Memorial Day weekend of 1994, Ekoostik Hookah singer-guitarist Dave Katz decided to throw a party at "the Farm," a place that he describes as "some land I lived on in Fredericktown, Ohio"
"We just wanted to play out in the woods," he says of what became the first Hookahville festival. "We put out the word that we were having a little party, and 800 people showed up. We had such a good time, we decided to do it again over Labor Day weekend, so we moved it to Songbird Center in Bellville. That one got a little bit bigger, and we just wanted to keep it going and throw these festivals on the holiday weekends."
The festival has moved around for what Katz says is "various reasons." Around 1996, Katz and his Hookah pals put the fest on in the Columbus area and used a couple of different venues. During that time, people like Hot Tuna guitarist Jorma Kaukoken and folk icon Arlo Guthrie have sat in with the group. Former Allman Brothers guitarist Dickey Betts also played with the band during a performance.
"We've been lucky enough with the way we structured the festivals to have some big names open for us, and because they're opening, it's appropriate to have them come up and play with us. We have jammed with some people we grew up listening to and admired as musicians so that's been really great ."
This year, the guys have rechristened the festival the Ville and moved it to Clay's Park Resort in North Lawrence.
"We decided to call it the Ville because it's more marketable to the masses," says Katz. "The people who have always gone to Hookahville will know it's Hookahville. We want to go back to the way it used to be before there were all these mega festivals. We want it to be fan and family friendly. Our original fans are older and we want them to bring their kids out and feel comfortable doing that. There's plenty of stuff to do and room for you to get away from the festival scene. You can go to the water park and swim and play put-put golf. There's paintball. It all adds to the experience. We always had family camping areas and we're hoping this switch in venue opens it up to a wider variety of people."
The musical acts all play what is loosely known as jam band music. And Katz says the line-up is particularly strong.
"Zach Deputy is an amazing musician," says Katz. "He's a great player and singer. In the past, he's sat in with us and I hope he does that again because he really tears it up on guitar. The Wood Brothers are exciting. They're doing the early-bird show on Friday along with Fletchers Grove and Rumpke Mountain Boys, who call their music trash grass. They're great guys and great musicians."
Katz also recruited moe., the veteran jam band from upstate New York, to come down to play the park.
"They're stalwarts of the jam band festival scene," Katz says. "We played with them years ago but then their festivals were on the same dates as ours. We're looking forward to that. We'll be meshing sets and commingling of the bands going on. that should be really exciting. We don't have it all planned out. We'll get together and see what happens. Both bands are plenty seasoned in this type of thing. It'll be fun."
Because the event takes place at Clay's Park, the event isn't just about the music. On the Ville website, there's a separate tab for "fun stuff to do." That includes Cosmic Glow-In-The-Dark Disc Golf Course, Late-Night Silent Disco and an All-Night Bluegrass Stage.
'The all-night bluegrass stage is the second stage itself," Katz says. "When we're done on the main stage — we finish at midnight — that stage will be going on. It might stop but it'll go on for a long time after we stop. We added Floodwood to the bill. That's a side project for two guys from moe. They'll do the late-night set on the bluegrass stage on Sunday night along with Rumpke Mountain Boys and Blue Moon Soup. It'll be a big collaboration and a lot of fun to watch. It's in the woods and has areas where you can dance and benches where you can chill out."
The collaborative nature of the festival suggests the extent to which the band has become a catalyst for bringing together acts from Ohio and beyond.
"When we first started no one knew who we were, but the reality is that when we started Hookahville in 1994, this part of the country didn't have musical festivals," Katz says. "We grew it to a big size. A lot of people who worked there started their own festivals that grew into Bonnaroo and they stemmed out of our festival. Now, our festival is smaller and the band isn't quite as well known, but people know Hookahville and they know the Ville. They know what we do. We've been doing it so long, we're good at it. Bands from the Ohio area know us. A lot of them would like to go the same route. We're lucky enough to have loyal and solid fanbase. We can put people in front of people. We try to do that when we can."