Colorado at times can seem like a parade of yearly musical traditions. Denver, being a massive music hub, is a place where many performers pass through around the same time each year. One nascent tradition is the Keller and His Compadres shows in Keystone, Colorado. Last year’s shows originally marked the end of the world according to the Mayan Calendar. Well fortunately for K-Dub the world continued and so do these concerts. It’s a chance for the normally solo performer Keller Williams to grab a few friends and just jam. This year he got a chance to playe with Michael Kang and Michael Travis from String Cheese Incident on Friday and Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon on Saturday. I opted to catch Saturday’s show, which turned out to be a wise decision.
I found out that Friday included a very young crowd and they pushed it to the limit. Saturday was a fairly casual affair with a slightly older audience. The show was completely sold out, meaning more than a few fans were turned away at the door. Unless the gig is billed as one of Keller’s official band projects, the format is always one set solo and one set with the guests. This night was no different. K-Dub’s first set started just after 9 PM. In his true entertainer style he began strumming his guitar backstage before emerging from the darkness. The Warren Station Center For The Arts was a square room with a bar in the back. It was cozy and by the time Keller actually started playing it was most definitely full. Classics from Keller like “Cadillac” and “Freaker By The Speaker” were sprinkled throughout the first set. Perhaps the most oddly satisfying song of the first set was an extended jam into the custom built version of Lorde’s “Royals.” Covers like this again reiterate Keller’s addiction to pop music. He rounded his solo set with a sing-along on “Gate Crashers.”
The main event could have easily been dubbed Keller Salmon or Leftover Williams. The inclusion of Vince and Drew meant there would be no shortage of bluegrass or extended musical interplay. I for one am a fan of Keller’s solo work, but for some reason I find his style so much more rewarding when juxtaposed against other musicians. They opened the set with an instrumental before going into a bouncy “Portpapotty.” Keller was playing the electric bass, with Drew on mandolin and Vince on guitar. We were treated to an incredible Drew-sung version of Dylan’s “Tangled Up And Blue.” The additional strings did a lot to fill out “What The World Needs Now,” before they went into a stellar version of Salmon’s “Troubled Times.” Keller was sure to keep it balanced with the occasional original, insert “Broken Convertible” here. The rendition of “Dixie Chicken” was the highlight of the entire night. It came in reference to their recent performances with Little Feat’s Bill Payne. Again I reiterate the need for Mr. Payne to join Leftover Salmon full time. The moment is now Bill. Vince got a chance to sing his rowdy but timeless “Fuzzy Little Hippie Girl.” The trio went into a bluegrass-tinged duo from Tom Petty with “You Got Lucky” into a set-closing “You Don’t Know How It Feels.” The crowd kind of went off the chain at this point. Keller Williams and his Compadres came out for a quick “Up On The Hill Where They Do The Boogie” to encore before the lights came on and it was all over.
The show just seemed to speed on by. Keller is many things, but he is always fun. His shows display a vibrancy and passion for music in all its forms. His performances become random drive through his musical consciousness. His concerts with other musicians push back his urge to just unleash whatever comes into his head, which at times gives us the more interesting outcome. Instead in these sets he plays his part, which is interesting to see from a man who built his career on going it alone.
As we left I said to my wife, “Keller Williams must be a huge Tom Petty fan,” to which she replied, “Who isn’t?”
Additional Video by Steve Wilner
For many, Friday the 13th is a day to stay indoors and avoid contact with ladders and cats shrouded in black fur. For the people of Fort Collins and the Front Range it was a day of celebration that marked the return of live music to the much-loved Mishawaka. The High Park Fire shut down this landmark for a month while fans waited with baited breath to see if she would survive the flames. The outpouring of support and positive thoughts was simply stunning. My heart literally ached as I was constantly checking for updates. There was a lot of misinformation floating around, but the true story was that it was a multi-departmental effort between the U.S. Forest Service, and firefighters from around the country that literally battled the blaze back and “Saved The Mish.” Stay tuned for a video from MusicMarauders detailing the story in full.
Taking the shuttle up gave fans their first glimpse of the devastation of the fire. Literally entire mountainsides were stripped bare of trees and left with a black streak. More than one foundation where a house had been could be seen on the drive up 14. It was a humbling, mind-numbing journey up the Poudre. We arrived early as many patrons did, eager to support Mishawaka and grab a bite to eat before Keller Williams took the stage. Keller went above and beyond by offering up downloads from the show for $10 with all of the money going to support victims of the many fires in Colorado. You can purchase the download and pitch in at LiveDownloads.
Dani and Roger also took the time to announce the Grateful Fund, which will benefit local firefighters for whom they will be collecting money for all summer long. The obvious coming together of the community was palpable all evening long.
Playing just about ever Summer Camp, there is no artist other than perhaps moe. and Upmhrey’s that embody the festival more than Mr. Williams. Keller took the stage a little after 8 PM and opened with his rendition of “Rockumal” into “Fire On The Mountain.”
