Giant universe: Pavilion's inaugural awesome

Oh, there was talk– all kinds of talk. There were optimists and pessimists. There were supporters and naysayers. Seems like for the last two weeks, all that was talked about was whether the work crew would have the Charlottesville Pavilion finished in time for the grand opening. From an outside perspective, it seemed like a nearly impossible task.


Those who had doubts definitely had more words in their mouths after that big storm came, tearing down trees in the city center. And trees and power lines weren't the only tragedy. One half of massive amphitheatre tarp that had only just been erected a few days earlier also fell to nature's wrath. Rumors flew that the entire piece was custom ordered from Hungary and would take at least 40 days to replace.

Still, advertisements reassured us that the shows planned for the following week would go on. Karl Denson's Tiny Universe was scheduled to deliver a free inaugural performance Wednesday, July 27 with hometown funk-boy openers Man Mountain jr. As a matter of fact, blistering heat and afternoon rains were hampering efforts for several days leading up to that Wednesday.

Imagine everyone's surprise when all the lighting rigs and sound equipment magically appeared Wednesday, ready to be fired up. What had been a pit of Virginia mud and red clay had been completely filled with concrete and fresh sod– ready for the thousand or so folk who would dance, sit, or stand.

Just like that. Wednesday evening rolled around to find the facility fully staffed– powder-blue t-shirts, walkie-talkies, electronic ticket counters, the whole nine yards. The impossible had been made possible. By 7:30pm the place was already filling up with the curious and the eager.

A storm cloud threatened to put a damper on the carryings-on, but that didn't stop the energy from flowing freely about the facility. I made my way to the backstage area to get a feel for what the behind-the-scene folk were talking about. The sound and lighting crew were all optimistic about a great show.

When Man Mountain Jr. got into their set, the whole facility came alive. The sound was huge– I'm talkin' massive! You could hear the performance clearly all the way down the Mall to Blue Light Grill. Man Mountain dove into a short opening set sounding better and more inspired than I've ever heard them. How could they be anything short of amazing, knowing they were the first band to play notes at this brand new multi-million dollar facility?

After a very short stage change-over, Karl Denson and his Tiny Universe stepped to the stage to a gracious reception. K.D. is known on the festival circuit as one certified badass. James Brown himself wouldn't have been a better act to christen the spot with the requisite soul to bring the Charlottesville Pavilion to life.

Karl Denson's Tiny Universe played one long 90-minute set of relentless funk, jazz, and soul music. If that guy doesn't have great musicians in his entourage, then I don't know who does. The drummer and guitarists are world class. The bassist is rock solid. Mix that with Karl Denson's husky five-foot five-inch frame packed with more saxophone skill than a little bit, and you have one hell of a show.

I hung backstage almost the entire time watching the band from my first-person vantage point. Just looking out over the crowd of people in one space dancing and smiling really puts everything in perspective. I mean, just two weeks before, no one thought it could be done. And there I was looking out at our community, all of us aware that the trials and hardships we'd gone through to get to that point were well worth it.