Jazz singer Kellylee Evans overcomes lightning strike

IN CONCERT

What: Kellylee Evans
Where: Hermann’s Jazz Club, 753 View St.
When: Friday March 22, 8 p.m. (doors at 6)
Tickets: Sold out

Kellylee Evans last played a Victoria concert in 2013, during the TD Victoria International Jazz Festival. She remembers the date well, although not the concert, as it was one of the last before her body all but shut down.

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In May of that year, she was electrocuted by induction when lightning struck her rural Ottawa home. Remarkably, Evans — who had a wet sponge in her hand and was touching metal at the time of the strike — did not feel overly out of sorts following the incident, playing a concert just two days later.

“My band knew something was wrong, because I never sleep during intermissions,” Evans, 44, said in an interview from her Ottawa home. “I just remember being in this fog while performing, and then going to sleep in the intermission. They had to wake me up for the next set.”

Her brother was getting married the next day, so she got on a plane and made the wedding in time. On her flight back home, Evans realized she was not well. She checked into the emergency room at a nearby hospital on the way home from the airport. “At that time, the world was spinning.”

Doctors ordered her off the road for six months. The hard-working, career-minded independent artist, with a husband and three children to support, had bills to pay, however, which meant she had to return to work as soon as possible.

Even though her body began to show signs of wear and tear, Evans honoured her string of early-summer festival bookings, including her Victoria stop in June 2013, barely a month after the lightning strike.

Evans said there was a wheelchair waiting for her upon her arrival in Victoria.

During her performance a few days earlier, opening for Willie Nelson in Ottawa, Evans had sat in a chair for the entire set. News of the lightning strike had not yet become public, but her friend Catherine O’Grady, executive producer of the Ottawa International Jazz festival, sensed something was amiss.

She was eventually tipped off to Evans’s rapidly declining condition as she crossed the country, and called ahead to warn producers in Victoria that Evans was not well.

“I was still trying to do everything with a cane. I didn’t want to tell anybody what had happened, because on that tour I was supposed to go back and forth between Montreal and France, with big shows planned. But my body was shutting down. I was not functioning properly. To be honest, I have no memory of that Victoria show.”

Her situation would get worse — much worse — before it would get better. Evans and her husband separated following the 2013 lightning strike, and in 2015, she fainted while getting out of a bath. Evans hit her head, resulting in a concussion. “Now, it’s like living with two brain injuries,” she said.

She suffered the concussion the day before her album Come On was released in France. It was clear Evans would not be able to support the recording, which came and went with no press, promotion or touring.

Evans, heartbroken by the dissolution of her dream, did not even ask for a copy of the album until a year after it was released. “I couldn’t even listen to it,” she said. “I put it away.”

These days, she is doing better. She works mostly on weekends at the moment, and manages her schedule as her health allows. In some ways, she considers her accidents a blessing in disguise.

“When you have a dream and you’re trying to make it work, you become part of this little cottage industry. A lot of people are depending on you to be well, and it’s a lot of responsibility. I was constantly having to make choices — is this birthday party more important than this gig? Had I not stepped back and had the chance to be home with my family, I would be on the road still. Having had the time to clear my brain made it so that I have my priorities in check now.”

Her body is still healing, and Evans is constantly looking at new ways to maximize her energy, or lack thereof, while incorporating rest into the equation. “I’m getting used to not fully counting on my health. I have never really been in that kind of a situation before, where I don’t know exactly how I’m going to be on any given day. That’s its own adventure.”

Come On was re-released in 2017 through Universal Music Canada, which put her career back on track in Canada. Come On received a nomination for vocal jazz album of the year in 2018, earning her some much-delayed positive press.

Her tour to support the recording brings Evans to Hermann’s Jazz Club for a sold-out performance with bandmates Adam Cormier (drums), James Meger (bass) and Jonny Tobin (keyboards) on Friday. It will be her first performance in the market since those harrowing days nearly six years ago.

“When I made this record, I knew that this music could have a bit more of a larger reach,” Evans said. “But it never had the chance. Now, it is.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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