Telluride Bluegrass: Keller Williams with Travelin’ McCourys

Telluride Bluegrass: Keller Williams with Travelin’ McCourys

It’s one more example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts – although in this case, the parts are the best of the best. Booty-shaking good.

Keller Williams, by K.W.C. Taylor

Keller Williams, by K.W.C. Taylor

For the 2012 recording, Pick, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Keller Williams teamed up with Nashville royalty, The Travelin’ McCourys. The album’s 12 tracks, a mix of originals and covers, put a unique spin on Americana music’s long tradition of storytelling. Keller’s unconventional songwriting takes on unsuspecting weight when backed by The Travelin’ McCourys –  Ronnie McCoury on mandolin, Rob McCoury on banjo, Jason Carter on fiddle and Alan Bartram on bass – emotive tones. Inspired by Keller’s go-for broke creativity, The Travelin’ McCourys’ flawless playing seems to go wider and deeper.

If you have not already sampled  the goods, get a taste of Pick  – and a whole lot more from the collaboration – at the 41st annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Thursday, June 19 – Sunday, June 22. Keller Williams with The Travelin’ McCourys is scheduled for Friday, June 20, 12:30 – 1:45 p.m.

“Keller loves the Telluride Bluegrass Festival,” says Planet Bluegrass marketing guru Brian Eyster. “In fact, he came religiously for seven years before he first got to play The Main Stage in 2002. (As I recall. But don’t bet the bank on the year). Keller’s collaboration with the McCourys is just soooo much fun.”

The eclectic tastes of the ever-prolific Keller Williams were cultivated way back when.

His history begins in Virginia, where Williams was born 40+ years ago. Early musical influences included country and bluegrass, then hip-hop and go-go, a funk varietal. Once he picked up a guitar, Williams’ sphere expanded to what he calls “the post-pseudo-skateboarder punk-rock rebellious type of thing,” Black Flag and Sex Pistols and Ramones, Dead Kennedys, neo “Rebel Without a Cause” type stuff. Up next, the Cure and the Cult, the Smiths, R.E.M.’s first five or six records, melodic college rock. But it was Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead who really rocked Williams’ world. Then, after moving to Colorado for a few years, Keller got deeply schooled in bluegrass music and progressive acoustic artists such as Telluride Bluegrass regular, Bela Fleck (and the Flecktones).

Keller Williams with the MCourys, by Drew Gurian

Keller’s grab-bag musical tastes led him to radio. For years, he has hosted Keller’s Cellar.

“Keller’s Cellar Somewhat Ruleless Radio” is a 59 minute, self indulgent, narrated mixed tape of stuff that I am into. I started this radio show back in 2003 in an attempt to document the music that I was listening to. My CDs were all over the floor and vehicle and in danger of getting stepped on and ruined, so it was a good way to preserve them. The show was originally going to be called just “Ruleless Radio” but fortunately, a triple A radio station in Wilmington, North Carolina invited me to fill an hour on Saturday nights. So, obviously the FCC makes it “Somewhat Ruleless.” The only real rule is that I can’t say or play any songs with the words shit, fuck or bitch in them. Other than that I can play whatever I want. Anything! My goal was to be syndicated like the way Howard Stern used to be, except I wouldn’t talk as much and would play all kinds of music, none of which you normally hear on the radio. I am still not syndicated, which means I have not sold out to “the man” but I probably would…..,” wrote Williams in 2011.

The Travelin’ McCourys are 21st-century musical pilgrims and adventurers, playing non-stop traditional and progressive music. In fact, it appears they cannot stand still. The group is forever on the road—and online—entertaining audiences with live shows that include some of the best musicians and singers from all genres – like Keller Williams. It’s always different, always exciting, and always great music.


Their bona fides for doing the voodoo that they do are platinum. For starters, two are sons of bluegrass legend Del McCoury: Ronnie McCoury on mandolin and Rob McCoury on banjo continue their father’s work—a lifelong dedication to the power of bluegrass music to bring joy into people’s lives. And with fiddler Jason Carter and bassist Alan Bartram, the ensemble is loved and respected by the bluegrass faithful. But the band is now combining their sound with others to make something fresh and rejuvenating.

Find out for yourself when they, ahem, Pick at the 41st annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

To learn more, click the “play” button and listen to my chat with Keller.

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