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Whether the venue is large or small, Keller Williams isn't having much trouble filling the seats.

One-Man Band

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Keller Williams hits the road hard when he tours the country in his 24-foot motor home with wife and sound man in tow, so when it comes to making sure his guitar and gear stay safe he doesn't fool around. Dogs Earl and the ever-vigilant Siberian Husky Sheeba take charge of front-seat security when it's time to park the load. "We've parked in the biggest cities across the country and never had a problem," the 30-year-old guitar wizard says, drawing out 'never' for emphasis. Williams has had few problems attracting increasing recognition for his talents during the past two or three years. He continues to play his genre-blending, one-man-band style of acoustic funk in small rooms such as the Cary Street Café where he'll perform Saturday. But Williams can also rattle off a list of theaters across the country where he's played and gained exposure recently. From the Fillmore in San Francisco to the Vick Theater in Chicago to Irving Plaza in New York, Williams' mix of upbeat, 10-string guitar styles is finding new audiences. That's not to mention landing on the bill with Galactic, Phil Lesh and other big-time jam bands at Red Rocks in Colorado. "I've been able to play a bunch of super cool places in front of a lot of people," Williams says with no shortage of gratitude in his voice. The Fredericksburg native has been playing frequent solo acoustic shows since the early '90s, and many of those shows were in now defunct Richmond venues such as Moondance and Memphis. Williams remembers he first played here in 1988 at a bar near the VCU campus when blues band Sapphire, The Uppity Blues Women, took a break in their show. But it wasn't until he moved to Steamboat Springs, Colo., in 1996 that his career took a turn. Playing the bars for $250 a week and free ski lift passes, he met The String Cheese Incident, a band that was just taking off. When the Incident's management booked a West Coast tour in 1997, Williams was asked to open the show. "That totally kick-started my whole life pretty much," he says. These days, in addition to the occasional independently booked run to smaller shows in Florida or other destinations, Williams finds himself sharing festival stages with some of his heroes such as Bela Fleck and Peter Rowan. He also has a new live, independent CD that was released this month. Next May, Williams says he's recording a studio CD for his label. But while much is happening fast, the young musician sounds like he's in no hurry. For now, he'll continue the solo shows that mix his vocals, electronic looping and acoustic guitar. Eventually, he'd like to get a group of "dream players" together to form a band. But for now, he just wants to pack those venues, large or small. "I'm pretty happy … I'm really starting to learn more and more as the years go by. It's starting to work well."

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