Written by Gretchen Gregory – [email protected]
BOWLING GREEN — When Ekoostik Hookah’s new bass player walked onto the Clazell Theatre stage Thursday, he was admittedly a little apprehensive about his first performance in front of adoring fans – some of which have been following the band for two decades.
“I didn’t really know what to expect just because for the past two months I’ve been cramming as much as I could into my head, but I didn’t know how they played on stage,” admitted Phil Risko in an interview early this week. “When I first went out on stage I was tense, but by the second set I was a lot more comfortable.”
Standing in the same spot where Cliff Starbuck often stood, Risko played his first Hookah songs, flanked by Fred the Penguin – a cultural icon among some Hookah fans – over his right shoulder.
“All in all we thought it went as well as it could have gone,” he explained while strumming the strings of his bass guitar. “I mean there were a couple spots that I know I didn’t get perfectly down, but that was because I was cramming everything down in a short time. I listened to a couple of the recordings and you can’t really tell where I messed up, but I’m a perfectionist so it annoys me until I get it right.”
At 26, Risko first made a name for himself playing with Akron-based blues, funk and R&B band Greenlief for seven years. Last summer he joined The Recipe, performing with them through January, until he took over for Starbuck.
“Eventually in time I’ll walk around more and do a little bit more with fills,” he added. “Basically when I get it in my mind better.”
Because that’s the kind of style Hookah fans are used to seeing.
“I hope the change is for the better,” said an optimistic Chris “Wooster” Powers, a 10-year fan of the band who often volunteers with production and the Hookah Fans For Food booth. “Cliff really showed me the meaning of family, showed me a meaning of music I was unaware of. Cliff Starbuck is a Jedi just like the T-shirt says, a man who is loved by all and not by one.”
“I thought Phil did awesome,” said Stephanie Byersmith, who has been listening for eight years. “Honestly I would say though, if you never knew Cliff was gone, and closed your eyes, he was pretty spot on. I give him a lot of credit for the work that he has done so far and can’t wait to hear his sound mature with Hookah.”
New Year’s Eve at the Newport was a wild time for many, especially when Risko showed he has what it takes during a bass bonanza with Starbuck during “Sister Sugar.” Fans went nuts when the two traded off bass riffs throughout the song. In an epoch trading of the basses so to speak, Starbuck introduced Risko who showed his musical prowess, ushering in a new era for the band.
“I’m gonna do the best that I can do,” Risko explained. “I’m not trying to step into anyone’s shoes. I can’t fill Cliff’s shoes because Cliff’s the only one that can do that. I won’t be taking anything away. I want to see the music go on and keep it going for the fans.”