Keller Williams, Stone Pony, Asbury Park, NJ- 9/21
We’ve driven to the Asbury Park exit on the Garden State Parkway; It’s 4pm and one of our favorite musician and artists, Keller Williams, is playing tonight. Keller’s funky and unique style of music has received more attention recently and the crowds at his concerts have begun to increase substantially – but would anyone show up in Asbury Park, New Jersey for the Virginia native’s show?
After making a right onto Asbury Ave, my roommate advises me to “go to the ocean and make a left.” After 3 miles, we pull up to Ocean Ave and make the left we’re early for the show, yet all we can see is fans dressed in all black from head to toe, tailgating on their Harley Davidson’s! What’s going on here, did we get the date of the show wrong? Keller can’t possibly be playing here tonight with this crowd, can he? My roommate goes inside to investigate and comes out shaking his head laughing. We are interrupting a “Black Label” party. Yes, Keller is playing tonight but not until 10:00pm, he says, and something tells me the crowd for his show will look slightly different.
The geography and culture in the state of New Jersey can range from nasty to beautiful. Asbury Park whose claim to fame recently is being known as the hometown of Bruce Springsteen – is a beautiful geographical beach town right on the Atlantic Ocean. Culturally, the town has seen better days companies and families have moved out long ago and decaying buildings that were built in the early 1900s sit empty, giving the feeling of a ghost town. For lodging, tourists have 3 options of motels and one hotel, the gigantic Berkeley Cartaret Hotel that sits adjacent to the convention center. One reason we chose the Berkeley was because we had heard stories of it being haunted. The hotel was built in the 1920s and has been remodeled throughout the years though unfortunately for us, not recent enough. The other reason we chose the hotel was because it was next to the town’s famous music venue, The Stone Pony. We had seen rates for the hotel on the internet at $89/night, but as “walk-in” customers, we would have to pay $129/night. “Can’t you just give it to us for $89,” my roommate asked? “No, sorry,” the front desk lady said. “You have to book it on the internet only.” So my roommie did what he does best, called his girlfriend and had her make the reservation online. Thirty minutes later we were sitting on our hotel room windowsill, smoking, looking out at the beautiful Atlantic Ocean.
To answer our original question, yes, a lot of people showed up. The venue is amazing and deserves all of the publicity that it gets. The Stone Pony’s capacity is in the mid to high 1000s, and there were at least 1200 people there. The place was absolutely packed forget about trying to get a drink and coming back to your original spot. Keller’s sets included a lot of his distinctive covers (It’s Getting Hot in Here, Pink Panther Theme), originals, (Alligator Alley, Earl and Sheba, and Freeker by the Speaker were highlights), and jamming lots and lots of jamming. If you think Keller sits up there with one guitar ala some of these other musicians than you need to go check him out. The man is characterized as a one-man band for a good reason if his eight guitars aren’t enough, he also has a mini drum kit, and his “band” sounds better than most 4 or 5 piece bands.
A lot has been written about Keller Williams’ unique musical style of comparing and contrasting. Something that goes unnoticed, however, is that he’s one of the most expressive musicians out there. Those that have seen him live understand; his facial expressions in particular are hilarious! One song he’ll stand straight up and look straight ahead, opening his mouth only slightly to make incredible trumpet sounds. On another tune we’ll find him running from one end of the stage to the opposite end, and on another him dancing to a musical loop that he has created with his abundant instruments. Williams truly enjoyed the interaction between band and audience and welcomed participation. While some bands have issues with audience members singing or clapping along to their music, during the Pink Panther Theme, he picked out audience members that were whistling to his satisfaction and gravitated towards them from the stage. Keller wants you to enjoy the music, but he also wants to see you smiling, having a good time, and laughing.Towards the end of the night, Keller thanked the crowd and took the obligatory encore. After finishing the song, his congregation stayed and urged him to come back. Upon returning to the stage, Keller looked at the crowd with a face that said, “I’d play all night if I could.” When he openned with the familiar chords of Best Feeling, the crowd could hardly contain themselves and the song turned into a Stone Pony singalong. Keller literally let the patrons sing the entire first half of the song by themselves and made funny faces when the audience missed a change.
As we walked back to the hotel from the venue, on a glorious September evening at the beach, we realized that we had seen a special show. Since there is nothing to do in Asbury Park after 1 am, the only idea that popped into our heads was to travel to the next Keller show to see what he will play next. Had he been playing the next night or two (he didn’t play again for another week), we most certainly would have dropped other commitments to go see him. And, really, isn’t that the measuring stick of a great band?