THIS COUNTRY MUSIC POWERHOUSE SHOWS NO SIGNS OF SLOWING DOWN
Sara Evans is a vocal powerhouse whose songs draw on emotions that seem to weave the life story of many a heartbroken girl searching for that right life situation. In parallel, Evans’ life has trailed a similar path. Raised on the Missouri family farm with musical parents and six siblings who worked wheat, corn, soy beans and tobacco, the talented songstress took her strong Midwestern work ethic and moved to Nashville, where she was signed to RCA Nashville Records.
Evans soon emerged as one of contemporary country music’s most respected performers. Her distinctive voice and “heart-in-the-throat” quality has earned her a place in the vanguard of today’s successful country performers. She’s sold nearly six million records and her last four albums have been certified Gold, Platinum or multi-Platinum. She’s scored five number one hits, among them “Suds in the Bucket,” “A Real Fine Place to Start,” “No Place That Far” and “A Little Bit Stronger,” the title track of her chart-topping 2011 album Stronger.
Along the way, Evans has amassed an impressive collection of awards, including Top Female Vocalist from the Academy of Country Music and Video of the Year from the Country Music Association for “Born to Fly.” But the road hasn’t been all that smooth. In 2007, Evans went though a headline-grabbing divorce that strained her career and left emotional wounds to heal.
But again she emerged, and today is happily married to former pro-football player, Jay Barker, with a blended family of seven kids while living in a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama. Cowgirl caught up with the vivacious mother and performer to talk about the past year that saw the release two new albums, the launch of an online lifestyle blog and a web-based reality series that shows the inner-workings of Evans as mom, performer and irresistibly funny BFF girlfriend.
COWGIRL: You grew up on a farm and horses were part of your young life. What is your fondest memory of growing up with horses?
SARA EVANS: I loved growing up around horses and living on a farm. It really taught me hard work and how to have respect for animals. They’re such a crucial part of farm life and are just beautiful animals, too. I’ve tried to get my kids home to Missouri as much as possible so they can get that same experience that I had growing up.
CG: What singular influential moment do you remember most about music while you were growing up?
SE: It was probably the first time I started singing for my brothers who were taking instrument lessons. They were learning to play and needed someone to sing, and so I got nominated. Everyone was shocked that I could sing so well, so eventually we put together a family band that centered around me and started playing bars and clubs in Missouri. I’ve known from a very young age what my calling is and have been so blessed to be able to pursue it.
CG: At what point in your musical career did you know you had made it?
SE: There have been several milestone moments for me. Signing my record deal with RCA Records was a huge moment for me; getting my first number one song at Country Radio with “No Place That Far” that featured Vince Gill; and winning ACM Top Female Vocalist are a few. I always want to keep reaching higher and achieving more, though, so I can’t wait to see what comes next!
CG: “Put My Heart Down” is on your current album Slow Me Down. What made you choose that song as part of the album?
SE: I was immediately hit with the catchy melody of “Put My Heart Down” and love the imagery of someone standing there holding a heart like it was a loaded gun. I also love that it’s really a sad song, but with a catchy up-tempo sound.
CG: You sang “Put My Heart Down” as a duet on the television show Nashville and on the Grand Ole Opry stage with Will Chase. Why do you think there is so much desire for this particular song beyond radio?
SE: When I originally recorded the song in the studio I never even thought about it as a duet. When the producers of Nashville approached me about being featured on the show, they wanted me to sing a duet with Will Chase, and we started thinking of options that made sense. Someone had the great idea of turning “Put My Heart Down” into a duet, and it actually works perfectly! I think everyone’s been in a situation where you love someone but you know that you aren’t right for each other. This song sums that up and asks the other person to just walk away slowly so that, hopefully, nobody will get hurt. It’s a pretty universal message.
CG: Of all your hit songs, is there one that stands out the most to you personally, or one that tells the real story of Sara Evans?
SE: I always say that “Born To Fly” is my autobiography song. I wrote it about my life and growing up on a farm in Missouri, loving my life and family, but always knowing that there was something else out there for me. I never get tired of hearing or singing that song and was blessed to have it be one of my number one hits at Country Radio. I also won the CMA Music Video of the Year for that song, so it holds a very special place in my heart.
CG: In 2011, you received a standing ovation from your peers at the ACM with your rendition of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man.” Was Tammy an influence in your musical style?
SE: Oh, absolutely! Tammy was an incredible storyteller with her songs and how she interpreted the lyrics. She could sing a country song like no other, and she definitely influenced me at a young age.