SET I: Rockumal> Fire On The Mountain> Great Balls of Fire> Winds of Fire> Fire And Rain> Fire, Freeker By The Speaker, Wicked, Love Handles, Back On The Bus, One Hit Wonder, Song Number 2, Positive, Bumper Sticker, More Than A Little
SET II: Mental> Brunette> lnstra, Sam Hall> Bounty Hunter, Tubeless, Party In The Poudre, You Are What You Eat, Plus, Juggler, Eyes Of The World, Best Feeling
ENCORE: Celebrate Your Youth
He played a number of fire-themed tunes including “Great Balls of Fire” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” before telling the crowd, “That’s all the fire songs I know.” He welcomed the gathering to the show with an extended “Freeker By The Speaker” that seemed to stretch on and on. Keller sounded good, this guy is always fun and he continues to play straight from the heart. His ‘flow of consciousness’ style is something that can really only be accomplished by a one-man band. He surprised the audience with his acoustic version of Cage The Elephant’s “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked.” I love how plugged into popular culture Keller is sometimes, seeing him perform “Price Tag” with The McCourys is an example of this. It’s a funny experience to see K-dub’s spin on these types of tracks, which is usually much better than the original. The rest of set saw some more classics including “Love Handles” and a set-closing “More Than A Little” that featured Keller doing the Carlton onstage. It was great start to the night and we still had a set to go. Amy and I found ourselves over-tipping the staff and just generally having a great night in the Poudre.
He opened up the second set with a “Mental” into “Brunette” into “Instra” before a ripping take on Johnny Cash’s “Sam Hall.” He quickly segued into a stellar “Bounty Hunter.” This song contained a “Midnight Rider” tease, which was nice. “Bounty Hunter” just doesn’t get played enough live so it was satisfying to see it at Mishawaka. The second set in general seemed more jam-oriented with some extended flourishes on the guitar by the man himself. The crowd was locked in and just really seemed happy to be back at this very special place. I was grinning throughout the night taking time to look at the stage and the scorched hill across the street. It stood as a reminder of how close we all came to loosing this amazing locale, which has stood for the better part of a century. Keller broke out a very appropriate “Eyes of The World,” because for a few short weeks the Mishawaka was just that. The world was watching to make sure that this place survived. When you think about how many memories have been fostered there, how many weddings have been celebrated, how many musical masterpieces have been created it’s no wonder that people poured out their hearts and positive vibes for The Mishawaka in their time of true danger. He closed the set with a solid “Best Feeling” and encored the show with “Celebrate Your Youth.”
And now that The Mish is safe and sound it’s time for us to come together and help all those affected. Grab the show download linked above and stay tuned to the Mishawaka Facebook page for details on how to contribute to the Grateful Fund.
It’s no secret that I dig what Keller Williams does. From his early loop filled days playing small clubs to his latter band based projects performing in front of massive festival crowds one thing remains true, Keller is fun. Summer Camp has always stood behind K-Dub, in fact he has performed in one incarnation or another every year at Summer Camp except two. It’s safe to say that he and the festival itself are pretty intertwined. His most recent endeavor is as a front man for the Travelin’ McCourys. His acoustic chops fit in nicely with the bluegrass powerhouse from Appalachia. Obviously he is not trying to replace Del McCoury, no on could do that, but is simply looking to play with a full string lineup. What better string band could he possible find other than the Travelin’ McCourys? There was no opening group, so Keller and the McCourys took the stage just before 10 PM. They started the night with an entertaining “Mullet Cut,” here if the rest of the setlist.
SET I: Mullet Cut, Gallivanting, The Graveyard Shift, The Hobo Song, Pepper, Road is Rocky, My Mine Never Closes, Foggy Mountain Breakdown, American Car, Corn Liquor, All In My Mind, Blame It On The Lonesome Wind, Ain’t About The Money, Sweet Mountain Soul
SET II: My Something Else, Freeker By The Speaker, Heads Will Turn, Friend Of The Devil, Loser, Evangelina, Kidney In A Cooler> Deep Elum Blues> Kidney In A Cooler, Forty Years To Life, Port-o-Potty, I’m A Man, Franklin’s Tower
ENCORE: My Grass Is Blue
Thanks to eman for posting the recording on Archive.
The first set was a mix of the traditional and the innovative. Some great versions of classics like The Old And In The Way’s “Hobo Song” and Earl Scruggs’ “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” However they got a little crazy on some covers like the Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper” and Mike Doughty’s “American Car.” It was certainly an interesting mix with Keller taking the vocal duties much of the time. They passed around solos nicely proving that the McCourys have truly learned from the best. Ronnie McCoury, was simply astonishing but the MVP may have been Jason Carter on fiddle. His playing cut through the whole crowd, giving a real flair and authenticity to the overall sound.
The second set seemed more freeform and centered around classic Keller. Freeker got everyone excited and ignited an all out dance party at the Aggie. I will say that while the show did not appear to be sold out there was definitely a good crowd in the room. We got a much-anticipated Dead interlude with “Friend Of The Devil” and “Loser.” However the real highlight of the show may have been the Kidney In A Cooler into Deep Elum Blues into Kidney In A Cooler. Port-o-Potty got everyone dancing again and the set closing Franklin’s Tower was a nice touch. They encored with a quick My Grass is Blue. The show was great, and it’s nice to see Keller really stretching out with his musical chops. He could easily have stuck with his classic shtick, but he wants to grow and expand his capability on stage. It is apparent that he is always evolving and looking for new ways to entertain. Check out Keller at this year’s Summer Camp, you won’t be disappointed.