iagara Falls is a long way from Keller Williams' Fredericksburg home. Talking outdoors via cell phone from the scenic tourist spot, his relaxed demeanor and soft-spoken voice suggest a laid-back personality. It is not so much what is he saying, but how he says it, that makes you realize that the man is truly satisfied with life. Williams is in between tour stops on what could be a grueling monthlong jaunt, but he has, nevertheless, found some time to relax. It is because of this mellow attitude that he has prospered as a touring musician a stressful occupation by all means.
The innovative, genre-melding artist might call Fredericksburg home base. But Williams mostly lives on the road these days. He has been traveling across America performing whenever and wherever since 1997. "My wife and I just do loops around the country while working with different booking agents and trying to stay booked all of the time," Williams says. "We have lived in vehicles, campgrounds and hotels, all the while being totally content."
It has been one long strange trip, indeed, for the nomadic, solo musician. Fifteen years ago, Williams got his first break. "My first gig was a solo performance for happy hour at a country club a total coat-and-tie gig," he says. "The deal was that I was a lifeguard at the country club, and the general manager was walking around in nice pants, and I slipped him a tape. He let me play a happy-hour gig."
It was a humble beginning for a teen-ager armed with nothing more than an acoustic guitar, an underdeveloped voice and an intense motivation to succeed at his art. Most impressive is that Williams has built a reputation in the music world while remaining loyal to his Central Virginia home not necessarily the typical launching pad for an artist trying to gain national exposure. Many musicians head to major cities in an effort to make a name, but Williams wasn't persuaded to take the plunge. Instead, he opted for life as a small-town musician. He believes that it is because of this decision that he has been able to grow more naturally as a musician and performer.
"In these smaller towns and cities it is really nice that you don't have that much pressure," he says. "Coming from Fredericksburg has allowed me to become more comfortable performing live."
"I think that growing up in a small town that wasn't so music-oriented and where it is not very competitive was a positive thing," he says.
Williams kept his roots firmly planted in Virginia soil until the mid-'90s, watching his career progress slowly and methodically. After working the coffeehouse and college circuits along the East Coast and toiling away in relative obscurity for roughly a decade, Williams finally got lucky in 1996. While living in Steamboat Springs, Colo., his path crossed with The String Cheese Incident a beloved jam band and the arguable heir-apparent to the Grateful Dead legacy. Williams was adopted by the band and quickly occupied the role of hand-selected opening act, an opportunity that earned him many new fans.
Currently, Williams releases records on String Cheese's independent label, SCI Fidelity. His newest effort, a live album titled "Loop," should give concertgoers an idea of what to expect at a typical show. "The title is appropriate because this was the first time that I was using this technology of looping," Williams says: "I am now using a delay unit. Nothing is prerecorded. I hit this foot switch, which is connected to the machine. I play something, and at the right time, I hit the same switch and it plays something that I just played or just sang. It loops it around continuously. I can then layer music on top of that and build a song right before you. It is all done right there, live sampling."
The technique allows Williams to create a full-band sound all by his lonesome on stage.
When he's asked if he ever feels isolated under the lights by himself, he replies: "It is something that I have grown very accustomed to. It is an amazing amount of freedom."
Judging from his last sold-out performance in Richmond, chances are good that the free-spirited musician will not be alone when he returns to the Canal Club.
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