“Music’s mad scientist” Keller Williams coming to Noho

By Brian Canova

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Keller Williams is coming to the Pearl Street Ballroom in Northampton on Friday, and he won’t be selling foreclosed homes.

No, this Keller Williams takes a more right-brained approach to making a living. A one-man band dubbed “music’s mad scientist,” this barefooted cult hero zips seamlessly between guitar, drum and bass, looping tracks and mesmerizing crowds.

A jack-of-all-trades, the lone wolf thrives on versatility, and despite a live show built on the spectacle of watching one man’s seemingly frantic and impromptu musical composition, he’s had no reservations working with other artists on his albums. Since 1994 Williams has released a myriad of releases spanning solo albums, live albums, collaborations, covers, remixes and even children’s music, bridging genres of bluegrass, funk, folk, jam, to name just a few.

Williams has collaborated with artists like The String Cheese Incident, Yonder Mountain String Band, and Umphrey’s McGee, and played at Tennessee’s Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, Michigan’s Rothbury Music Festival and Killington Vermont’s mountainside Snoedown.

On Dec. 17, Williams is set to release his first-ever release playing strictly bass, and if there’s any indication that the 41-year-old is still going strong, his fall tour provides ample proof.

What began with appearances at Magnolia Fest and Voodoo Music Festival makes a short stop in Northampton before continuing down the east coast for a four-day New Year’s run through Virginia and North Carolina. A week later Williams will set sail from Ft. Lauderdale aboard the 2012 Jam Cruise and make his rounds through Haiti, Jamaica and other Caribbean destinations.

A Fredericksburg, Va., native Williams got his start in high school as a local folk act.

“I was more than happy to play locally four to seven times a week and make 50 bucks a shot,” Keller said to The Wall Street Journal. “I figured I could adjust my lifestyle to that kind of salary. As long as I was happy. I never thought I’d get past playing restaurants and bars.”

Borrowing $3,000 from a friend to record 1994’s “Freek,” Williams drew on influences of the late acoustic guitarist Michael Hedges, the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia and bassist Victor Wooten, to season his sound and discover the possibilities of looping tracks live.

Looping allows Williams to lay down a rhythm track and then step back and solo over his own recording. Over the years Williams’ experience has enabled him to take this technique to new heights, incorporating a greater range of instruments and sounds and tinkering with his expertise to excite a crowd.

Tickets can be purchased in advance for $19 from the Northampton Box Office ($23 after fees). Tickets are $25 at the door. Doors open at 9 p.m.

Brian Canova can be reached at [email protected]