CG: Who else do you credit for your musical inspiration?
SE: I grew up listening to country artists like Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire, Patsy Cline, etc. When I got a little older, I branched out and really expanded my tastes and would listen to people like The Doobie Brothers, Whitney Houston, Belinda Carlisle, etc. I’m a lover of great music, no matter what the genre.
CG: Tell us about how you became the host of the Rock the South Festival.
SE: My husband, Jay, and a few of his friends are the masterminds behind Rock the South. It came together with an idea to feature great music, football and Southern barbecue. Jay and a few of his friends and business partners were talking and saw a need for a great music festival in Alabama. There wasn’t anything in the state offered like Rock the South, so they decided to combine their skills and launch the festival. I’ve been honored to not only perform each year, but also to have an expanded role. It’s grown every year and it makes me so proud to watch what it’s becoming!
CG: Is there is a charitable element to the festival?
SE: There definitely is a charitable element to the festival. Through Rock the South directly, and other events that the festival has sponsored, we’ve been able to raise money for Alabama Children’s Hospital, St. Jude Children’s Hospital, and a great organization called Alabama Forever.
CG: What can fans expect from the 2015 event?
SE: Fans coming to Rock the South in 2015 can expect even more music than ever before by amazing artists, lots of local and yummy Alabama barbecue and food, and some really cool experiences that are in the works. You won’t want to miss it!
CG: We love Simply Sara. It looks like you have done eight episodes.
SE: Thank you! I’ve actually done many more than that. We started Simply Sara ourselves a few years ago to show fans what it’s really like to be Sara Evans and to live in my crazy world. Most of the webisodes are on my YouTube.com/SaraEvans channel, but last year we partnered with My Country Nation to continue the series, so those are the eight that you’ve probably seen. If you loved those, you’ll have to go check out the rest! We’re all crazy and have a great time and love sharing that with the fans.
CG: What was it like opening your personal life to the public? Was it as fun as it looks?
SE: It really is fun for me to share more of my personal and behind-the-scenes life with the fans and the public. I loved coming up with fun ideas for the webisodes, too, and getting really creative with them. I want them to be something fun that a family could sit around and watch, and laugh, and just have a good time.
CG: What was the biggest challenge of allowing the cameras into your personal space?
SE: It really wasn’t that big a challenge for me. I love having the cameras on and capturing all of the craziness that is my life. I joke with the videographer that they should film at all times and should even follow me into the bathroom. Ha ha.
CG: Are there plans for more?
SE: Yes! We are talking now about the second season with My Country Nation, and hope to start filming in the next little bit. They’ll be featured on my website (SaraEvans.com) and also on my YouTube channel, in addition to My Country Nation. I’m so excited for more to be released!
CG: Your sister-in-law and stylist, KK Evans, plays a huge role in your life and the two of you launched a lifestyle blog, arealfineplace.com. What is the blog all about?
SE: The blog is a way for KK and me to branch out and show our love of fashion, beauty, travel, food, being wives and mothers, and more. It’s been a really fun creative outlet outside of music. I couldn’t get by without KK. She’s literally my right (and sometimes left) arm! She’s also married to my brother, Matt, of course, but also mother to my niece, Milly, who has just become the joy of our lives. Kaelin helped raise my kids out on the road, and now it’s my turn to be “Aunt Sasa,” as Milly calls me, and help raise her on the road.
CG: How do you combine, or separate, the life of a successful recording artist and performer with that of an at-home mom with a combined family of seven children and make it work?
SE: I’m basically attached to my scheduling calendar book. I have an old school black schedule that I take with me everywhere. It has all of my work obligations and also keeps track of family stuff like school events, sports, etc. My label and management know that my family and kids always come first and do a really good job about respecting that and working around family events. My kids also love going on the road during the summer and on weekends, and of course I love having them with me as much as possible.
CG: Who knows more about social media, you or your children?
SE: Oh, definitely my kids…they are always giving me grief about posting selfies on my Instagram. I want to know why it’s okay for them to post selfies but not for me? Ha! I do post a lot, though, to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I LOVE to get online and read the comments.
CG: What is on the horizon for Sara Evans in 2015?
SE: 2014 was a crazy year for me, which was good, but I’m easing into 2015 so far. We’re planning an amazing summer tour across the country now, getting ready to launch the second season of Simply Sara, and I have a few other tricks up my sleeve for this year that I can’t wait to share with the fans. They have been so loyal and amazing to me throughout my career, and I am forever grateful to them for their support and love.