Knee deep in mud, ear deep in jams, both Ekoostik Hookah and its fans gave every ounce of energy to enjoying this Memorial Day Hookaville.

The bands started 3:00 Friday afternoon with Donna The Buffalo and then the Radiators beginning the vibe. Hookah came on 7:30 for a very intense set in the twilight.

The first thing I noticed was the unique style of the stage, designed by Bill Horschke, with two flanking screens, and overlapping, lava-lamp style shapes decorating the border. My favorite part was the word “Hookaville” spelled out in branches at the front of stage left.

The crowd was into it, stompin’ and partying through the mud. The mood was set and when Cliff hit “Goin’ up the Country,” a Canned Heat cover. I couldn’t hold back any longer. I threw myself headlong into the fray for the last three songs of the set, “Risk,” “Hookahville,” and “Loner.” Together the crowd sank deeper and deeper into the mud and the exciting energy of the long awaited festival.

Erik Green, a long time Hookah fan, said he doesn’t really care for the song “Hookahville,” but ever since the first Ekoostik Hookahfest I attended six years ago it fills me with a yearning expectation of good times and a passion for campfires.

I have been attending Hookaville ever since number three, and it has rained almost every time. Never, however, has the weather caused such an accumulation of mud.

The second set built the momentum further as people shed the work week’s skin and gave themselves up to the fest. An intense cover of “Werewolves of London” followed a jam filled “Octofrye” into “Sweet Home Alabama,” and back to “Werewolves of London.” I enjoy Hookah’s own tunes as much as the audience seemed to, but I felt their interpretation of the classics stepped things up in terms of power and feeling. It was the first time this year that I really felt the band had their entire heart into the show, with the fans, as one big organism, grooving under the stars.

Cliff started Friday’s encores with “Me and My Monkey,” a Beatles cover, that was followed in succession with “Alexander I and II.”
Friday night went off without a hitch everyone partied deep into the night. Drum circles filled the vender’s area. On the outskirts of the circle were people juggling fire, or whipping torches tied to ropes around their bodies. The band members made their traditional runs around their Hookahville in golf carts. mayors of the town they created seven years ago.

Saturday morning brought the sun and hopes of dried campsites. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band seemed to blow the black clouds out of the sky with a cover heavy set that had more than 250 Hookaphiles stomping their feet in the congealing ground. Some took advantage of the good weather to hack, Frisbee or fly a kite.

The Dirty Dozen have played with everybody: Widespread Panic, Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis, The Grateful Dead, and Herbie Hancock. How could you not love them? In particular The trumpet, Efram Towns, and the trombone, Revert Andrews, stood out, as the band worked through a number of original tunes and covers of Stevie Wonder and P-Funk songs.

Willie Nelson opened with “Whisky River” at 3:00. I was especially impressed with his set because I am so unfamiliar with his work. I was expecting a very country feel, but he delivered a blues fueled southern rock that flowed very nicely. I would pay to see him again. I didn’t know most of the songs that he played, but I found myself dancing to them nonetheless.

Dancing a rain dance perhaps? The Radiators came on at 5:00 and were rained out halfway through their set. The thunderstorm released all the energy Hookaville had been pouring out for the last 30 hours right back onto our heads, and into our tents, with the mud just growing.

By 7:30 Hookah was trying to wait out the worst of the weather before coming on. Through knee-deep muck some 500 Hookaphiles lined up to see their boys. By 8:00 the band was playing, “Springtime Again,” with just a little irony.

After “Backwoods Rose,” Ed McGee thanked everyone for enduring the weather. Through three more songs the band failed to ignite enough fervor to evaporate the cold downpour. After only five songs Hookah retired the set.

As the rain stopped, more and more people poured into the stage area, alternately floating and sinking in the deep sludge. The area in front of the stage had become one large knee-high swamp from all the stomping, dancing feet with what looked like 8000 fans.

Hookah opened Saturday’s second set with “Raging River.” It reminded me of the last Dead Concert in Three Rivers, when the second set was showered from above and filled from within by the Deed’s rain song repertoire.

Cliff’s “John Henry” might have slowed the mood a bit, but a steady jam into “Slipjig Through the Poppies,” brought the mud splashing again. The tightly packed crowd created its own warmth and the fans persevered with twirling glow sticks and friendly vibes. Afterwards, Ed Thanked the crowd once again for the “Overwhelming sense of how good it can feel,” to be part of Hookaville.

The next song brought a huge surprise when a horn section bearing trumpet, sax, and trombone was introduced to the stage. I thought this was the best part of the weekend. The horns were a bit nervous, but filled what I felt was a necessary spot. Dave Katz mentioned that the horns were new and being tested, but I certainly hope they are a permanent addition to the lineup.

“Ecstasy” seemed to flow well into “Freedom” by Jimi Hendrix, but “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” and old cowboy tune, was a closer for the crowd. I needed help on recognizing the tune and it was an appropriate lullaby for the end of the festivities.

The band didn’t leave us unsatisfied though, closing this year’s Hookaville with “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” by the Who. As they played this classic tune, drummer, Eric Lanese, sang and swung across the stage on a rope like a leather clad, biker Tarzan.

The evening continued despite the terrain. The drum circle still grew inside the vendors area, if not as big as the night before. People were a little disheartened, but everyone seemed to have fun anyway. Most of the action took place inside key tents or camp areas with large fires.

I got a chance to talk briefly with Dave Katz who told me Hookah should be releasing a new album by the end of summer.

“It’s rained before,” I told Katz.

“Yeah, but the people have been really great about it,” he said.

The next morning the sun came up chilly, and it seemed like nothing at all could dry up all the water. Ponds had formed between the tent-speckled hills and the parking lots were absolutely impossible.
One van, filled with ten girls from Pittsburgh, had begun the push from deep in one parking lot, to the street on Saturday evening. I met them fifty feet from the street on Sunday at noon. Chris Chopp was overseeing tractors and Jeeps equipped with chains and hooks pulling the motorists out of the lot.

The energy was still apparent. Gangs of mud-covered fans were helping to push cars to the mouth of the parking lots. Straw was spread over some of the muddy exits to aid in traction. One car’s wheels spun so hot, as three men speckled with sludge were heaving into the back bumper, that the straw burst into flames. No one was hurt and the fire was put out in a minute or two.

Harlen Penn estimated seven thousand presale tickets and twelve thousand people in attendance.