Keller Williams and the Hillbenders bring PettyGrass to Belly Up Aspen |

Keller Williams and the Hillbenders bring PettyGrass to Belly Up Aspen

Andrew Travers
Keller Williams will return to Belly Up on July 6 with his PettyGrass tribute.
Aspen Times file


What: Keller Williams’ PettyGrass

Where: Belly Up Aspen

When: Friday, July 6, 8 p.m.

How much: $38-$70

Tickets: Belly Up box office;

Three years back, at his annual ASPCA benefit in his hometown of Fredricksburg, Virginia, the virtuosic guitarist and adventurous bandleader Keller Williams put together a set of bluegrass-infused Tom Petty covers. He dubbed the event “PettyGrass.”

When Petty died unexpectedly last fall, Williams dug into his practice session recordings from the festival and released them as a tribute to the rock legend.

Now he’s taking PettyGrass on the road, with the Missouri-based bluegrass outfit The Hillbenders, with a tour that comes to Belly Up Aspen on Friday, July 6.

“Petty is one of those guys where I never had a Petty record, but I could sing 15 of his hits front to back, because I grew up listening to the radio,” Williams told me in March, when he came through Aspen with Martin Sexton. “I think this project is going to be very special and positive — a sing-along type of act that people are going to dig.”

Best-known for his inventive live performances using loop pedals to craft intricate orchestrations, Williams — as Aspen fans well know, as he comes through town seasonally — can also lead a mean jam band or, as with this project, a bluegrass crew.

When The Hillbenders heard his tribute songs to Petty, they reached out to Williams about a collaboration and he jumped at the chance to bring PettyGrass to the masses.

“When he died, we revisited all those old practice voice memos and released them,” Williams said. “The Hillbenders picked up on it. They’re also big Petty fans, not afraid to do cover songs, and give great attention of detail to music in general when they play.”

If anybody’s going to do something new with a cover-song tribute show, it’s Keller Williams. This spring Sexton described him as “one of the most creative people I know and one of the biggest fans of music that I’ve ever met.”

Williams has released at least one album a year since 1999 — always exploring far-flung new terrain as an artist. Last year he released “Raw,” his first solo all-acoustic guitar record, and “Sync,” an acoustic dance record with his four-piece progressive jazz band KWahtro. He’s done an all-bass record and one with the funk band More Than a Little, another with the Travelin’ McCourys.

A one-time Boulder resident, he makes his way through Colorado and into the mountains with just about every project he takes on.

“Colorado in general is a magnet for youth,” he said. “It’s the youth that goes to shows. So many times me and a bunch of friends are playing the same night in the same town and everybody does well, because it’s a beautiful magent of music loving, open-minded, cool people. My favorite place to play is where there’s open-minded, music-loving, cool people. And that’s Colorado in general.”