If James Brown was the hardest working man in show business, Davina Sowers is the hardest working woman. With her longtime band the Vagabonds, she’s always on the road and her performance calendar is fierce. Singer, songwriter, barrelhouse piano player, she has often been compared to Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin and Billie Holiday, except Davina kicked her heroin habit years ago and has been sober for 17 years.
Born and raised in Altoona, Pennsylvania, based in Minneapolis since 2004, Davina has performed all over the world at bars and clubs, theaters and major festivals, on PBS’ “Bluegrass Underground” and the BBC’s “Later … with Jools Holland.”
With three self-produced albums in her rearview mirror – “Black Cloud” (2011), “Sunshine” (2014) and “Nicollet and Tenth” (2016) – she’s about to release her fourth, “Sugar Drops.”
This one isn’t self-produced. Recorded in Nashville’s Compass Sound Studio, with Compass Records co-founder Garry West as producer, it features Davina’s husband, Zack Lozier, on trumpet and a rotating cast of powerhouse players. The Current premiered one track, “Little Miss Moonshine,” in May. Rolling Stone just featured another, “I Can’t Believe I Let You Go,” in its list of 10 Best Country and Americana Songs to Hear Now.
About the new album, Davina has said, “It represents about 100 years of Americana. I did exactly what I wanted to do.” And: “Each song is a tiny little sugar drop for me to use to make a whole album of beauty. It’s about what has happened and how I overcame all of it. Plus, I love sugar.”
Is Davina’s music Americana? Country? Blues or bluegrass, rock or jazz? New Orleans or neo-soul? The simplest and rightest answer is yes.
“Sugar Drops” will come out on Red House Records, with an official release date of August 2. The album release show will take place on the Guthrie’s thrust stage on Monday, Aug. 5, in a co-presentation with the Dakota, where Davina often performs when she’s not somewhere else. FMI and tickets (start at $35).
Tonight (Wednesday, July 10) through Sunday at the Mixed Blood: Turtle Theater Collective: “What Would Crazy Horse Do?” Set on a Lakota reservation in South Dakota, Larissa FastHorse’s play is a dark comedy inspired by an actual event: a Ku Klux Klan-inspired powwow from the late 1920s. Turtle Theater Collective is a new Minnesota indigenous theater formed to explore Native experiences, subvert expectations about how and when Native artists can create theater, and give Native artists opportunities to grow. Their first season featured the U.S. premiere of a play by Daniel David Moses and a reinterpretation of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” seen through a Native lens. Recommended for ages 14 and up. 7:30 p.m. tonight through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. FMI and tickets (pay-as-able with $10 minimum).
Thursday at the American Swedish Institute: Summer Lawn Party. What your $20 ticket will get you (or $15 if you’re a member): entry to the big-deal “The Vikings Begin” exhibition, with rare and precious objects never before allowed outside of Sweden, and a party on the ASI’s exceptional lawn, with live music by the Roe Family Singers, a horn ceremony, Viking games, demonstrations by Viking Fiber (with Icelandic sheep) and an outdoor screening of the Vikings-related film “Knives of the Avenger.” (Bring a blanket for that.) 6-10 p.m. FMI and tickets.
Friday through Sunday in the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio: Patrick Scully: “Leaves of Grass – Illuminated.” Scully shines a light on the great American poet Walt Whitman, a man he was born to play, in a performance many years in the making. We saw a version with 18 male dancers at the Illusion Theatre in 2014. For the Guthrie, Scully has pared down the dancers to six and added large-scale video projections, but it’s still uncensored and there will be nudity. This will mark Scully’s Guthrie debut, an astonishing fact given how visible and influential the founder of Patrick’s Cabaret has been on our local scene. Also, the year 2019 is Whitman’s 200th birthday. 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday. FMI and tickets ($9). Limited availability; call 612-377-2224.
Friday and Sunday at the Film Society’s St. Anthony Main Theatre: Lumières Françaises: “Dumped” (Larguées). When their mother, Françoise (Miou-Miou), is dumped by their father for a much younger woman, sisters Rose (Camille Cottin) and Alice (Camille Chamoux) whisk her away to the tropical island of Réunion. Mom is depressed, Rose is a party girl, Alice a married motormouth mother of two, and Thierry (Johan Heldenbergh) a handsome bartender Rose “hires” to boost her mother’s confidence. “Dumped” is a comic romp where the men are mostly foils, but we know a guy who laughed as hard as we did all the way through. Directed by Eloïse Lang. 7:15 p.m. Friday, 3:45 p.m. Sunday. FMI including trailer, times and tickets.
Saturday and Sunday at Stevens Square Park: 18th Annual Red Hot Art Festival. This community-building, everyone-welcome event celebrates the DIY heart and soul of Minneapolis culture. It’s being produced by new ED Scott Artley (formerly of Mixed Blood, the Walker and Patrick’s Cabaret), who has built a career in community-driven arts leadership. New this year: “Touchable Art Fair,” where specially trained sighted guides will welcome people who are blind or have low vision and allow them to physically touch some or all of an artist’s work. Red Hot’s organizers think theirs is the first art festival to make this available. Emerging artists will present their work in the community tent, and live performances will take place all weekend long. This year’s performers include Gully Boys, Mayda, Open Eye Figure Theatre (with one of their Driveway Tour puppet performances) and Jarrelle Barton, the amazing young African American musician who taught himself to play the Chinese pipa – by teaching himself to read Chinese. Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday 11-5. FMI including performance schedule. Free.