Sara Evans finds the 'Sweet Spot'
With fans still putting her seventh studio album “Slow Me Down” on replay and her most recent tour sprawling across the country, Sara Evans is at the top of her game. Fortunately, she’s not afraid of heights.
After all, she’s sold six million records and topped Billboard’s Hot Country Music chart five times. You can sing along with your favorite Evans tunes when she mines her roots-deep catalog at an April 29 stop at the Silver Legacy Resort Casino’s Grande Exposition Hall.
“We perform all the hits every single night, no matter what,” she said. “If I was going to see someone in concert, I’d want to hear the hit singles from the radio.”
Nowadays, when Evans tunes into country music radio she finds as many misses as she does hits.
“I don’t really relate to the current country genre. It seems to still be the real party songs, the bro country kind of stuff, which is not my thing,” she said.
There’s still demand for her thing, though — tunes about chance-taking, hearts breaking, God and family — delivered in an emotive alto. Her latest record, released in 2014, yielded two charting singles. It also garnered a warm critical reception with the New York Times praising her ability to deliver songs with “power, grace and dignity.”
In one of the album’s tracks, Evans sings about achieving “The Sweet Spot.” It’s a place she seems to have reached in her career.
“I feel like I’m absolutely in my prime, singing better than I’ve ever sung before and really writing songs that I’m in love with,” she said.
Her mastery comes after a lifetime of music-making. Evans was raised on a farm in New Franklin, Mo., along with seven brothers and sisters. By the time she was 5, she was performing in her family’s band.
She showed grit early on. When she was hit by a car at age 8, young Sara used her performing chops to help pay the medical bills. She performed in a nightclub from age 16 to 18 and moved to Nashville to pursue music in 1991.
Her knockout looks didn’t hurt when it came to making her way in the country scene. Evans, who is of Welsh, English, Irish and Native American ancestry, was named one of People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People in 2005.
What has paid greater dividends, however, is her Midwestern work ethic. She paid some serious dues recording demos and knocking on doors, before being signed to RCA Nashville.
Evans showed herself to be an artist of promise with her 1997 debut “Three Chords and the Truth,” which was lauded for its classic country sound. She fulfilled that promise when she scored her first number-one hit in 1999 with “No Place That Far,” the title track off her sophomore release.
By 2003, when she released her fourth album “Restless,” Evans had cemented her place as a perennial country-music hit-maker. The album’s third single, the Gold-certified “Suds in the Bucket,” topped the Hot Country Singles Chart and marked her fifth Top 40 hit on the Billboard 100.
Evans’ fifth studio album, “Real Fine Place,” debuted in 2016 at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, gave her a fourth No. 1 hit and was certified platinum. That same year, she won an American Country Music Award for Top Female Vocalist and became the first country music artist to compete on “Dancing with the Stars.”
It would seem that the brunette songstress has led a charmed life. Like everyone, however, she has met with a few rough patches.
In the fall of 2006, she announced she was leaving “Dancing with the Stars” to deal with personal issues. Shortly after, fans learned she was divorcing her husband, Craig Schelske, whom she married in 1993 and with whom she has three children.
It was a painfully public divorce, with allegations of alcoholism and infidelity making headlines. With the dust settled, however, she found herself in a better place than before.
She married radio host Jay Barker, a former University of Alabama quarterback, in 2008. When she welcomed Barker into her family, she also welcomed his four children. The couple settled in Birmingham, Ala., a town where Evans has incubated her last two albums and watched their bustling brood grow into a houseful of teenagers.
It would seem she has found her sweet spot in the South.
Evans said it’s a misconception that an artist is either on tour or off tour. She times her 70 to 80 shows per year strategically so she has time to parent. The majority of shows are planned for the summertime, so the kids can join her on the road. She also undertakes a mini-tour of weekend gigs in the fall.
“Being on tour never stops. It’s part of my income, part of keeping my band and crew working, part of selling music and part of keeping myself in front of my fans,” she said.
Unsurprisingly, given they’ve spent much of their lives on tour, the kids are musically inclined. Her oldest son is a guitarist and, like his mother, counts John Mayer as a favorite performer.
“We won’t listen to a song, an album or an artist unless the lyrics are phenomenal,” she said. “We like music that is deep and smart and all that.”
It’s been nearly 20 years since Evans released her first album. She keeps her work relevant by staying true to herself.
“Writing and recording music is just all about who I am as an artist and a singer and a songwriter,” she said. “It’s sort of like fashion. You have your style but definitely, when there’s something like a wide-legged bell-bottom jean that’s rising to the top, you have to make it fit with who you are as a person and your personal style.”