Keller Williams :: 1.13.05 :: Ski Jam :: Steamboat Springs, CO

Keller Williams by Tobin Voggesser

A couple weeks ago I received one of those partly fun and partly annoying emails from a buddy designed "to get to know your friends better." It was a questionnaire, and one of the questions it asked was, "Where would you like to have a second home?" After deciding to annoy even more people by forwarding my answers to them, my initial reaction was "actually I'm still working on owning my first house, asshole," but I ended up answering "Steamboat Springs."

About an hour north of the well-traveled Colorado resorts of Vail, Breckenridge, and Keystone lies Steamboat Springs. Because of its relatively remote location, Steamboat attracts fewer people and consequently boasts some of the best runs for skiers in the Rockies. Ski Jam was inevitable because it is simply a perfect idea: a package deal where you surround yourself with idyllic scenery for nearly a week spending days on the slopes and nights seeing great live music.

That's why, in spite of living in Denver (and having to make a five hour round-trip to get back to work at 8 a.m. the following day), I said "screw it" and decided to make the trip up to Steamboat on a weeknight for the final night of the Ski Jam. The balmy 40-degree Denver air quickly disappeared as we made the trek up the mountain into temperatures that quickly plummeted and approached the negative range. Not a problem... yet.

"So it says that the show is in a tent."

"It's pretty damn cold to be havin' a show outside in a tent."

"Yeah, no joke. This could get interesting."

Keller Williams by Tobin Voggesser
We arrived at the tent just in time to hear Keller Wiliams greet the crowd. The tent wound up being a refuge from the elements, and the winter coats quickly came off. We hadn't even gotten our tickets from the will call/guest list area before we were being asked for our ID's. After getting a wristband and a pat on the back at the security checkpoint, we were already in the crowd without even having shown a ticket. If the music hadn't already started, I would've done the right thing – stood in line for my ticket, then walked back to the entrance to show it to someone. That process of "entry first, ticket second" seemed completely backwards at the time, and I still fail to see the logic in it. Given the porous security and the fact that I had already missed the first couple minutes, we instead opted to make our way into the crowd.

A jam gradually materialized into the Dead classic "Brown-eyed Women," which found a large portion of the crowd singing along with Keller. He had a typically great stage presence the entire night, and his sustained enthusiasm slowly seeped into the crowd during the ninety-minute continuous medley. He engaged in light banter with the audience throughout the night, and asked "Who here got to check out Michael Franti on Monday night? Wasn't that great?!" and received a nice roar in response from the crowd of twenty-somethings. I was a little envious considering I wasn't able to catch the show, but I assumed that such a question could only mean that Franti was about to come onstage. He didn't. A well-intentioned gesture quickly turned into a cruel tease for those hoping to see a Franti-Williams throwdown. Turns out Keller just wanted to make sure everyone had fun on Monday night.

Photo by Tobin Voggesser
That bittersweet exchange was quickly forgotten when he jumped into "From Pizza Towers to Defeat," a tune that most in the crowd remembered from Gordon & Kottke's release a couple years back. It was the first of a number of choice covers that would come to define the show.

As always, K-Dub kept the music flowing the entire night and had a number of intricately designed loop jams. He moved from guitar to guitar onstage, stepping on pedals and flipping switches like a mad scientist, adding depth to the jam at every turn. A funky bassline would be quickly punctuated by some tasty work on the keys and topped off with a riff on the six-string. Without fail, his vocal beat-boxing fired up the crowd and added that signature texture to the mix.

I personally prefer that on-the-spot improvisation to many of his actual songs, as his vocals occasionally conjure up some harrowing memories of the Barenaked Ladies for me.

The set then took a nice, slow turn with another Dead pick, "Ship of Fools," which had some people swaying slowly from side to side but found most others in the crowd talking to friends. The song was well-played but seemed slightly at odds with the energy of the audience.

Photo by Tobin Voggesser
Minutes later, a slow jam led into a well-received "Lion Sleeps Tonight," and Keller once again had the audience back. Capitalizing on the moment he opted for some Tenacious D. "Kielbasa Sausage," to be precise. I'm a sucker for some Tenacious D and thoroughly enjoyed Keller's spin on it – he transformed it into a thoughtful piano ballad that seemed to amplify the hilarity of the lyrics.

The rock 'n' roll attitude continued with a ridiculously familiar guitar line that I couldn't place for a couple seconds. Then it all came rushing back. "I'm so happy, cause to-daaaay I found my friends..." Wow. Some vintage Nirvana – the entire crowd seemed pleasantly surprised by the selection.

After thanking those in attendance, Keller continued the early/mid-90s flashback with the set-closing rendition of "What I Got" by Sublime. It seemed to fit perfectly with the mood at the moment and was received enthusiastically by the crowd with Keller exchanging lines with the audience.

Keller went with a "Boob Job" encore, which again appropriately captured the lighthearted mood of the evening. After being surrounded by fresh snow, gorgeous mountain peaks, spectacular views and even better slopes for nearly a week; it's tough to be anything but lighthearted. K-Dub delivered the goods to officially close out Ski Jam 2005, though the music would continue throughout the night with impromptu gigs by a number of musicians on the icy streets of Steamboat.

There are some intangible factors that may never be captured on tape but can markedly influence a musical performance. Virtually everyone in attendance was on vacation (or at least an extended road trip) and the question "Why?" was replaced with a "Why not?" attitude at every turn. For most, the thrill of hitting the slopes during the day was topped off with a relaxing nightcap of live music. Post-show parties in condos are only a short walk away, and our only regret in making the five-hour trek is that we weren't able to bask in the scenery a little more. With slightly better planning on our part (and perhaps better organization by the concert promoters) Ski Jam could easily become an annual gathering that is not to be missed.

Nathan Rodriguez
JamBase | Colorado
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[Published on: 1/20/05]

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