Saturday evening the Fischer Theatre opened its doors at 6 p.m., complete with a flashing marquee and Todd Gallagher’s jazz trio filling the lobby with music, in preparation for Davina and the Vagabonds. An event created for volunteers and donors to the Danville Public Library Foundation, the CEO of the Foundation, Peter Blackmon, wanted to allow the entire community to see this fabulous performer.
The curtain opened and we got our first glimpse of Davina and her Vagabonds. Davina Sowers was seated at a keyboard with a bright red beret on top of her head, David Eikmeier on trumpet, Connor McRay Hammergren on drums and vocals, Benjamin Link on trombone, and Matt Blake on upright bass. Dressed in their suits and ties, their aesthetic matched their sound as they started the show.
The crowd was mesmerized from the opening notes. Sowers’s smooth and powerful voice weaved amongst audience members as if she had cast a spell. The song “Black Cloud” from their album Nicollet and Tenth sent the crowd straight back to the roaring twenties with its horns and vaudeville-esque piano. In their next song, Sowers and Link treated us to a vocal/trombone riff-off, with Sowers besting the trombone player with her trills and ability to jump around within her key.
The song “Devil Horns,” from their most recent album Sugar Drops, had a moving rhythm and fun lyrics. A look around the theater showed the audience dancing and clapping in their seats, cheering every time the lights came up with the word “red,” and roaring with joy when the horn players made a nod toward “Ring of Fire” during the lead break. “Pocket,” another song from Nicollet and Tenth, had an almost Elle King vibe to it. It was fun and upbeat with Sowers’s vocals transmuting her sultry growl into something with a bit more bite and edge. By the time she played “Five Foot Two,” she had the crowd in the palm of her hand, effortlessly tickling the ivories and transporting us all back to the prohibition era.
Hammergren had his own show-stealing moments that evening, with his rendition of “Louisiana Fairytale” bringing the crowd to its feet. The melody was catchy and Sowers added harmonies guaranteed to keep the tune stuck in your head. Sowers shared that Hammergren has a formal education in Spanish, and so she gave him the song “Boogie-Woogie na Favela,” believing the song to be in Spanish. She said Hammergren showed up to rehearsal ready to go, and ready to inform her the song was actually in Portuguese. He performed the song to a standing ovation that evening.
There was no intermission, but no one seemed to notice as Davina and the Vagabonds shared stories from performances and joked together from the stage. They kept the crowd engaged and made the whole performance feel more intimate and relaxing.
As a Danville native, born and raised, I made sure to look around the crowd during this performance. Vermilion County doesn’t lack the opportunity to see live entertainment on just about any night, but the chance to see a nationally touring performer at the historic Fischer Theatre is a rare treat, and the community showed up. The theater holds 300 people and there was scarcely an empty seat in the house. All the boxes were full and the audience members were dressed to impress. I know I speak for more than a few of us Vermilion County natives when I say we’d love the opportunity to see Davina and her Vagabonds again.