Thursday February 7, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Samirah Evans is no stranger to hardship.

The jazz and blues vocalist moved to town with her husband, a Brattleboro native, a year after Hurricane Katrina displaced them from their New Orleans home in 2005. Then, on Saturday, the couple's house was severely damaged in a fire just days before their seventh wedding anniversary.

That's when The Arts Block in Greenfield, Mass., decided to turn the gig it had scheduled with Evans this Saturday into a benefit concert for her and her husband, Chris Lenois. She had been booked to perform with her band, Samirah Evans and Her Handsome Devils, at The Arts Block, where she created and hosts a music series known as "Ladies in Jazz."

Evans said she has been blown away by the help and support her local friends and fans have given her.

"It's overwhelmingly generous and moving," she told the Reformer on Wednesday. "Just about every message I've received ... chokes me up and tears me up."

Evans said her performance will include a lot of New Orleans R&B to fit the evening's Mardi Gras theme. She has toured Europe, Asia and the Americas as a performer and has shared stages with B.B. King, James Brown and New Orleans' Queen of Soul Irma Thomas.

Smithsonian Caterers will offer Cajun food and there will be a prize for the best Mardi Gras outfit. The show begins at 8 p.m. Admission is $12 online or $15 at the door.

Evans said there is a belief in some parts of the country that the people of New England are not as kind as those down South, but she said anyone who reads the messages she's received since Saturday would "never get the impression that New Englanders aren't warm people."

The Lil' Orphans Cajun Express, led by New Orleans native Peter Simoneaux and his wife Linda, will open the show and play at the after-party. He said he and his wife are close friends with Evans and Lenois, and anyone who attends is in for a special treat.

"(Samirah and Chris) have a lot of love and a lot of friends in the community," he said.

The Cajun Express band includes Steve Frankel on guitar and Glenn Rodgers on drums as well as Daniel Kasnitz on bass and his daughter Xzander Kasnitz on percussion.

Daniel Kasnitz, who also is an audio engineer at The Arts Block, said everything came together rather quickly after his friends' house caught fire.

The fire at 21 Fuller Drive started around a wood stove chimney just before noon and went through the roof. The two-alarm blaze caused extensive damage to the house and there was water damage to the first floor. Evans said it likely will be several months before they can move back in.

"She couldn't have timed her disaster any better, not that I'd ever wish it on her," Kasnitz said, referring to the ironic timing. "We're thrilled we were booked here, we could turn this into a benefit for her."

For more information, directions and to purchase tickets, visit theartsblock.com.