By Jenna Lazenby
This article also appeared in the September edition of THIS! Magazine
By the time you read this, FloydFest 2017 will be long over. The grounds that held a crowd of nearly 13,000 will be emptied. The assorted mix of creative souls who converged on the land will be displaying their talents for new audiences. Other than the permanent wooden stage installations and few other signature FloydFest icons, the tranquil beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the innumerable memories are all that will remain from the five-day musical carnival.
For those five days in late July, the FloydFest grounds housed more than 100 musical acts, acrobats, stilt walkers, jewelry makers, concert painters and eclectic performers, and personalities of all types. The music was spread over the festival’s nine music stages and featured a diverse amalgam of genres. One of those artists, Virginia native Keller Williams, exemplifies the musical diversity that FloydFest embodies.
Williams is a musical jack-of-all-trades and a mainstay to the music festival scene. Often described as a ‘one-man jam-band,’ Williams has become a master at using multiple instruments and loop pedals to remove and return song elements that provide the audience a similar experience to that of a full band. In addition to his solo act, Williams partakes in a number of onstage collaborations, covering everything from bluegrass, folk, rock, funk, electronica, to Grateful Dead classics and even children’s music.
While Williams arrived on FloydFest grounds Thursday afternoon in an RV with his family, his stage time didn’t kick off until early Saturday afternoon with a solo set on the main stage. Three other collaborative performances followed.
On Saturday night, Williams was central to the return of the “Buffalo Mountain Jam.” The jam, which featured a convergence of festival artists on the main stage, led by Williams and Leftover Salmon as the house band, started last year as an impromptu set to fill in for an ailing Gregg Allman. William’s Sunday sets kicked off early with bluegrass husband and wife dynamos, Larry and Jenny Keel, followed by Keller Williams’ KWahtro (pronounced “quarto”), a four-piece acoustic dance music group.
I caught up with Williams on Friday afternoon to check in on his festival experience and inquire about the range of solo and collaborative performances ahead for the festival.
“It’s happening because I’m allowed to do it,” Williams said when asked about the mix of solo and collaborative sets. “I feel like I’m getting away with something; Especially in this scenario. We love this festival. My kids really love this festival. For ten or so years I wanted to get on with this festival. It happened for the first time three years ago.”
Williams, who is now 47, says his love of music was first sparked by the timeless classic, “Hee-Haw,” at the age of three. While he received a cheap plastic guitar about that same time, it was a decade later when a friend showed him a few chords that he began to get serious about music. His first live shows were on a barstool in his hometown of Fredericksburg where he first started playing solo gigs while working for a temporary agency doing construction and busting cinderblocks.
For musicians wondering how to go from playing bar stools to jet-setting across the country playing major festivals and venues, Williams says you have to go out and start your own scene. He also believes Virginia musicians have to want it more and be more hungry because there is less potential in the music venues.
“There are little pockets around Virginia that are cool, but they’re hard to get into as you’re starting out, so you have to create a scene. Just don’t make music your primary source of income. That way you can’t get mad at it, or resent it, or force yourself to practice, because that sucks. You should be having fun at all times and if it’s not fun, you shouldn’t do it. One way to make it fun is to not rely on it as a source of income. Then if it happens, it happens.”
Fun is certainly what Williams seemed to be having during all of his four FloydFest sets, each one considerably different from the other, yet each yielding hundreds of happy feet dancing along to the jams.
FloydFest ’17 once again was proof that Across-the-Way Productions indeed knows how to throw a party, complete with rousing artists such as Williams at every turn. As for Williams, he says he can’t remember where he’s going next week, but there are good things ahead and he’ll surely be having fun along the way.
Keller Williams on the Hill Holler stage at FloydFest