If you go
› What: Davina and the Vagabonds
› Where: Nightfall, Miller Park, 928 Market St.
› When: 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30
› Admission: Free
› For more information: http://www.nightfall chattanooga.com/schedule
Less than a month after the release of their new album, "Sugar Drops," Davina and the Vagabonds will stop in Miller Park to headline the last Nightfall concert of the season on Friday, Aug. 30.
The free summer concert in the park, 928 Market St., will open at 7 p.m. with Dr. B & the Ease before the headliners come on at 8 p.m.
The often unbelievable, but inspiring, journey of Davina Sowers begins in the economically depressed Allegheny town of Altoona, Pennsylvania, which she has described in interviews as "awesome in the industrial era, but horrible for high school." She was adopted by her much older stepfather when he was in his 80s, but he passed away when she was 13.
Through him and his Edison phonograph, she first heard The Ink Spots, Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She recalls hours on her own in front of the record player, where she religiously spun Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Simon and Garfunkel records belonging to her folk singer mom.
To this day, she refers to music as "my first and eternal love."
She developed a drug habit in high school, which morphed into heroin dependency, left her homeless, kept her in and out of jail and brought on all manner of trouble. But she got clean, started the band and has worked relentlessly every day since.
The frontwoman, singer and multi-instrumentalist describes this wild ride and herself as "a miracle."
"It really is amazing I'm alive. I can barely express the life I've lived. Starting the band saved me. Even though I've been clean for a long time, I still suffer, but I persevere. For me, to be this miracle and shine for myself and others is really important."
Davina and The Vagabonds shine every time they play. The frontwoman has been compared to Etta James, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, Billie Holiday and Betty Boop; but those comparisons are just that — she really is an original.
To date, they've performed in 45 states, 12 European countries, and two Canadian provinces. The group's 2011 full-length debut, "Black Cloud," cemented them as hometown heroes in Minneapolis. During 2016, they unveiled the live album "Nicollet and Tenth." In between, they played nearly 200 gigs annually, including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Four weeks ago, the band marked a new chapter with the release of its first album on Red House Records, "Sugar Drops."
"It represents about 100 years of Americana," Sowers says. "At the same time, I did exactly what I wanted to do. This album shows more confidence and awareness than ever before."
For the first time, Sowers worked in a traditional studio, Nashville's Compass Sound, to record "Sugar Drops."
"This is my seventh album. Every other release was done in a basement or in a very lo-fi manner," she compares. "It's the first time I've had a guitarist or a producer and been in a real studio. I approached it differently. It's the first time I've given my music to people I don't sit in a van with for 14 hours a day. So much is new for me, and I'm proud of it.
"To me, each song is a little tiny sugar drop for me to use to make a whole album of beauty," she says. "It's about what has happened and how I overcame all of it," she laughs. "I want people to feel the honesty I'm trying to convey. Hopefully, they can relate. It's just the truth—my truth."