Keller Williams grew up in Fredericksburg and currently resides in King George. (Photo by C. Taylor Crothers)

Williams continues tradition with 20th annual SPCA benefit concert

by | May 27, 2024 | ALLFFP, Arts and Entertainment, Fredericksburg

A much-anticipated music benefit will take place this Friday at Hard Times Cafe at Four Mile Fork in Spotsylvania.

Friday marks the 20th-annual SPCA benefit put on by national jam band musician Keller Williams held in the Fredericksburg area. Keller grew up in the city and graduated from James Monroe High School. He currently lives with his family in King George. He and his wife Emily are animal lovers and big supporters of the SPCA’s mission. 

“We just love dogs and cats. We’ve always had cats come and go, and we both grew up as dog folks,” Williams said. “When we moved out to the country, these cats started adopting us. We’ve always loved what they’re doing out there at the SPCA in Fredericksburg. We want to do everything we can to keep them out there.”

This is the fourth time the benefit has been held at Hard Times Cafe. Williams originally wanted to keep it in the downtown area; previous locations have included The Field House, The Silk Mill, and Fredericksburg Square, but Hard Times is better suited for the logistics of a large event, he said.

“Hard Times can hold a couple hundred people and they have everything you need — stage and lights,” Williams said. “They’re really wonderful folks over there, and they’ve always taken care of us as far as putting on the show with no expenses. It works out great.”

Williams has performed past benefits solo and with a variety of backing groups. This year, he is doing two sets with the local rhythm section of Joanna Smith on upright bass and Piper Barbre on drums. Smith and Barbre not only play together in multiple area bands including Jon Tyler Wiley & His Virginia Choir — but are also married.

Williams said that bond translates to their musical performance.

“It’s fun because Joanna is an amazing upright bass player and with Piper, the two of them have an amazing connection; not only in marriage but also as a rhythm section,” he said. “When you sleep next to someone you get a certain connection that is deeper than physical. They have a certain connection that other bass and drummers don’t have. It’s really special and I love playing with them.”

Wiiliams plans to do a trio set, then a solo set and end the evening with a final trio set; making what he calls a “trio sandwich.” Smith and Barbre joined Williams at a previous SPCA benefit at Hard Times, but they have been working on new versions of his extensive catalog with added vocal harmonies to keep things fresh. 

When live venues were shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, Keller streamed a series of performances from his basement called “Keller’s Cellar,” which were made available on his website. While Keller has always had a dedicated fanbase who travel to multiple shows, the webcast brought out a new community of people who met online during those performances. Many of them met in person for the first time at last year’s SPCA benefit at Fredericksburg Square. 

“Big friendships and relationships were made,” Williams said. “It’s really kind of mindblowing. Last week we did the second Camp Keller up in Connecticut and that’s kind of been the place where it all comes together. Those relationships from the chat room come together and flourish. They all get together at different spots in the country for shows — Fredericksburg definitely being one of them.”

Williams’ tight relationship with his audience is part of the empathetic, artistic philosophy that he has created with his fanbase. By playing with different group settings and venues he provides a new and different experience for his many followers. 

“I’ve always tried to put myself in the place of the audience and try and do something I would want to see,” he said. “Not only am I focusing on what I’m doing on stage, but I’m trying to envision myself watching it and put myself in the place of the audience. It’s a little self-indulgent in a way but I feel like I’m very lucky to be able to do what I do and have folks want to see it and support it.“

If you go

Keller Williams 20th SPCA Benefit, Hard Times Cafe,10760 Patriot Hwy, Fredericksburg, Friday May 31st, Doors 7 p.m., Proceeds will benefit the Fredericksburg Area SPCA. Age 21+. Tickets are $40. Online tickets available here

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