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A broken back made singer Anna Cole stronger

Anna Cole and the Other Lovers (from left): Andrew Kirk, Gavin Mac, Adriana Nikole, Anna Cole, Justin Skinner, Camry Ivory and Thomas Romero.
Anna Cole and the Other Lovers (from left): Andrew Kirk, Gavin Mac, Adriana Nikole, Anna Cole, Justin Skinner, Camry Ivory and Thomas Romero.

As she dragged herself on her stomach toward the kitchen where her cellphone was charging, Anna Cole was struck by cold clarity.

Moments before, she’d fallen 6 feet through an open cellar door to her basement, landing on her rear and fracturing a vertebrae in her lower back. The door had been left open by a workman installing cable.

“I knew I was hurt bad,” she said. “I sat there for a minute and moved my feet and wiggled my toes and thought, ‘OK, well, that’s good.’ Then I felt a huge panic to get out.”

As she pulled herself up the stairs and through the opening and onto the ground floor, the 50-pound door came down on her head, slamming it into the floor, giving her a concussion.

“I saw stars,” she said. “Then I was really afraid. So I crawled with my forearms and elbows until my whole body was out of the opening, then I scooted myself to the kitchen.

“And I was thinking, ‘Well, I’m not going to die, so what can I learn from this? What can I take from this that is positive? Because it’s really bad now.’”

The timing could not have been worse. The day of the accident was March 28. Since December, Cole had been working to launch Anna Cole and the Other Lovers, her first band project after nearly a year’s absence from music. They were scheduled to perform at the Middle of the Map Fest about a week later.

“We had a really great time slot,” she said of the canceled show.

She was also just two weeks away from opening a bar in her Strawberry Hill neighborhood.

All was put on hold until she recovered from her injuries.

“I’d quit my job and put all my money into the bar,” she said. “Then I fell and broke my back. I had no income, and I couldn’t walk. It was terrifying.”

Her bar opened in May, and her band will perform for the first time in more than eight months at this weekend’s Plaza Art Fair. And these days, Cole is feeling the rewards of perseverance .

“About a week after (the accident), I went through this, ‘Oh, poor me. What am I gonna do?’ phase,” she said. “But now, I feel motivated and inspired by life in general.”

Opening Barcadia

Cole spent two days in the hospital, then faced weeks of immobility. Joe Wells was one of several close friends who helped Cole get through the early stages of her recovery.

“She was told not to lift anything or stand up for longer than 10 or 15 minutes,” he said. “So she was pretty much stricken to her couch once she got home. That was supposed to be for six weeks. But she kept pushing the limits. She can’t sit still that long.”

“It was a month before I could walk with just a cane,” Cole recalled. “But I had no money coming in, so I sucked it up. I was going to open the bar within a month, come hell or high water.”

And so she did. She called it Barcadia.

It’s at 403 N. Fifth St. in Kansas City, Kan., a half block from her home. The space had been the 403 Club since 2011. When its owner, Artie Scholes, announced plans to move his bar a few blocks south into a larger location, Cole started entertaining the thought of opening her own place. She had worked in the bar and service industries for more than a dozen years, including the 403 Club. In January, she moved forward with her plan.

“I thought that if that bar went away, so would a lot of what I really like about this neighborhood,” she said.

On May 10, more than six weeks after her accident, Barcadia opened.

“When I decided to do it, I felt confident about it,” Cole said. “And I’m still confident about it, but after the first month, I was thinking, ‘What did I do? Why did I do this?’

“I’ve learned to expect anything and expect nothing,” she said, adding that Labor Day weekend has been her busiest, surpassing her grand opening.

“It’s a neighborhood bar. But we’re getting people coming over from Kansas City, so we get a lot of mingling of hipster kids from Westport and people from the neighborhood. Now I’m really excited about it.”

Cole has plans to get an entertainment license so she can book live music, mostly duets or solo singer/songwriters. She is a veteran of the local music scene, both as a solo artist and as a member of two bands: the Anvil Chorus and Lights and Siren.

That’s another project she worked on while she convalesced: getting her new band back on stage.

Meet the band

Anna Cole and the Other Lovers’ performance at the Plaza Art Fair will be Saturday. It will be its first performance since the end of January.

Cole started the band with one thing in mind.

“I wanted to do something that was fun,” she said, “a big band with backup singers and horns.… I picked people with great personalities and lots of ability. Everyone knows what they’re doing.”

It’s a seven-piece band that includes Andrew Kirk, who has been her guitarist in previous music projects.

“She’s been a great person to collaborate with,” Kirk said. “Musically speaking, she has a remarkable singing voice. It possesses both melancholy and bravado somehow.

“On a practical level, she has a great instinct for the business side of music that your average band dude doesn’t necessarily have. She knows that the band doesn’t just show up to the venue and expect a crowd to magically be there. In early days, she knew that you had to work to bring a crowd and she excelled at it.”

The band’s sound is evolving.

“We are still trying out a lot of different ideas and directions musically,” said bassist Gavin Mac. “

As Kirk said, “There’s a dash of sad country, a bit of disco, a good helping of rock ’n’ roll energy But that’s great in my book, as long as it’s cohesive and not pure pastiche.”

Cole said indulging in music helped with healing and relieving stress.

“Music is like going to church, for me,” she said. “It’s absolutely necessary for good mental health.”

Grateful for her community of support

She still has pain from the fall and some aftereffects from the concussion, Cole said. She just started a twice-weekly physical therapy regimen.

And she has flashbacks: “Every time I go into the room where the door is, I have the sensation of falling. I’m actually scared to go in there.” (She has retained a lawyer and is seeking legal recourse against the cable installer.)

But nearly six months after an emergency crew ferried her from her kitchen floor to a hospital, she sees everything with new meaning.

“It has humbled me,” she said. “I really appreciate my friends who helped me get through this. I also have a new perspective on my frailty and mortality.”

She received some assistance from the Midwest Music Foundation, a group founded by her friend, Abigail Henderson, who died in August 2013.

“They paid my rent, no questions asked,” Cole said. “Thinking about Abby made me cry. She’s not here, but I’m still here. I feel like I’ve been given a second chance. It could have been so much worse. I feel inspired to do the best for myself and for other people.

“I’m busier and happier than I’ve ever been.”

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to Follow the Back to Rockville blog on Twitter @kcstarrockville.


Anna Cole and the Other Lovers perform at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Ink Stage at the Plaza Art Fair. The stage is at Ward Parkway and Pennsylvania Avenue.