One-man band: Musician Keller Williams provides his own back-up tunes

Keller Williams’ extraordinary ability to entertain a crowd on his own developed from the simple desire to entertain himself. This one-man band uses a pedal-operated recording device to record a section of music, then sets it on a loop, allowing him to play over it, expanding the sound with layer upon layer of intertwining rhythm and harmony. The freedom of expression and improvisation that follows is inspiring, and often mind-bending. In fact, the entire first part of Keller’s career was totally made up on the spot.

“I went many, many years without (a set list), and then, all of a sudden, people actually started coming to shows,” he said in an interview with The Hatchet.

His desire to please his faithful following is the reason he began using a set list on his last few tours.

“I started wanting to play a completely different show than I did the last time I was at that venue . and also completely different from the last two shows of that particular week,” he said. Keller is likely to break into any number of covers by artists spanning the whole spectrum of musical tastes, from Jerry Garcia to Green Day, the Bobs (Dylan and Marley) and even funk classics by the unforgettable Cameo.

When asked if he’s got anything special saved for a rainy day, Keller said, “I don’t wanna’ talk about it because I like to use the surprise element at the show. I don’t have a lot to work with, being a solo act, so I have to rely on surprise.” Last year in Baltimore, he surprised the crowd with the Steve Miller Band classic “Fly Like an Eagle,” so don’t expect to hear that Friday night at the 9:30 Club in D.C.

Williams, a Virginia native, graduated as a theater major from Virginia Wesleyan College and still calls Fredericksburg home. His unassuming nature and laid-back attitude reveal that he is just a regular guy (who happens to have enormous talent and a true passion for music).

“I am only self-taught. I can’t read music,” he admits.

When asked about his public image, Williams gave an easy chuckle. “I’m not really too worried about that,” he said. “I did used to read the message boards and try to follow that, but it got to the point where I was putting too much focus on it . and it was affecting the show. I stopped playing certain songs because the dozen or so people who were writing on these message boards didn’t like them, and then I realized, you can’t please everybody all the time. So I definitely just focus on entertaining myself and hope that translates to the audience.”

Keller has settled comfortably into his own niche in the music world. A festival favorite and nationwide crowd pleaser, he is comfortably out of the spotlight that shines on the ever-changing pop scene. It seems that the style of music that Keller is associated with – the so-called “jam bands” like String Cheese Incident- breeds certain assumptions about lifestyles, particularly relating to drug use. Keller maintains that, “The adrenaline from walking out on stage as a solo act, without any kind of substance, or any kind of whatever, is pretty strong. So I definitely try to be as relaxed as possible.”

Keller’s relaxed and friendly approach to his job is part of what makes his show so enjoyable. When it is clear that he is having as much fun as anyone in the building, it is easy to relax and just listen to him loop.

Keller Williams will play the 9:30 Club on Friday, Nov. 4. Tickets are sold out as of press time.

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