Keller Williams plays more than 100 nights a year nationwide wowing crowds in various formats and has been a consistent live draw for more than 15 years despite no radio play, no buzz and precious little media coverage.
So how does he do it? Just like he did Sunday night at The Canyons. That's how. Williams relies on strong playing, word of mouth and by continuing to improve his capabilities as a guitarist, bassist, vocalist and entertainer.
Playing for about 500 people on an early fall night at the revamped Park City venue, Williams kept a majority of the crowd dancing for the duration of the two one-hour plus sets. The songs and grooves intermeshed, crashed into each other and provided a tempo as brisk as the plunging temperature.
Relying chiefly on his own songbook, but throwing in spirited, dramatically altered covers ranging from Nirvana to the Grateful Dead, Williams used his voice acoustic guitar, bass, oversized drumsticks, a drum pad, and an on-stage mixing board to play and then loop as many as seven different sounds going simultaneously. Williams generates more music by himself than many rock quintets and does so in creative, funky patterns.
Whether it's singing "Freaker by the Speaker" while playing only the bass, improvising scat vocals or hammering drumsticks onto his thighs to record the rhythm loop of "Breathe," Williams is a blur of motion and musicality. And he knows how to play to a crowd. With PC locals serving as the majority of the audience and playing at the base of a ski hill, Williams made sure to include "Floating on the Freshies," a not-so politically correct ode to snowboarding while under the influence of a certain banned substance that seemed to be in no short supply Sunday evening.
Second-set highlights included another stoner tale of woe and worry, "Doobie In My Pocket," "Porta Potty," which is actually about falling in love and a spirited re-imagining of the Dead's "Shakedown Street." Maybe the real treat of the night was his first-set take on Nirvana's "All Apologies," which he sandwiched inside his own "Up In My Cadillac."
The 40-year-old Virginia native has played Utah multiple times over the years, but Sunday night's concert was a real treat - thanks in large part to the friendly environs at The Canyons. It was also announced prior to the concert that next summer will see more pay shows at the revamped venue, presumably in addition to the Saturday afternoon freebies that have become a fun staple of summer.
One small complaint - it would have been great had this show started before 7 p.m. - in light of the you-better-bundle-up weather and that Sunday's a school/work night for many. The summer shows start at 6, it would have been terrific if this gig had launched around 5 p.m., but taken as a whole, Keller provided the musical backdrop for a fun farewell to good outdoor music this summer.
Follow Salt Lake arts/entertainment writer Scott Murphy on Twitter @murphyinfo.