That sounds like a regional band, typically. But ekoostik hookah not only packs clubs four nights a week, it also regularly promotes its own Hookahville outdoor festival dates. This spring, it headlined a show that included RatDog, Deep Banana Blackout, and Arlo Guthrie. This fall, it hosted CPR featuring David Crosby, Dickey Betts Band, and Alvin Youngblood Hart, among others. Still, the band does things the old-fashioned way: touring, touring and more touring.
With a "ridiculous amount of miles" on its van, ekoostik hookah takes leave of Columbus for four-day turnaround trips, each time netting more fans. And the jamsters, with their Midwestern spin on rock, jazz, blues, etc., are looking at hosting 18,000 at next spring's Hookahville.
Dave Katz and Ed McGee, the two songwriters of the sextet, spoke with POLLSTAR about how a band that started at a weekly jam session in 1991 has quietly built the biannual gathering. One thing that's different from the Phish or Widespread Panic festivals is these guys do three-and-a-half-hour slots on both evenings, with plenty of fancy lights and video screens.
Another difference is there's no promoter. With the help of its manager as well as its full- time festival coordinator, Pat McCarville, the band decides where the festival takes place, gets the right security and help from town officials, provides quality backstage services for its guest artists and even makes certain of such things as a "quiet campground" for families.
That kind of control has made ekoostik hookah both popular and an enigma. From its hesitancy to sign a major record deal to determining each festival's lineup, the band's decision- making has given it a feeling of self-sufficiency and a steady, healthy growth rate that is reportedly about to go big time.
"It's such an incredible feeling to take the rewards that you receive whether it's crowd size, playing a new, big venue or a successful Hookahville. We get to take that reward as our own," McGee said. "I think if you had some big label that was pushing you, it would be great to play in front of thousands of people all the time, but are they really your people? Where do they come from? Are they going to come back? You don't know. ... We're always sure and certain of what's going on because it's all our own work that's doing it."
It's not, as McGee said, that the group is a "hell-bent-for-leather-never-will-we-sign- anything kind of a band." Manager Jeff Spencer told POLLSTAR the members wish to have artistic control, and a recent trend in record contracts may make the band more amenable to a deal. In the meantime, CD sales, without any major record company or distribution support, have reached 80,000.