Article by Kendyl Starosta
Creative energy flowed into the crowd at the Orange Peel Saturday night, Feb. 18th as singer/songwriter and guitar master Keller Williams, filled us up with his quick, witty lyrics and sensational guitar playing.
He has a unique style all to his own that was displayed throughout the show, making it difficult to place him in a particular genre. His music is a mixture of styles that combines elements of bluegrass, reggae, jazz, alternative rock, and of course some funk.
Williams began the night with a high-energy looping dance set, immediately pleasing his fans, with songs such as, “Mental Instra,” then a cover that the crowd sang in gusto- Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” which appropriately and seamlessly transitioned into his own “Bounty Hunter.” A long list of feel-good songs followed, such as: a reggae version of “Alligator Alley”, “Sing for my dinner” and “You are what you eat,” to name a few.
While the crowd was groovin’ we listened and gazed in wonder as he made his one guitar sound like an entire room full of them. Behind me I heard someone ask: “How does he get all those guitar licks in so effortlessly? And what is making that sound?” It could have been a mouth flugel, that he uses often, which mimics the sound of a trumpet and takes the place of the vocal lead, replacing the lyrical flow.
Amazingly, he is a self-taught musician. He performs with a variety of instruments in which he usually connects to an effects device that allows him to loop the sounds he plays or sings to construct a song, or a great jam. For those not familiar with this, first he records a segment and repeats it as he records another layer like the bass line, followed by the vocals, finally adding the melodies and rhythms. This is why he is referred to, “a one man band.”
Watching him perform was like watching a dance between him and the instruments. It was as if he were trading dance partners (while his multitude of guitars were displayed around him waiting to be played), his footwork, like a tap dance, controlling the effects pedals, while flirting with percussion, while always wearing a smile. His friendliness and playfulness is contagious, which ultimately creates a satisfied and faithful audience, always returning for more.
Keller Williams, a Virginia resident, is primarily a soloist “one man band” and has toured with many bands some have been to Asheville recently such as: Yonder Mountain String band, The String Cheese Incident (they performed together in the late 90’s) and Umphrey’s McGee to name a few. Furthermore, this talented musician has performed and recorded with musical icons such as Bob Weir, Bela Fleck, Michael Franti, Victor Wooten, John Scofield and the list goes on…
Following his solo performance and freeing him from the confines of looping he welcomes Brevard resident, Jeff Sipe and new Asheville resident, Jay Sterling (keyboard) to join him on stage.
Jeff Sipe is a well-known local rock and Jazz drummer, a founding member of Aquarium Rescue Unit. I, along with many locals, have had the pleasure of meeting and attending his live performances over a dozen times around town. He’s teamed up with members from Phish, Widespread Panic, Derek Trucks and long-term friend Jimmy Herring, just to give an example of his broad range of experience.
Williams, Sipe and Sterling played a mix consisted of several original tunes from his latest album, “Bass” (appropriately named, which features him only on Bass) along with some selections from his earlier albums “Laugh” and “Dreams” throughout both sets.
Williams also through a few cover songs into the mix such as Phish’s “Birds of a Feather,” Becks “Hollywood Freaks,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire.” Followed by the songs “Ninja of love,” “More then a little” (a great inspirational tune I recommend.) Quick samples of the lyrics are, “Work like you don’t need the money, love like ya never been hurt and dance like nobody’s watching.” Then rolls into “High Times,” and flows into “Elvis,” and the crowd sings along –“I live inside my imagination, my imagination seems to go on vacation and I like to go there when I have the time, which is all the time,” which in my opinion, through the anticipated irony and humor in his lyrics, he most certainly does!
There was a special surprise guest that excited the audience, Another friend or familiar face to the locals amongst the crowd; Asheville’s own Josh Phillips joined the trio to perform his original track, “Be for you,” a personal favorite that is performed often with his band, Josh Phillips Folk Festival; which consists of a collective group of local musicians. It was such a treat to see familiar faces on stage.
It was a stellar night with Keller, yet another memorable night at the Orange Peel. In the end, after “Celebrate” everyone was left shouting, clapping and whistling for more. The Peel’s next guest: Dark Star Orchestra will be teaming up with Keller Williams in March, to host the first “Jamaican Jam in the Sand,” followed by “Jam in the Dam” both require passports, just don’t travel with a “Doobie in your Pocket” (Check out the lyrics)!