Keller Williams and Martin Sexton team for ‘Shut the Folk Up’ set at Belly Up Aspen

Keller Williams will return to Belly Up on Saturday, sharing the bill with Martin Sexton.
Aspen Times file |


Who: Martin Sexton and Keller Williams

What: ‘Shut the Folk Up & Listen’

Where: Belly Up Aspen

When: Saturday, March 10, 9 p.m.

How much: $35/general admission; $65/reserved

Tickets: Belly Up box office;

Martin Sexton and Keller Williams were made for each other.

Sexton, a Syracuse, New York, native, is a genre-hopping one-man musical encyclopedia whose extensive catalog hops easily across styles and genres from gospel to country and rock to blues and whatever he finds in between.

Williams, a proud Virginian, is best-known for his virtuosic solo performances using guitars and loop pedals to craft intricate orchestrations.

Both are Aspen favorites who have long been regulars at Belly Up.

On Saturday, they’re taking the Belly Up stage together in one of the most anticipated musical events of the winter. The stripped-down and acoustic show is one of three planned “Shut the Folk Up & Listen” concerts by the pair (they’re also playing Telluride today and Fort Collins on Sunday).

The pair has been friends for about 20 years, performing and recording together occasionally. Williams pitched the idea for these dual shows to Sexton and, together, they decided these mountain towns would be the ideal fit, they recalled.

“We chose these Rocky Mountain venues as we thought they’d be a perfect fit where fans can both shut the folk up and listen, and have fun,” Sexton said via email this week between tour stops in Texas and New Mexico.

The dual concert promises individual sets of bare-bones acoustic songs from each, followed by an improvisational and collaborative performance.

“I’m hoping for a lot of collaboration,” Williams said in a recent phone interview from home in Virginia. “I love so many of his songs and know so many of his songs and can sing harmony. It’ll be kind of easy, I think, for us to play together on these songs he’s written.”

The “Shut the Folk Up” moniker emerged from a stretch of similar shows Williams did last winter with the folk legend Leo Kottke (“It was from me trying to come up with a funny, snarky name for the Leo Kottke run,” Williams explained of the title). But the idea is that, yes, audiences should expect to stay quiet and pay attention to the performances.

“People are really used to talking and being social at my shows — it’s always been that party kind of atmosphere at the Belly Up,” Williams said. “It’s been a fun dance party where nobody has to be quiet. But this kind of show and this kind of material is geared toward a listening audience. … The challenging part becomes about how is a dancing audience going to take this seated kind of material when there’s no seats?”

As Sexton joins forces with Williams in Colorado, Sexton is touring in support of his eighth studio album, “Mixtape of the Open Road,” which was inspired by the kinds of mixtapes friends make for one another (or used to, anyway).

“The songs dictated the mixtape idea as each one of them, kind of like my children, had their own personality and direction,” Sexton said.

Playing with Williams, Sexton said, brings the best out of both of these troubadours.

“(Williams) is one of the most creative people I know and one of the biggest fans of music that I’ve ever met,” Sexton said. “We genuinely have fun playing together and I think we bring out the childlike imagination in one another.”

Williams has released at least one album a year since 1999 — always exploring adventurous 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.

Willams also released a handful of Tom Petty covers recently, paying tribute to the late rock star, who died in October. Williams did an all-Petty benefit show in Virginia three years ago, dubbed PettyGrass, and revived the material as a tribute following Petty’s death. Williams is taking the Petty tribute on the road this summer with the Hillbenders.

“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 said. “I think this project is going to be very special and positive — a sing-along type of act that people are going to dig.”

Sexton said that he, too, is considering trying his hand at making an all-covers album for his next project. Williams may play some of the Petty material at the Belly Up show because, as he repeated a few times, “there are no rules” in terms of what might happen onstage during the “Shut the Folk Up” sets.

But, of course, as anyone who has seen Williams play Aspen previously can attest, his love song to snowboarding, “Freshies,” is usually an essential part of the experience.

“It’s hard not to play ‘Freshies’ in a ski town,” he admitted.