Rockin’ the Region with Keller Williams

By Dave Hoffenberg

Sunday may be considered a day of rest but at the Pickle Barrel this Sunday, Jan. 11, it is anything but. Keller Williams makes his return and brings the best one man show in the business. If it seems as if this is a man who never stops, that would be about right. He tours extensively, is a father of two and has released a whopping 21 albums to date. This stop is part of his Winter 2015 tour which sees him travel from New York City to Ft. Lauderdale, out to California and Las Vegas before heading to his home state of Virginia. If that isn’t enough he then goes out to the Pacific Northwest with shows in Oregon and Washington and finishes up April 3 in Alaska. He likes to mix the warm and the cold on his tours and will probably try and make a few turns while here in Killington as he is an avid snowboarder.

Keller Williams is a one man band. If you were not looking at the stage but just listening to his show, you would be surprised to see one man on the stage. He is a “Looping Maestro” that many local musicians here take after. It wasn’t always like that though; it took years and years of perfecting. Williams started out with an acoustic guitar, a vocal mic and sometimes would add a drum – no electronics of any kind. He took advantage of those gigs to perfect his craft and played them for 10 years. He wanted to create more of a sound that he could do himself and adds, “without being able to afford actual humans.” He also didn’t want to be the guy who plays with a cheesy sequencer and just hits a button that plays different sounds. He wanted it to be more organic and on the fly, and if you’ve seen his shows then you know he’s accomplished his goal. At that time there wasn’t a whole lot of consumer product doing that, nor was there the technology for it like there is today. When he started out looping, it was easy for him and eventually technology caught up with him. He said that nowadays there is so much on the market that you can buy for cheap, so that’s why so many people are doing it today. He really enjoys it and says it’s a lot of fun. It started out as a practice device – he would play a rhythm and then play lead over top of it.

Williams was born and raised in Virginia, where he started out. He’s moved around a bunch and called Colorado home for a few years. For about three years he had no real address, just a p.o. box with no parking space. Wherever he’s at, he just wants to create new sounds. “It was just me wanting to create different avenues to go down musically. I wanted to create a dance groove.” He wanted to add bass and drums without adding two humans. Now don’t go thinking he doesn’t like other humans, because he does have other side projects with them. But for this project, he prefers to go it alone. He likes what he’s come up with.

What Williams calls “the looping thing” is actually a big part of what has made him such a compelling live performer. “Basically, I have these machines that are essentially delay units,” he explains. “What I do is step on a button and sing or play something. Then I step on the same button in time and it repeats what I just played or sang. Once that initial loop is created, I can layer on a bass line or a drum line and then have this layer that I just created in front of an audience that I could sing over and solo over. Nothing is prerecorded. Everything is created onstage in front of the audience.” If it sounds complicated, it is. But the basic thrust is that the technology has allowed Williams to go out on tour week after week, year after year, and play music by himself – without limiting his sound to what we most often associate with the solo singer-songwriter: a guy strumming a guitar and singing. With his arsenal of tech toys, Williams can expand his reach onstage by, in essence, jamming with himself.

Last year’s show at the Pickle Barell was his first time ever playing in Killington. He liked it so much that he’s back for more. I liked it so much that I’m really glad he’s back for more and I’m pretty sure I speak for all who attended. I’ve seen Keller a bunch of times over the years but mostly at big festivals. To see him in an intimate setting like this, is a real treat. Keller really brought it last year and his energy was off the charts. For those that have never seen Keller Williams before, he says you need to know that his shows are not consistent and you never know what you’re going to get and that’s what he’s going for. I will tell you that you are going to get some of the best music you’ve ever heard and played in a very unique way. Keller adds, “If you take the last two records, it’s an interesting way to see what I’m all about. You have Bluegrass but not in a traditional way, more progressive and then you have ‘Funk’ which is a polar opposite of ‘Pick.’ Both records are very much what I’m about, what I’m into and what I like. I think those records are a good representation to understand me.” He mixed a variety of musical genres during his show like funk, bluegrass, jazz, reggae and electronica dance. All of that goes into the grooviest jams around.

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