This past weekend, for the fourth year in a row, the Winter Werk Out brought The Werks and their fans together at The Bluestone in Columbus, OH for some wintertime festivities celebrating music from Ohio and across the country. This year’s Winter Werk Out was special, however, as it saw The Werks take the stage together for the first time since the 10th edition of their landmark summer gathering, The Werk Out Music & Arts Festival, in 2019.
For the past six months, Rob Chafin, Chris Houser, Dan Shaw, and Jake Goldberg have embarked on different projects both old and new, focused on family, and gotten some much-needed rest and relaxation. After watching them play two nights in a row, it can be said for certain that the hiatus was one of the best things to ever happen to the band. Here are some standout performances from this year’s Winter Werk Out.
Dizgo – Weird Music Stage – 2/7/20
While Dizgo may not have been the first band to play on the Weird Music Stage Friday night at Winter Werk Out, they were tasked with being the lead-in to headliners EOTO and The Werks, who would play the next two respective sets on the Main Stage. Dizgo, however, was certainly up to the responsibility as the Bloomington, IN-based jamtronica outfit got the party rolling with their own patented brand of electro-groove funk. Even though the group is a modest trio, each member pulled double duty with a myriad of keyboards, pads, a saxophone, and more. As the band fluctuated between head-banging jams and playful grooves—personified by its cover of “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas—Dizgo proved itself to be the perfect band to get the party started.
EOTO – Main Stage – 2/7/20
Before The Werks came to the stage, the crowd enjoyed a set by EOTO, the improvisational electronic duo comprised of Jason Hann and Michael Travis of The String Cheese Incident. Travis opened the one-hour set by trying to explain EOTO’s system of looping live instruments into electronic grooves, but to the layman, it sounded like a bird trying to explain how it flies. As Hann and Travis toed the line between heavy bass drops and down-tempo rhythms, they once again proved themselves to be one of the most authentic experiences in improvisational music.
EOTO – The Bluestone – 2/7/20 – Full Show
The Werks – Main Stage – 2/7/20
The moment finally arrived after just over six months of waiting. The Werks were back, and they made that immediately clear to the crowd as they opened the set with “The Boys Are Back In Town” by Thin Lizzy. They got right down to business with the brooding instrumental opus “Flatiron” from the forthcoming Sonder album, throwing the crowd into early hysterics with the fan-favorite jam. The Werks also honored their roots with some classic live staples including “Burnin’ Groove” and “Find Your Way”, the latter of which saw significant sonic exploration with a Dan Shaw-led synth improv as the band felt out the room and shook off some cobwebs.
The band then brought it back to the modern era with “Into The Moss” from 2017’s Magic. During the improvisational middle section of the song, they seamlessly segued into the instrumental portion of “Working Man” by Rush, where Rob Chafin paid homage to the late Neil Peart as he pounded out the rhythm until eventually segueing back into “Moss”.
The band continued to mix the new with the old as they went back to the Chris Houser-led “Going Round” followed by “Not Alone” and “Moonset” to close the set. The band returned to the stage following a thunderous clamor for an encore to treat the crowd to the carnal heaviness of “Onslaught” from the band’s self-titled 2012 album. As The Werks departed from the stage for the final time of the night, there was a collective sigh of relief as the fans knew that both they and the band would return the next evening.
The Werks – The Bluestone – 2/7/20 – Full Show
Setlist: The Werks | The Bluestone | Main Stage | Columbus, OH | 2/7/20
Set: The Boys Are Back In Town (Thin Lizzy), Flatiron, Burnin’ Groove, Find Your Way, Into The Moss > Working Man (Rush) > Into The Moss, Going Round, Not Alone, Moonset
Barefuzz – Weird Music Stage – 2/8/20
Saturday night’s lineup was dominated by a showcase of the Ohio music scene. It’s something Rob Chafin referred to as “keeping it homie” in a recent interview with Live For Live Music. The circle of Ohio acts began with Barefuzz, the Columbus-based jam quintet that has been steadily rising through the midwestern improvisational scene. 2020 is shaping up to be a big year for Barefuzz, who will make their second trip to Summer Camp Music Festival this summer and recently signed on to be managed by Chafin.
