By Kevin Smith
Photo courtesy of Madison House
Fredericksburg, Virginia native Keller Williams uses over eight guitars during his performances. Williams performs at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., Saturday night.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday March 6, 2003
Jam band audiences pay to see musicians experiment with instruments live. They stand and listen for hours as chords get pushed to the outer boundaries of consciousness.
Sometimes the music works, sometimes it doesn't, but the goal is that no one song is ever played the same way twice. This gives the feeling that the person is witnessing an event that will never be duplicated.
Some might argue that any concert a band plays is unique. Maybe so, but most bands do not build their reputation around the individuality of every live show.
Take the uniqueness of a jam band's live set, melt it down to a single musician, and you have Keller Williams.
"I'm along the lines of solo-acoustic, jam, funk, reggae, techno-grass," he said.
If that description is a little confusing, Williams can clarify.
"Right now, the way we describe it going into the clubs where we've never been before is Ě just expect a full band, with bass, drums, guitars, percussion and everything, but there's only one guy playing them," he said.
The 33-year-old Williams has owned a guitar since it caught his eye at an early age.
"I guess I was 3 and I was watching ╬Hee-Haw'," Williams said, "and I told my parents that I definitely wanted a guitar and they got me a little kid's three-quarter guitar and I pretended on that thing for a long time."
Williams admits to a long period of pretending he could play guitar as a child before making an honest attempt at learning the "stick o' strings."
"Once I actually started to play it, yeah, it was a little awkward at first, but I definitely had the love for the instrument without considering it practice. It was pretty much attached to me," he said.
Williams' live stage show now includes eight guitars, without a single other musician in sight. Included in his arsenal of axes is an eight-string bass/guitar in one.
"To have different guitars to go to and different tunings that are in tune and ready to go," he said. "Just pick them up and play them. Just being able to have different tunings and different voicings and different colors and sounds. It makes it more interesting for me."
If this does not excite the audience, at least one person is having fun at all times.
"It's all a feeble attempt to keep myself entertained on stage for tw
-and-a-half hours."- Keller Williams
"It's all a feeble attempt to keep myself entertained onstage for two and a half hours," he said.
Williams didn't grow up learning all the different kinds of guitars he plays.
"It wasn't actually until I could afford to buy the instruments that I started to play all the instruments," Williams said. "So it was many, many years of just nursing a guitar to make sure it works to get to the next gig before I could get another one for backup."
Although most solo artists that utilize the guitar so prominently are traditionally thought of as folksingers, the type of audience that Williams attracts has more in common with Bob Weir than Bob Dylan.
"It just kind of came that way from years of playing solo in a rock club, whereas someone who played solo more than likely would go along the lines of the folk community," Williams said. "I was never really embraced by the folk community as I was the whole rock-jam scene."
Williams is happy about being included in the emerging movement, if for nothing more than the people involved.
"I am very grateful to be somewhat embraced in this scene," he said, "because (of) the people who attend these shows and like this music, like all kinds of music. It's not just one specific genre, it's a genre compiled of every genre almost. I'm very lucky to be a part of it."
Keller Williams at the Rialto Theatre Saturday 8 p.m.
His increasing popularity has landed him a recurring spot at the massive jam band multi-day festival known as Bonnaroo in Tennessee, which drew an estimated 70,000 people last year.
"It's the whole hugeness of the gig (that) was very overwhelming and very much added to the adrenaline," he said about his first Bonnaroo experience last summer.
Williams even managed to form a new band, The Keller Williams Incident, with some friends at the event.
"(It was with the band) the String Cheese Incident," he said of his live collaboration with his long-time jam-band friends with whom he also recorded 1999's Breathe. "It was me kind of driving the train for two sets. It was very surreal and fun and different."
Although he enjoyed playing with his friends in String Cheese, Williams is hesitant to share the spotlight with an entire band just yet.
"I've done it in the past and I definitely haven't ruled it out," he said of his full-band playing potential. "As of the immediate future, it seems to be really working and I don't intend on fixing something that's not broken."
Not spoiled by the massive amounts of attention that Bonnaroo provided, Williams said he enjoys any gig he plays for different reasons.
"Each one has its own beauty about it," he said. "The smaller gigs, there definitely is the comfort level of being more intimate with the crowd. You can see the back of the room type of thing. The bigger gigs are intense in the energy and adrenaline level and the whole echoes of the music and the whole big environment. That's a whole adrenaline rush too."
Since 1994 Williams has recorded seven albums, including three in the past year. His newest installment, Dance, is an electronic-influenced remix album derived from his last full-length, Laugh.
Williams was partly inspired to record Dance by his newfound love for electronic music, coupled with listening to live jams and noticing the similar hypnotic effects in both types of music.
"You kind of hear some trance grooves in the course of the evening that very much resemble that of electronic music," Williams said. "Once that started to happen, I started to go to the source and explore the electronic music itself and figure out ╬is this really what's happening in the music today?' And at least with me, it totally was."
He also hinted at the idea that there will be more electronic experimentation from him in the future.
"I don't think Dance is by far the last computer-based album that (I'll do)," he said.
For those still interested in what Williams' music is actually like, he has some advice for the Wildcat readership: "I guess the best way to find out what I'm all about, if they're interested Ě it's hard to do it in an article or even listening to my records," he said. "The best way to do it is to actually come to a show."
Curious readers can search for answers as Williams rocks the Rialto Theatre Saturday at 8 p.m.