quite the lineup of big names playing at Hookahville throughout the years such as David Crosby, Ratdog, Arlo Guthrie, and Willie Nelson. If you could pick any musician or band to play at Hookahville, dead or alive, who would it be?
Well I mean I think it would be easy to say that anything that had Jerry Garcia in it would’ve been really cool hahahaha. That would be kind of a no-brainer. I have a lot of favorite musicians, but it’s just that they were the band where everything they did was kind of a festival. We had Ratdog play at Hookahville, and that was really cool. Had Jerry Garcia lived longer, I don’t know if it would’ve been possible haha, but it would’ve been really cool to have him.
Absolutely would’ve been an amazing time. What can fans expect at this year’s Hookahville?
It’s a lot of Ekoostik Hookah, anybody who is a Hookah fan from any era of the band, this is the show you want to come to. We’re going to be doing a set that covers the era when John Mullins was in the band, Saturday night we’re going to be doing what a lot of people would say is a long-awaited reunion show when Ed McGee was in the band with the full lineup from that time. And then we’ll also be doing two sets of us as we are now.
So we’re getting some variety at this year’s Hookahville. I think it’s awesome you guys are going to be playing Ekoostik Hookah tunes in each “era” of the band. How do you guys play differently when you do each of those unique sets?
It really is just a difference of how the songwriting goes. We’ve always played as Ekoostik Hookah, I don’t think that throughout the years we’ve played very differently. I’m sure we sound different, from different members who bring their own flare to the sound of the band. But all in all, it is Ekoostik Hookah. Over the years we’ve lost and changed members, and of course when that happens you get some people who don’t want to come to your shows anymore because it’s not the way it was. I find that after some time off, they may come back for whatever reason and see a show and realize that it’s still Ekoostik Hookah. It’s not just the music but also the vibe that is there while we’re playing. So we’re going to playing songs that people don’t hear us play anymore at Hookahville. Everything is going to be exciting in its own way, even though it’ll all be similar because it’s still Ekoostik Hookah.
Exactly, and I think that’s a concept that a lot of fans do understand. Bands do go through phases with different members, but ultimately the way a band plays and the atmosphere they create stays the same. That’s going to be exciting to hear the different sets you guys play at Hookahville. Can you tell me a little about the songwriting and recording process for the band’s latest album, Halcyon?
So we did for this album, but we never have, wrote songs specifically to be on a recording. We’ve always geared our careers around playing live. When the recordings happen, they just happen. Especially the last few of them, they weren’t even brought up by the band but by people who put us in the studio and wanted us to put out the recordings. The writing is just a natural process coming out of myself and Eric Sargent. I believe there’s a song on there by our drummer, Eric Lanese, and one from our old bass player, Phil Risko who we replaced just this year. The recording was actually a project for the engineer Robert Rutherford. He had to do this for his schooling, and he’s a good friend and a longtime Hookah fan. He needed a project and a band and we were happy to do it. It came out of the blue and it turned into a great album. I think it’s probably the best sounding studio recording we’ve put out.
Yeah and that’s awesome that you guys weren’t even planning on releasing another album and it just sprouted up. I wanted to know a little about your side project, Katz-n-Jammers. How and why did you start that project?
I always like to diversify what I do musically and I write songs and not all of them are necessarily Ekoostik Hookah songs. I had a bunch of songs written and wanted to play them live. I put together a band, and there’s been a lot of different people in that band as well. We play very rarely, maybe a couple times a year. But I have backup singers, a saxophone player, at times I’ve had a full horn section. Not only do I do non-Ekoostik Hookah songs, but also do some Ekoostik Hookah songs that are reworked to fit that band, so they’re played differently. It’s a fun thing for me to do. I don’t put a lot of time into it, but it’s always a blast every time we do it.
That’s awesome that you can play around with that. When did you start that?
I have no idea hahaha. I would think it would’ve been sometime in the early 2000s, but I honestly can’t remember.
Do you have any shows booked for Katz-n-Jammers for the last half of 2018?
Right now it’s only one, it’s in December in Fostoria, Ohio. You just have to find Fostoria haha. It’s not like a mecca or anything like that. It’s a very small town, but it’s at a cool venue called Venue 18.
I’ll have to try to catch that one! Talking about venues, if you could play at any music venue in the world, where would it be?
There’s a place called Caesarea and it’s in Israel. And it’s right on the Red Sea, and there’s an amphitheatre from the Roman times. I visited it once a long time ago, and I know they’ve had shows there. It’s really cool, the backdrop is the Red Sea, so when you’re seeing a show there, you’re looking at the stage with the Red Sea behind it. It was built in one of the days of the Caesars so they would have plays and performances there. It’s perfectly acoustic, when someone says a word you can hear it throughout the whole place. So I would love to play a show at the Caesarea Amphitheatre.
Wow! That sounds beautiful. I’ve never heard of that before. So I guess Ekoostik Hookah is gonna have to play a show there haha.
Haha well yeah that would take quite the promoter. But that would be a real fun time.
Maybe almost as fun at the 50th Hookahville.
Yeah we really can’t wait. These will be the types of sets that Ekoostik Hookah may never do again. For people who were fans of the older lineups, you’re going to get a chance to see that. Obviously John Mullins won’t be there, because he passed away last year. But Nat Reeb is more than capable to take his spot, his voice is very similar to John’s. So if you want to hear John’s tunes the way Hookah did them, this is the one to go to. If you want to see this reunion show with Ed McGee, Cliff Starbuck, Johnny Polansky, with myself, Steve Sweney and Eric Lanese this may be the only time to see it. It’s going to be a real great time and we can all celebrate 50 shows together.
We can’t wait for it! Thanks again for talking with me! We’ll see you in Bellefontaine, Ohio on Labor Day weekend!
Hookahville 50 will take place at Zane Shawnee Caverns in Bellefontaine, Ohio from August 31 to September 3. You can buy your tickets here.
*Photos by PhatsPhoto