Having seen this band play in bars throughout the state over the past couple years, their presence in The Bluestone’s upstairs hall—beside grandiose stained glass windows—seemed to signal yet another milestone in the group’s burgeoning career. The band filled the room with people as well as sound, bolstered by the rhythm section of drummer Derek Petrucci and auxiliary percussionist Jason Weihl. Barefuzz busted through a medley of originals from their debut album, Extended Play, while also paying homage to their inspirations with a cover of Traffic‘s “Feelin’ Alright?”.
əkoostik hookah – Main Stage – 2/8/20
Next up in the cycle of Ohio acts was əkoostik hookah, the prolific Midwestern jam band that formed in Columbus nearly 30 years ago. Just as The Werks and The Werk Out have been a staple of the current wave of jam music, hookah’s bi-annual Hookaville festival—currently gearing up for its 53rd gathering this spring—was the precursor to the scene that fans enjoy today. Through many years and lineup changes, əkoostik hookah has remained a tour de force in the close-knit community of Ohio improvisational acts, helping launch the careers of many of today’s prominent midwestern bands—including The Werks. By far the oldest act at Winter Werk Out, əkoostik hookah laid down a medley of blues jams that showed they were in no rush because, at their age, they have nothing left to prove to anybody. Seeing hookah still throw down onstage after all these years inspired hope that The Werks can keep it going for many years to come, as well.
əkoostik hookah – The Bluestone– 2/8/20 – Full Show
The Werks – Main Stage – 2/8/20
For their final set of the weekend, The Werks came right out of the gate with the heavy-hitting instrumental “No Prisoners” from the forthcoming Sonder album. After that, they once again continued the ongoing mix of new music and nostalgia with the classic “Duck Farm” as they displayed a crisp, clean, tight sound that showed the band had shaken off all the dust. Next, The Werks welcomed up former bassist Dino Dimitrouleas and hookah guitarist Steve Sweeney for Dino’s tried and true “Cruel Stone Blues”. During the jam, Sweeney and Chris Houser shared a beautiful back-and-forth that, rather than being a guitar duel, saw the musicians create one cohesive narrative between their two instruments. Following “Cruel Stone Blues”, the band bid farewell to Sweeney and Dino and welcomed back Jake Goldberg to his faithful post on the low-end.
After a concise “Better Than Before”, the band launched into what proved to be the improvisational highlight of the evening with the Houser-led “Cloudhopper”. This jam saw the band truly click together cohesively for the most significant time that weekend, as Goldberg came out front on bass after what seemed like a somewhat subdued performance. Meanwhile, Chafin broke down the beat to its core fundamentals while Houser and Shaw continued to explore new sonic territory. After the 20-plus minute “Cloudhopper”, the band provided a palate cleanser with the disco-dance anthem “Stars Collide” before launching into one last old-school jam with “O.G.”.
The Werks returned for the encore with one last trick up their sleeves as they debuted the new song, “Beautiful Mistake”. The song marks only the second Werks original to feature Shaw on lead vocals, after “Magic”. The down-tempo ballad had a melancholy air of vulnerability to it, rounded out with a grunge edge almost reminiscent of early Soundgarden. The Werks had time for just one more song, and they chose wisely with the Werktronic remix of “Duck Farm”, which they call “Dark Farm”. There was a time following the Werktronic debut of “Dark Farm” when the remix actually eclipsed “Duck Farm” and was played more often than the original. During the night two of Winter Werk Out, however, the effect of seeing both songs played in the same evening gave off a cyclical feeling that the band can exist concurrently with its past and its future.
The Werks – The Bluestone – 2/8/20 – Full Show
Setlist: The Werks | The Bluestone | Main Stage | Columbus, OH | 2/8/20
Set: No Prisoners, Duck Farm, Cruel Stone Blues , Better Than Before, Cloudhopper, Stars Collide, O.G.
Encore: Beautiful Mistake , Dark Farm
 w/s/g Dino Dimitrouleas and Steve Sweeney
With The Winter Werk Out in the books, The Werks have no scheduled shows until they appear at Summer Camp Music Festival over Memorial Day weekend. Stay up to date on all Werks news on the band’s website.
Scroll down to check out a gallery of photos from both nights of Winter Werk Out, courtesy of Scott Heffner.