Relationships can be measured by many things – first kiss, first use of the word “love,” moving in together, engagement, marriage, etc. Becky and I have all those milestones, but we also have Davina and the Vagabonds.
If you don’t know Davina and the Vagabonds, you should. You really should. Please, go listen to them on Spotify or Youtube while you read this. Buy their album on iTunes. You’ll like it. Seriously. By the end of this post, I hope you’ll start to understand why.
Becky and I first encountered Davina and the Vagabonds five or so years ago at Rice Park in St. Paul during one of their winter carnivals. Ice sculptures were up throughout the park. Davina and the Vagabonds were playing as Becky and I walked around. It was a cold, winter day, and they rocked, which I will discuss more of shortly. Becky and I bought a live CD of theirs.
They rocked that outdoor winter festival like it was 80 degrees. Weather became their bitch. Minnesota winter weather is not anyone’s bitch. But it was theirs on that day.
There are lots of videos on youtube of the band. While awesome, they pale in comparison to their CDs and live concerts. This is my favorite video minus the first 20 seconds of title cards:
We listened to the CD nonstop. I sang along when driving alone. Later, we decided to get married near that same park, and when we sent out our engagement announcements, I made a DVD with pictures of us announcing our engagement with nothing but Davina singing “Daydream” by the Lovin’ Spoonful as the soundtrack.
That CD helped us get through the months of job hunting for Becky, through the darkness that was her dream dying, and into something resembling daylight. Then one day, Becky got a job and we needed to move. We went to the cities, looked at apartments and met with caterers for the wedding, but we also had to celebrate our soon to be new life away from Fargo. Davina had tweeted she was going to be at the Dakota Jazz Club. We got tickets.
She opened the night’s set with “Daydream” and it was like she knew.
Davina was dressed in a black and white polka dot dress and had red dyed hair in honor of Lucille Ball’s birthday. Becky said she wished she could find that dress. Davina sat at the piano, facing away from the audience, but she made up for that by giving us a good view of her playing style. Her hands jumped around the piano, slinging blues, ragtime, and awesomeness. She bounced in her seat, peering back and forth, left to right, to watch the crowd as much as we were watching her. She bounced at times like a five-year-old girl, proud to show us what she could do. She played like someone who’s been emoting through a piano for the last century. Her soul played.
Her voice broke, soared, bounced, and flitted from note to note, stretching out to each person in the Dakota Club. She threw herself into each song, alternating between sad, aching songs that made me feel like if I looked down, I would see my heart being clobbered on the table in front of me, and upbeat, glorious tunes that would pick up my heart, throw it back into my chest, and make me feel glad I made it to this point, through all the shit that life has thrown at me, because a world with this music has a lot to offer, so keep smiling, hug your loved one, and why the hell aren’t you dancing?
This isn’t even touching on the Vagabonds, a trumpet, trombone, bass and drums that match Davina note for note, sometimes literally like in this song’s call and response sections.
After five songs, I had to take a break outside because I knew I would break down in a room of 300 people if I kept listening. The enormity of the fact that we were finally be escaping Fargo and what little it held for us as a couple was hitting me. I came back in just in time to hug becky as Davina sang “Dream a Little Dream.”
Davina, fully aware of how devastating her songs could get, would comment from time to time. “Wow, that was sad, how about we pick it up a bit.”
After the second set, we had to find our way back to our friends’ home to crash for the night. Becky walked up to Davina near the bar and said “You’re amazing.” Davina, much shyer in person than she is onstage, said thank you and asked Becky if she was having fun. It was a short interaction, but it ended her day on a high.
Encounter three lasted one minute. Becky and I were at the newly renovated Uptown Theater in September 2012 to watch “Sleepwalk with Me” with a Q&A session after the show with Mike Birbiglia and Ira Glass. It was delightful. Becky was dealing with having to work in a mouse infested office at Hennepin Technical College and quickly going insane after her boss informed her that summer that she could not lock the door to her isolated corner of the campus even after expressing her concerns that a certain student would harm her. Little did we know that less than a month later, she would be given a life raft of a temp position that would springboard her out of academia. Her light would shine.
Uptown Theater is near a Famous Daves that Davina and the Vagabonds frequent. After our movie we headed back to the car. We got on an elevator at the parking lot and rode up three flights with two vagabonds.
“Hey, You’re Vagabonds!” I said/yelled in an uncharacteristic wellspring of enthusiasm and forwardness. This was one of the rare moments of my life where my brain did not control my mouth and I hadn’t even had any alcohol.
“Yes.” One of them said.
“We love you guys!” I said, which went over about as well as you can imagine.
More moments of uncomfortable silence as they nodded. Becky tried to smooth things over with a “A little enthusiastic there, buddy.”
The door opened and they wandered off into the night in search of their cars.
Our latest encounter was Thanksgiving. Once again we were at the Dakota Jazz Club, armed with a gift card from work to defray the cost of dinner (Dinner, drinks and the show ran the two of us $200 for the curious, but that included $35 worth of drinks). I had a half hen that for the first time ever in the history of everything had better white meat than dark. I wanted to stalk the chef down and ask how the shit that happened.
To understand this next part, you need to know that Becky is typically very reserved and shy when it comes to meeting public figures. She loved Hawkeye, the mascot for the Fargo Redhawks, but if you dared suggest she go give him a high five, she would turn five shades of pale and try to hide behind the nearest trash can. In the past couple months, she’s surprised the hell out of me by first going up to Maria Bamford after an ACME Comedy Club show to talk to her (subject for future post), and now to go up to Davina during the set break for a chat.
We watched as others gabbed with Davina about an upcoming trip overseas. Becky asked me to get a necklace for Christmas, then not. Then a button, then not. She nearly needed me to hold her upright by the time it came to talk. She asked Davina for a pic and told her, “you inspire me to be me.” Davina said, “That’s all you can be, cause you can’t be anyone else.” I was to take the pic, but the low light and my lack of understanding how my phone worked meant no pic.
Then Davina whips out her phone, says let’s use mine, the next person in line takes all three of us in one pic, and Davina texts the pic to my phone. HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?!
*Note – due to unfortunate lighting that makes Becky look rather pale and zombie-ish, I am not to post that picture under pain of death and dismemberment.
We sat back in our booth and watched the next set, as wonderful as any other, and thought about all the points Davina has been with us through – unemployment, engagement, marriage, moving, changing jobs, and now, one of the first times we’ve been content with things as they were. Heck, I’m posting this on our anniversary.
That content feeling will change in time, but we’re enjoying it while it lasts. Sountrack courtesy of Davina and the Vagabonds.
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