Sax player for Rolling Stones brings ensemble band to Homer

With the Homer Winter King Tournament happening this weekend, Homer has another big draw sure to attract not just fishermen: the only Alaska performance of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe.

The band will perform at 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Alice’s Champagne Palace.

“It’s one hell of a weekend for Homer to have the major fishing tournament and Karl Denson,” said Matt Hambrick, a music lover and local contractor who’s helping to promote and manage the show. “The town’s going to be hopping.”

Salmonfest fans may be remember Denson from his 2015 performance where he rocked the crowds even in a pouring rain. Denson returns backed by a six-member ensemble, including Alaska favorite lap steel guitarist Seth Freeman. Freeman joined the Denson tour after he wowed Denson in an Alice’s parking lot try-out at an after-fest appearance by Denson, said Josh Tobin, general manager for Alice’s.

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, or KDTU, is visiting Alaska as part of its “Gnomes & Badgers” album tour that began in January. While other tour dates include larger arenas in cities like Atlanta, San Diego and San Francisco, they will also play here in the intimate, 175-seat venue of one of Homer’s best-loved bars.

“The only other way you get to see Karl is in a large city like Seattle or New Orleans,” Tobin said.

Also joining KDTU are DJ Williams, guitar; Chris Littlefield, trumpet; David Veith, organ; Chris Stillwell, bass; and Zak Najor, drums. Denson leads on sax. Outside of his band, he might be familiar to fans of the Rolling Stones, where he plays saxophone on their tours.

“Gnomes & Badgers” came out on March 8, and is KDTU’s first studio album in five years.

“Denson fronts the Tiny Universe as if he’s preaching the gospel,” according to a press release from the band. “Merging funk, soul, rock, jazz, blues and more, his energy and spirit are contagious, while his songwriting speaks to a larger message of fellowship — across generations, genders, religions and cultures.”

Hambrick describes KDTU as “jam band meets funk.”

In a review of KDTU’s previous album, “New Ammo,” Britt Robson of Jazz Times wrote, “The buffed-up octet tosses together the driving grooves of Phish-like jam bands, the itchy spasticity of Downtowners like the Lounge Lizards and James Chance, and the splash-and-stab horn charts and kick-drum funk of James Brown.”

Denson, 62, has the gray beard of a distinguished musical legend. He got his start in 1988 when he started playing for Lenny Kravitz. Denson switched from rock ‘n’ roll to jazz in 1992, and in 1994 helped found Greyboy Allstars, during which he also recorded five solo albums. Eventually he formed KDTU, and has recorded five albums, starting with “The Bridge.”

Alice’s brought KDTU up in an effort to bring top acts to the classic Homer club. Tobin and Hambrick hatched the idea to get KDTU over a couple of drinks. Half the size of the Mariner Theatre, Alice’s fits the niche of a smaller venue still big enough to generate the energy of a rocking crowd.

Hambrick also sees bringing big acts to Alice’s as part of a vision to develop cultural tourism in Homer.

“We’re exploring being a destination for arts in Alaska,” he said.

But Hambrick and Tobin also have another motive.

“It’s just something to brighten up the winter,” Tobin said.

A contractor in his day job, Hambrick said he likes the challenge of organizing a concert appearance.

“I’m into music,” he said. “I like learning the business of these things — the business of the arts.”

With seven musicians and two staff members, the tour needs include all the sound equipment and set-up — called the backline — traveling musicians don’t want to carry if they don’t have a truck and roadies

“The backline is pretty involved,” Hambrick said. “… Alice’s is doing a service to Homer by taking this on. It’s a big deal getting them up here. … It’s going to sound good. It’s going to sound like it should sound.”

Tickets are on sale for $80 at

“We think it’s big enough it will draw people from the central peninsula and Anchorage,” Tobin said of KDTU.

“The fishing, the food, the views, the magic,” Hambrick said. “Who doesn’t want an excuse to come to Homer?”

For more information on Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, including music samples, visit their website at

Reach Michael Armstrong at

Karl Denson in a November 2018 photo. (Photo provided)

Karl Denson in a November 2018 photo. (Photo provided)

Karl Denson in a November 2018 photo. (Photo provided)

Karl Denson in a November 2018 photo. (Photo provided)

Photo provided                                Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe performs in this December 2017 photo.

Photo provided Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe performs in this December 2017 photo.

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