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Davina and the Vagabonds: Hot enough to melt ice

Central Lakes College (CLC) Theatre Cultural Arts Series producer Patrick Spradlin remembers the bitter cold of last winter, and he's got the perfect solution for the coming arctic blasts. He asks: "What better way to spend a frigid January night...

Minneapolis sensations Davina and the Vagabonds will persent a show at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 9 in the Chalberg Theatre on the Central Lakes College Brainerd campus. The show is part of the Cultural Arts Series. Submitted
Minneapolis sensations Davina and the Vagabonds will persent a show at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 9 in the Chalberg Theatre on the Central Lakes College Brainerd campus. The show is part of the Cultural Arts Series. Submitted

Central Lakes College (CLC) Theatre Cultural Arts Series producer Patrick Spradlin remembers the bitter cold of last winter, and he's got the perfect solution for the coming arctic blasts. He asks: "What better way to spend a frigid January night than listening to hot blues and jazz?" By attending the Minneapolis sensations Davina and the Vagabonds show at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 9 in the Chalberg Theatre on the Brainerd campus.

"The best description I've heard about this band was from Jon Bream of the Star Tribune," Spradlin said. "It was this: 'Davina Sowers sounds like the daughter of Leon Redbone and Betty Boop trained on piano by Randy Newman.' That just about says it all."

Davina Sowers and the Vagabonds (DATV) have created a stir on the national blues scene with their high-energy live shows, sharp-dressed professionalism, and Sowers' commanding stage presence. With influences ranging from Fats Domino and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Aretha Franklin and Tom Waits, the band is converting audiences one show at a time, from Vancouver to Miami and across Europe.

So much more than just a blues act, DATV's shows are filled with New Orleans charm, Memphis soul swagger, dark theatrical moments that evoke Kurt Weill and tender gospel passages. Davina's voice and stage presence defy category in a different way. Davina has been compared to Etta James, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, Billie Holiday and Betty Boop, but comparisons don't suffice: Sowers is a true original.

Something unique to this "blues" project is the instrumentation. This rollicking quintet is held together by Sowers' keyboard playing, with acoustic bass, drums and a spicy trumpet and trombone horn section. The group's focused, clean sound and emphasis on acoustic instruments is novel to both blues and jazz worlds, and sets the show closer to New Orleans than to Chicago. This has set the Vagabonds apart at blues festivals in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Sighisoara, Romania, Sierre, Switzerland, Kemi, Finland, and 2012's New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and Monterey Jazz Festival 2013 and 2014.

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Sowers, a classically-trained pianist, has years of experience in piano performance. She and her band made a big splash at Duluth's Bayfront Blues Festival in 2006 to 2008, having the highest sales in CDs all three years. She has been called the "hardest working blues woman in frigid Minnesota."

"Two things remain consistent in all her shows: Her throaty, but cushiony voice, which has a sort of hard mattress comfort to it that's part Bonnie Raitt, part Etta James and a little Amy Winehouse; and her band's rollicking New Orleans flavor, driven home by dueling horn players and a bayou thick standup bass," Chris Riemenschneider of the Star Tribune said.

"This girl is something special and her band is top notch. She just simply sits down at the piano and totally takes over the room," notes Fizz Kizer of The Honkytonk Cafe in Wisconsin.​

The Vagabonds are trumpeter Dan Eikmeier, trombonist Ben Link, drummer Connor McRae, and bassist Greg Byers.

Tickets are available from the CLC Theatre Box Office at 855-8199, or online at www.clcmn.edu/arts .

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