INTERVIEW: KELLER WILLIAMS – August 2017

Funny how we all evolve… from that fun-loving kid who loved to follow their favorite band, to one who feels the need to make their mark on the world.  In the time I was transitioning into my short-lived stint as a kid following the Dead (Summer of 1995), Keller Williams was coming into his own.  He was beginning to tour in earnest and making a name for himself, but never forgetting his roots.  Twenty-two years later, I had a chance to catch up with him at the OABI Festival on Belle Isle in Detroit, MI to recount some of those old memories, as Dead Again, a Detroit based Grateful Dead tribute band, opened in the distance…

Fiji Jim: Alright! Welcome to OABI!

Keller: Thank you!

Fiji Jim: When was the last time you had a chance to play a show in Michigan?

Keller: Well, we last played at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor.

Fiji Jim: Great Venue.  So, did you get the lowdown as to what OABI is all about?

Keller: Yeah, the laps around the island on stand-up paddle boards and kayaks?

Fiji Jim: Yes, beautiful Belle Isle! We’re extremely happy to have you here. I have a few questions for you.  As you can see this is a very Grateful Dead oriented event.  With that said, I want to talk to you about your first experiences with the Dead.

Keller: Oh, wow!

Fiji Jim: I know it’s a very personal thing for a lot of folks.  So, tell me about your first experiences with the Dead.

Keller: Sure. So this song was actually on the record (playing in the background was “On the Road Again”, as being covered by Dead Again).  Reckoning as it was played on that album.  At one time, it was called “For the Faithful.”  That was my first introduction into them. I was just 16.  So, sitting on a stool, playing covers for 100 bucks at a country club down in Virginia.  And, branching out, listing to a lot of different kinds of music, you know?  And that was the record that stuck. And then in ’87, that was when I saw my first show at the Cap Center in Landover, MD.  It was the Ripple breakout!?  That was my first show. [Quick correction: 9/3/88 was the last time that the Grateful Dead played Ripple, and it was, in fact, at the Cap Center. The previous show was 10/16/81 in Amsterdam. Props to Keller for only being off by only one year 😉 ]

Fiji Jim: So, that’s not a bad first show.

Keller: No, no – then I became obsessed with them. I was in high school, so I couldn’t really tour until I graduated.  After that, I toured as far as I could funding my way by selling stuff.  I sold stuff like bottled beer from a local brewery.  We’d load up cases and cases of mislabeled beer and sold that. But, yeah, I got pretty heavy into the scene in ’88, ’89, ’90, ’91 and then started doing my own shows in ’91. ’89 was definitely the hot year, that I remember with Brent, with everything, just, together, and good moods and smiles and the jams were intense.  But everything after that was different.  And that’s when I started to focus on my own shows.  It got to the point there, by 1995, I was only able to go to one set of shows, which was the Deer Creek shows… that were harmfully interrupted.

Fiji Jim: Unfortunately, yes.  I am a few years younger than you, but that was the only Grateful Dead show I had ever been to.

Keller: Definitely an interesting one to be at!

Fiji Jim: Let’s talk a little bit about the festivals you have been doing.  What is your consummate festival that you love to go to?

Keller: My go-to festival?

Fiji Jim: Yeah, that you love to play.

Keller: The last couple of years, it’s been the Virginia festival, the LOCKN’ festival and FloydFest.  FloydFest is an amazing thing that has gone on about 17 years and I’ve been on for the past three years.  But before that I was trying to get on for many, many years and I was never able to do so.  And, finally, I got on and was accepted and welcomed and taken under the wing, and that’s a really great festival. Very kid friendly… a giant kid area, open stages, and things to swing on and beat on. They have little Karate classes, all kinds of jugglers – it’s really a fantastic vibe in the middle of nowhere in Virginia, in the rolling hills of Virginia.

Fiji Jim: I’ve never heard of it up until this point.

Keller: FloydFest! FloydFest! FloydFest! But LOCKN’ is an amazing thing. They’re changing to accommodate a smaller audience and I think it’s for the better.  It’s a fantastic thing.  It’s very close to my house.

Fiji Jim: Yes, it is an amazing festival. It has been a family affair for the past three years for myself and my sister.  Let me tell you, Keller, your shows made our mornings so much better!

Keller:  This year, it’s only one morning, but in the past it’s been multiple mornings.

Fiji Jim: Yeah, at first, you were in the woods, and the last couple of years you were featured on the “Bowl” stage.  We just thoroughly enjoyed your morning sessions this past year.

Keller:  Fantastic!  Thank you, thank you!

Fiji Jim: So, continuing on from here, do you see yourself continuing to play LOCKN’?  Or perhaps a venue to focus more on your own stuff?

Keller:  It’s never really been my choice as to what act I play at LOCKN’.  They have really grabbed on to my version of Grateful Dead songs – Grateful Grass and Grateful Gospel.  And the very first year was Keller and the Keels – we were one of the very first acts on.  But every year after that has always been what they wanted, which I was always happy to give them! At the end of the day, it’s super amazing fun – a celebration of songs. But for the last couple of years, I’ve been, like, “Can I please do my own set?” and I finally get my own set this year. It might get rained out and the power may go out, but, at least we know we tried.  The power went out on me yesterday at Peach Festival.  It went out on the guy before me, two minutes before the end of the set, and stayed out until right before my set was supposed to end.  And they had Greensky [Bluegrass] and Darkstar [Orchestra] and My Morning Jacket to follow, and also had a curfew, so it’s not like, “We’ll play later”.

Fiji Jim:  Oh, no! So any chance you guys are going to do a collaboration today [referencing Dead Again]?

Keller: Yeah, yeah we are.  Who’s singing?  That tall guy?

Fiji Jim: Yeah, that’s Brian Avigne – he’s on the “Wolf”.

Keller: Is that where the Jerry vocals are coming from?

Fiji Jim: Yep.

Keller: Jesus Christ, man.  When he sang “Jack Straw”, I was like, “Oh, no!” (in a good way).

Fiji Jim: I think the crowd would love to see you do a song together.

Keller: Oh, thank you – we will, we will.

Fiji Jim: Well, I’m going to let you get set up.  Thank you so much for your time!

Keller: No problem.  It was a pleasure. Anytime!

KELLER WILLIAMS LINKS:

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INTERVIEW: KELLER WILLIAMS - August 2017

Filed Under: Interviews

About the Author: ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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  1. Lisa Cansiani says:

    Fantastic interview and intro! I saw Keller at Lockn 2 weeks later (we really missed Kevin this year!) and his set on the main stage was amazing. He is so talented and Kevin seemed to bring out the real humble nature of Keller.

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