Davina and the Vagabonds wander to Oddbody’s

Davina Sowers and the Vagabonds travel on to Oddbody’s June 17; photo: Garrett Born

By Joey Ferber

Barring the laws of space and time, if Davina and the Vagabonds were to share a bill with any artist, this non-stop act would be playing alongside Fats Waller, Tom Waits, and Louis Armstrong.

These Minnesotan musicians hold themselves to a high standard of quality, and after finishing their current European tour, they will grace Dayton with a brand of Americana music inspired by the sounds of jazz, blues, and New Orleans swing.

In spite of their Americana-style, Davina Sowers, leader of the Vagabonds, says they’re better received in Europe, where they were when Dayton City Paper spoke with Sowers, and where they’ve gone nearly every year for the past seven or so years.

“There’s a certain love for Americana music in Europe that I think, at least, younger generations in America have kind of lost in the history of music when it comes to blues and jazz,” Sowers says. “There’s just a certain nostalgia. … it’s a whole different vibe. Everybody’s all healthy, you know; you can’t order Domino’s at 3 a.m. Not that I like it better, because I’m happy to be playing wherever the hell that I can; it’s just different.”

Performing for worldwide audiences demands a high level of craft in storytelling. These stories must connect with listeners emotionally, especially when there’s a language barrier.

When that wall stands between an audience and the stage, Sowers says, “You have to be a little more animated as well, when you’re telling your story.  They can tell the ebb and flow in the emotion of the music rather than the literal words. And it depends where you’re at. We’re going to be in a small town in Belgium where we’ve been before and not a lot of them speak English, so I really have to tell them a story through my face and through the melody.”

Even in their recordings, The Vagabonds’ melodies bounce through the air, carrying the energy of a live show and the expressiveness of a performance fit for the theatre. Sowers partially credits her upbringing for the passion behind her music. Growing up in an economically depressed town in Pennsylvania, where “the only thing they really cared about was football,” she started drifting.

“I think I’m just like a born ham. I’ve been traveling since I was young. I’ve been on my own since I was a kid—since I was 15,” Sowers says. “When it comes to the genre, we’re not really genre-specific ’cause we’re really all over the map with that, as well. I think the New Orleans stuff comes from me growing up with older parents; I was adopted, so, you know, pop music. [My dad’s] Frank Ocean was like Louis Armstrong. That was popular music then, so that’s what he instilled in me growing up. And then my mom loved classic rock like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, so I kind of have all of that infused as well. I’m kind of a nutbag when it comes to that.”

Davina and the Vagabonds have crafted a distinctive character, melding impassioned stories with a timeless, soulful sound. Sowers credits the band’s musical maturity to the reality of living through life. “As I evolve, the music evolves. And apparently, so does the band,” Sowers says.

“When we first started, we were really in the blues scene and I just didn’t want a guitar. I like guitar and it’s great. It’s just everywhere I went was this long guitar solo, and I really wanted to throw a song in someone’s face. Just be like BAM! And not have a seven-minute song with all guitar instrumentation. I like that all-brass sound—I think it’s sexy. A lot of people don’t think trombone’s sexy. But it is. It has that low end. It makes your butt move. And then the trumpet I’ve always thought was amazing.”

In the midst of a music industry fostering conformity, Davina and the Vagabonds remain true to themselves, a feat that echoes Sowers’ personal approach to making music.

“Just be honest,” she says. “Hard working and honest. And truthful in your words. Try not to be like other people. Don’t do it for the money because there’s no money in it anyway. Do it for you and do it for the connection that you need whether it be with the people you’re playing with on stage or with the people in the audience. Honesty is the massive key for me.”

Davina and the Vagabonds play Saturday, June 17 at Oddbody’s, 5418 Burkhardt Rd. in Dayton. Show starts at 7:30 p.m., doors at 7. The show is $15-$20 for patrons 18 and over. For more information, please visit DavinaAndTheVagabonds.com and Oddbodys.com.


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Joey Ferber works out of St. Louis and Dayton as a musician and writer. You can hear him on electric guitar with St. Louis jazz-rap collective LOOPRAT at Looprat.Bandcamp.com and on his original theme song for the Dayton-based podcast series Unwritten at UnwrittenPodcast.com, for which he also contributed to as a scriptwriter. Reach him at JoeyFerber@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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