Keller Williams has visited just about every city, major and minor, in the United States, touring solo as his one-man band or with one of the incarnations of his full group. So his approach to playing live has, over the years, grown to look something like a musical anthropologist’s.
“I prepare for my shows each night by looking at old set lists from when we did that city or venue before,” Williams said. “I try to make up a different set list each time, and play songs I didn’t play before. I keep on top of it.”
Williams has not yet played the teeming metropolis of Skowhegan (though he has spent his fair share of time in Portland), but who knows what kind of madness he’ll unleash at his show at the Skowhegan Opera House this Saturday? Williams will play a solo gig there starting at 8 p.m. as well as another show at the Port City Music Hall in Portland on Sunday.
After all, with the arsenal of pedals, software, guitars and other instruments the man has with him at any given gig, the possibilities for experimentation are virtually limitless. Beloved in the jam-band community for his stellar songwriting skills and penchant for making up new arrangements for his songs right on the spot onstage, Williams strides the line between techno-guru and barefoot hippie like few others.
But that’s not to say that he doesn’t like playing in a regular band, too. In 2007, at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee, Williams played in a one-off with Jeff Sipe on drums, Keith Moseley (formerly of the String Cheese Incident) on bass, and Gibb Droll on lead guitar. The gig turned out to be the WMDs, now known as Keller Williams with Moseley, Droll and Sipe.
“The WMDs were a beautiful thing. It was so tight, and it went way beyond my expectations,” Williams said. “Honestly, I can’t imagine playing with better people. I could easily say that my dream would be to play with, like, the ghost of Jerry Garcia, but the reality is I have the best I could ask for to work with right now.”
Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead are the spirit that guides much of what Williams does, but his sound is somewhere between that band and more contemporary songwriters such as Ani DiFranco, Guster and Ben Harper — though Williams’ distinctive voice and guitar skills make him a class unto himself.
In addition to being a road warrior, Williams is a family man, with a wife and two kids, ages 4 and 1. How does he reconcile the two? He brings the fam out on tour with him.
“We get into this routine where we’ll go explore the city we’re in, or go swimming in the hotel pool, or go to a museum,” Williams said. “My 4-year-old, when she was really little, she really liked it. Now she’s getting ready for preschool, and it’s another story.”
One thing that’s reliably awesome about Williams, Assembly of Dust and others like them is that they play wherever they are wanted. It doesn’t matter if it’s San Francisco or Skowhegan — a band gets out on the road and stays out on the road, and builds fans and community, one show at a time. And being the vastly talented musician that he is, Williams has done just that.
Keller Williams will play at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, March 21, at the Skowhegan Opera House. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door. They are available at Bull Moose Music stores. Visit www.kellerwilliams.net.