Davina and the Vagabonds, CSPS Hall, Cedar Rapids, IA, August 9, 2014

Article and photography by Charles “Rain” Black

There are “retro” bands which keep heritage music alive, playing songs from past decades as they were originally meant to be played. Then there are “retro” bands that write their own music in a retro style.

Then there's Davina and the Vagabonds.

The marvelously talented and creative Davina Sowers and her band fall somewhere in between the above groups. Or, maybe they are just carving their own niche. However you want to classify them, they offered a unique and highly entertaining mix of original and classic songs in their debut performance at CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, August 9. Their original tunes are very much in the style of Dixieland, Fats Waller, Cab Calloway and other good time, dance till you drop hits from years past. The exciting part is that they perform some of those same songs in their own style.

“Our version is a bit more sassy than how Fats (Waller) performed it”, Davina said of one song.

The show stopper of the evening, for me at least, as Davina's performance of the Etta James hit, “I'd Rather Go Blind”. Davina must have been channeling the spirit of Etta, because she nailed the song like I no one else I've heard besides Etta. A moment of silence, then a standing ovation showed just how impressed the audience was.

Imagine that same vocal styling applied to “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, which Davina performed during the second set, and you have an idea of how creative she and her band of Vagabonds are.

The show was an electrifying example of a performer who knows how to take classic material and put her own stamp on it, making it uniquely her own while still paying respectful homage to the original artists. At one point, Davina shouted that she will be coming back to Cedar Rapids, and the audience cheered enthusiastically.

I'm looking forward to her return.

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