There were a number of super-talented musicians onstage at Northampton’s Academy of Music’s "Mardival" celebration back on Feb. 10. The musically eclectic show featured a blend of upbeat New Orleans-style R&B combined with some breezy Brazilian Samba, delivered by the likes of Allman Brothers’ drummer Jaimoe, renowned blues guitarist Duke Robillard and some top-notch players from down Rio De Janeiro way.
But the concert centerpiece had to be Brattleboro’s Samirah Evans, who absolutley stole the show. Prancing and prowling around the stage singing Mardi Gras classics in her tight blue sequined dress, huge frilly pink scarf, purple hair, feline sunglasses and a smile as wide as Lake Pontchartrain, she transformed a chilly New England Sunday to a steamy Bourbon Street Fat Tuesday party.
At one point, an audience member shouted a sentiment shared by many, "We love you, Samirah!"
I watched from the front row, mesmerized by Evans’ charisma and vocal command. But what left me astounded was knowing that the singer’s electrifying performance came just one week after she and her husband were tragically displaced from their Brattleboro home by a devastating fire.
Earlier this week I sat with the intrepid singer at a downtown pub and asked her how she could deliver such an upbeat performance after losing her home.
"I have a philosophy of life" she said with her infectious smile. "That you can change poison into medicine. I look for the silver lining out of any difficult situation."
This is not the first tragedy that pushed Samirah from her home and tested her faithful philosophy, Like many former residents of New Orleans, she and her husband Chris Lenois were dislocated by a monster named Katrina.
According to Evans, the silver lining to Katrina turned out to be Brattleboro -- her husband’s old stomping grounds. She feels even more that way after the outpouring of support that followed the fire.
"I am so appreciative. I feel loved. This community in Brattleboro and Western Mass., have really embraced me. I’m almost embarrassed. I mean, there are so many homeless people out there that have it a lot worse than me. People have been sending us money. And I have been crying like a baby.
"My drummer told me, ‘You know Samirah, you’re always doing something for other people, using your music to help others, let people help you for a change.’"
Fans and friends were prepared to give Samirah that kind of help at The Arts Block in Greenfield, Mass., the night before Mardival, when Evans was scheduled to perform at a benefit show that was set up to help her and her husband through a difficult financial time.
Ironically, Mother Nature struck again that night, when Winter Storm Nemo caused the show to be postponed until this Saturday. Again, Evans found some silver lining. "You know what? It was a good thing because I could rest my voice. I was worried about was being vocally OK to do Mardival. I was so exhausted from the whole week of activities surrounding this fire, I was grateful for the snow."
Ultimately, despite all of the upheaval and fear, Samirah Evans feels she has much to be grateful for. "I’m safe, my husband is safe, my pets are safe, I feel fortunate. This is why I can have some joy. We could have lost our lives."
Evans performs this Saturday with her band, The Handsome Devils and special guests John Sheldon, Evelyn Harris and Becca Byram, at 8 p.m., at the Arts Block, 289 Main St., Greenfield. Admission is $12 online or $15 at the door. For information, visit www.theartsblock.com or call 413-774-0150.
Evans and Her Handsome Devils will also perform on Saturday, March 16, at 7:30 p.m., at The Windham Ballroom, 40 The Square, in Bellows Falls. For information, visit www.popolomeanspeople.com.
Dave Madeloni writes a weekly music column for the Arts & Entertainment section. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.