Today marks Keller Williams’ 51st birthday. Keller’s 51st falls six years after the Grateful Dead celebrated its 50th anniversary. But like many musicians in the jam scene and beyond, Williams has been celebrating the music of the Grateful Dead long before the fabled Fare Thee Well concerts.
Williams has never been bashful about his love for Grateful Dead music. The singer-songwriter founded a number of groups paying tribute to the legendary band, most notably with projects like Grateful Grass and Grateful Gospel. To celebrate Williams’ birthday, JamBase takes a look at five memorable times Keller has played Dead via the JamBase Live Video Archive (JBLVA).
Speaking of Grateful Grass, an incarnation of the Grateful Dead bluegrass tribute — the band has always had a revolving door lineup — delivered a rendition of the Dead classic “Scarlet Begonias” on Friday, August 1 at the 2014 Gathering Of The Vibes Music Festival in Bridgeport Connecticut. The lineup included Keller, bassist Reed Mathis and the late great Jeff Austin on mandolin.
Three years earlier at the 2011 Gathering Of The Vibes, Keller and Mathis took part in The Rhythm Devils, a supergroup that centered around Grateful Dead percussionists Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart along with guitarist and longtime Dead collaborator Steve Kimock. During their set at Vibes, the lineup performed the drum-heavy biblical favorite “Samson & Deliah.”
Fast forward ahead three years, Steve Kimock along with drummer John Kimock (Steve’s son) joined Keller for a breezy version of “Eyes Of The World” during Jam Cruise 12, taking place January 4 – 9, 2014. Steve delivers his characteristic tasty guitar work while Keller adds some bubbling bass lines.
In 2013, Keller floated the idea of Grateful Gospel to the organizers of LOCKN’ Festival as a Sunday act. Following the success of the LOCKN’ set, Keller brought Grateful Gospel — consisting of members of Keller’s Richmond, Virginia funk outfit More Than A Little and more — to the 2016 Northwest String Summit taking place at the famed Horning’s Hideout in Oregon. The band injected a little funk into the usually laid back Dead number, “Brokedown Palace.”
The aforementioned Fare Thee Well Grateful Dead 50th anniversary concerts in the summer of 2015 gave JamBase a chance to bring together a number of musicians from across the jam sphere and beyond to celebrate the music of the Grateful Dead. Dubbed Songs Of Their Own, the live video series saw artists covering the Dead at sites around the band’s hometown of San Francisco and beyond. One of Keller’s contributions was a solo acoustic version of the live classic “Brown-Eyed Women,” filmed at Phil Lesh’s Terrapin Crossroads. Interestingly, the Grateful Dead debuted “Brown-Eyed Women” almost 50 years ago on August 24, 1971, about a year and a half after Keller was born on February 4, 1970.