Keller Williams shows his funk roots

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Entertainment,Music,Nancy Dunham

Keller Williams has a new funky sound going on.

The Virginia-based, one man jam band that is arguably best known in bluegrass circles -- he's a regular at the annual DelFest and other high-profile bluegrass festivals -- is now touring with his new six-piece funk band More Than a Little.

"It makes a lot of sense to do it," said Williams, noting that funk and R&B soul from the Richmond area has always been a major influence on his music. "It's more than a little funky and more than a little happy, and it makes me more than a little happy."

But fear not, bluegrass fans. Williams is playing a solo set to open his own show before he is joined by More Than a Little for the local concert. In addition, he continues his other collaborations, including with the Travelin' McCourys, the band that backs up Bluegrass legend Del McCoury.

Onstage
Keller Williams
» Where: Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria
» When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
» Info: $29.50; 202-397-SEAT; ticketmaster.com, birchmere.com

Keller made his name on the jam band scene starting in the early '90s. Although jam bands are by their very nature composed of a host of musicians, Williams carved a niche as a solo act who would accompany himself on an acoustic guitar connected to a Gibson Echoplex delay system that simulates a full band.

To Keller, the system gave him the chance to explore various musical styles without the expense of engaging other musicians.

"I couldn't afford humans and didn't want to step into the cheesy world of automated sequencers where you hit a button and the whole band starts to play, then you've got to solo along or sing on top of it," he said. "I wanted something more organic yet with a dance groove that I could create myself."

Although the solo arrangement works well Williams wanted to go farther with a soul vibe that he couldn't replicate without musicians that were steeped in funk.

"It is just the feeling of the soul and the vibe," he said. "Some of the songs [we'll play] are ones I've written and recorded on different records. We'll be doing them in different ways. Some are cover songs."

A large part of Williams' show hinges on surprise, so he was hesitant to reveal too many specifics except to say he and the band are conscious that the local show is an intimate venue.

"This will be our first time doing all acoustic because of my result for the venue and the folks sitting up front," he said. "We have a tendency to really throw down and get crazy. At the Birchmere, we'll dial it back a bit but keep the funky groove going."

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