A guitar-filled weekend at the Maintenance Shop

Brendan Greiner

Good jam bands have a tendency to find their own niche of followers. That is no less true for the Ohio based quintet Ekoostic Hookah.

Formed in 1991, Hookah has created a name for itself as one of the best independent bands touring the nation. The band’s mix of folk, rock and blues blends into a style reminiscent of the ’70s, but in a style all their own.

But don’t think you can get a straight answer from the band on what type of music is its biggest influence.

“[As a band] we listen to everything from show tunes, to classical, to Zappa and everything in-between,” said vocalist and guitarist Dave Katz, from his home in Freddericktown, Ohio. “We like to say we’re influenced from everything we have listened to and everything we haven’t.”

That is certainly apparent when listening to one of Hookah’s two studio albums, Under Full Sail and the follow up Dubbabuddah. Both albums touch on the psychedelic based rock from two decades ago.

But to really get a taste of Hookah, its recently released double live album is a necessity.

“We don’t feel we’re a great studio band, we’re our own worst critics,” Katz said. “Our concerts are very interactive and full of good feelings and good messages. Our shows are generally lively, but we try not to get stuck in any particular genre of music.”

The lineup of Hookah has changed slightly in its six year evolution. With the recent addition of guitarist Ed McGee, Katz said the band is right on track, being tighter and better than ever.

Not only have they opened for such major acts as Widespread Panic and Jonathon Edwards, Hookah have also created its own biyearly music fest, aptly named “Hookahville.”

Each Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend, Ekoostic Hookah puts together this festival for two nights of music and camping, usually on private land so the band can have a little more “control over the authorities,” as Katz said.

Katz said the inspiration behind it was that the band had always wanted to play a gig in the woods. When the band first did the festival in 1993, just two weeks of advertising drew in about 800 people camping out on Katz’s property.

Each time they put on “Hookahville”, it grows a little more. This Memorial Day, the band anticipates about 8,000 participants.

As for not signing to a major label, Katz said Hookah has kept it that way by choice so the band doesn’t run into any barriers. “We like it that way. It keeps the control in our hands.”

Katz said as an unsigned act, Hookah probably have the best opening slot in the country. Major labels come to the band and ask if it can book a band to open for them. Even Dishwalla opened for Hookah just a short time ago, but apparently that show didn’t go over well with the regular Hookah-ites.

“They were all, like, ‘what the hell is this?'” said Katz. “[Dishwalla] was something they weren’t really used to.”

According to Katz, it’s probably safe to say that Ekoostic Hookah is the biggest band you’ve never heard of. Hookah even break the rules right down to the meaning behind its quirky name.

The phonetic spelling of acoustic is to emphasize that it is not an “acoustic” band, but rather it wanted to get behind the real definition of the word: The utilization of sound waves.

The Hookah part is just to show how some of the band members feel about the qualities of marijuana. “You can also say we’re ‘audible bong,'” said Katz.

Ames will have a chance to take a hit off the Ekoostic Hookah this Saturday with two shows at 8 and 11p.m.

Tickets are $4, $5 the day of the show. All ages are welcome.