Photo by Matt Stensland
Keller Williams performs Friday night during a Ski Jam concert at the Steamboat Music Tent in the Knoll Parking Lot.
Steamboat Springs It’s hard to tell if Keller Williams is joking.
During his 90-minute first set at The Steamboat Music Tent for the Ski Jam music festival Friday night, Williams didn’t speak to the audience. He sang to them — giving an account of his day on the mountain, telling them his plans for the evening, letting them know he wouldn’t be offended if anyone decided to leave early.
It was, like many of Williams’ songs, weird. It also was nearly impossible to stop watching.
That’s because Williams is a vastly talented musician and, despite his quirks, is an engaging performer. His one-man jam band act features acoustic guitar, bass, electric guitar tuned to various sound effects, a drum machine, a mixer, a keyboard and other toys. The performance constantly is shifting, with almost imperceptible changes from one song to the next.
One minute Williams is encouraging the audience to do a goofy snow dance in a voice that’s somewhere between Paul Simon and insanity, and the next he’s performing a ballad about the perks and pitfalls of his fame.
He might be making it up as he goes, and he might not. It doesn’t really matter — as he sings about aliens, drugs or snowboarding, Williams is layering one harmonically complex line over another, and tinkering with beats to keep the audience moving.
In this context, Williams is more a stage performer than he is a songwriter, at one point opting for a hilariously frantic cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” instead of a fully structured original song — though some fully structured, well-written songs did make their way into Friday’s show.
Originally from Virginia, Williams lived and played music in Steamboat Springs for about two years in the mid- to late ’90s. He made a few references Friday to his time here and his positive feeling for the place. But his strongest interactions with the audience were in head motions, facial expressions and silly dances, which for a Friday night festival concert, seems like one of the better ways to go.
The Molly Ringwalds
There are no shortcuts in The Molly Ringwalds’ approach to playing ’80s songs. At the band’s Ski Jam show Saturday night, four musicians in all-out ’80s costumes traded lead vocals on hits by Journey, Madonna, AC/DC and Michael Jackson.
Highlights included a faithful music video reliving the learn-to-dance montage from “Footloose”; a rather large man going by “Lord Phillip Wang” hitting high octaves as Madonna; and synthesizer player and singer “Dickie English” landing a perfect imitation of Debbie Harry on “Call Me.”