Karl Denson brought the funk but not the fire to Asheville show


Caleb Calhoun

I came into the night tittering like a school girl. Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe with special guest Jimmy Herring (Widespread Panic guitarist) at New Mountain AVL last week was enough to get me pumped. The addition of local hotshots The Digs to the lineup provided an extra shot of adrenaline. This was, I suspected, going to be a night to remember.

The show sold out the evening before, but I wasn’t too worried. New Mountain is built to handle a sellout crowd. While the milling-around time before the music starts can be a little claustrophobic, it only takes a few songs for one to recognize the genius of the venue’s design.

Balconies line either side and the back of the room, while the staircases offer long and gentle ascents. Within a couple of songs, without fail, the crowd disperses itself along the rails, opening up just the right amount of space necessary to dance freely.

The Digs opened well and the crowd was grooving early. It was a somewhat diverse scene: Panicheads, the typical jam crowd and the jazz/soul contingent, to name a few. The vibe was flowing, The Digs were funky, but I was disappointed that their set ended so quickly.

It was only 9:34 p.m. and I was sure we still had several face melting jams to go. Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe finally takes the stage, greeted to a massive ovation, and quickly launches into “Power Soul.” The crowd is engaged, but it feels like there’s something missing.  A few songs into the set, Herring makes his appearance from stage left. He promptly takes his place in the back corner of the stage, obscured by the drums and keys.

The songs are tight and short, the jams abbreviated, but the music is superb. The crowd is certainly moving. We’re trying to take our cues from the band, but they seem very far away while still on point.

Nine songs in they hit “Skunk Funk” and take it into “Young Americans.” The place is heating up a little and I’m certain this is the last song before intermission. As the song fades out, I begin to gather my belongings for the cold trip outside. Instead I’m surprised to hear the band launch almost immediately into “Millvale.”

That’s when it hits me. This is going to be a one-set show. I look to my friend and see the same disappointed recognition in her eyes. With clearly only a few songs to go, and The Wizard hiding in the corner, we make our way to the opposite side of the stage. We’re waiting for that moment when the lights dim and the spotlight shines on Herring. We’re waiting for him to shred our faces. It doesn’t happen.

A few songs later, they end the set with “Satisfied,” followed by a raging encore of “NYC.” Not quite an hour and fifty minutes of music for a ticket that most of the crowd payed around $30 for. They clear the stage several minutes before midnight and the crowd begins to move on.

As I walk out the doors, there’s no question about what I just saw talent-wise, but I face the bitter Asheville wind feeling just a little disappointed.

Caleb Calhoun studied writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and music at a plethora of clubs and bars across the southeast. He is the author and publisher of Rosman City Blues and currently resides outside of Asheville with his dog and best friend, Dr. Gonzo.

You can reach him at Caleb.calhoun@gmail.com and/or Facebook.com/GonzoNC.