Sara Evans On Becoming The Newest Member Of The Grand Ole Opry: ‘This Is Putting My Stamp In Country Music For Eternity’
Evans was surrounded by her family on this special night.
Sara Evans; Photo by Chris Hollo, Grand Ole Opry
For Sara Evans, becoming a member of the Grand Ole Opry was a family affair. Surrounded by her husband, children, and extended family, Evans was officially inducted into the Opry family by “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” singer and Opry member Crystal Gayle on Saturday, October 7.
The invitation to join country music’s legendary membership came as a surprise, delivered by the Opry’s longest-serving member, Country Music Hall of Famer Whisperin’ Bill Anderson during Evans’ Ryman Auditorium performance on Aug. 17. The concert celebrated the release of Sara Evans Still Restless – The 20 Year Celebration, commemorating the 20th anniversary of her platinum-selling album Restless, released in August 2003.
Backstage at the Opry before her induction, Evans spoke to Country Now and other media outlets during a press conference to reflect on one of the biggest moments of her career. “This is putting my stamp in country music for eternity,” she shared.
Earliest Opry Memory
The “Suds in the Bucket” singer recalled her earliest Opry memory, performing on the sacred stage for the first time more than 20 years ago. “I was brand new to town. I had no money for clothes, I had no stylist,” says Evans, who wore a vintage black gown in an attempt at a “retro” look. “I just told myself, ‘Pretend you’re Patsy Cline. Just pretend you’re Patsy Cline. Walk out there.’ And I remember just receiving the most unbelievable response from the crowd. And that just brought me to tears because I was like, these people didn’t even know me. And here I’m performing on the Opry.”
Evans waited for years to be asked to join the Opry family, admitting that it would bring her to tears. “There have been times where I’ve even cried about ‘why am I not a member of the Opry yet?’ I’ve had all those number-one hits and accolades and sold records, but then at the same time, my faith in the Lord says God is always providing and protecting. And so it will be the perfect time,” said Evans, who believes that now is the “perfect” time. “There’s something about right now and just the dynamics of all the people in my life that this is perfect and God’s timing is always perfect. So why question it?”
After years of searching the Opry dressing room walls in despair for her own photograph, Evans finally graces that collection of country music legends. She thinks about her legacy often and was strategic about her fashion choice for the induction. “I want people to look back at that and say, oh my gosh, look in 2023. That was Sara Evans, and look what she wore. And that was the style then. And just the way that I think about it when I look at Loretta Lynn’s picture or Tammy Wynne’s picture. So it is an unbelievable honor to now be on that wall.”
“I Almost Feel Like It’s My Wedding”
On the day of her induction, Evans walked into her dressing room filled with flowers and cards from fellow artists, including Carrie Underwood. “I’m just overwhelmed because I’ve been coming to the Opry and performing on the Opry for the last 20-some years, at least 22 or three years. And it’s always an honor. So it’s never not special. But tonight, I almost feel like it’s my wedding.”
Being backstage before her induction, it finally hit her that she was about to become Opry’s newest member. “It takes so many people to make somebody like me get to this point. And so I’m never lost on that fact, and I never forget that fact. So I’m just deeply grateful and so unbelievably grateful to God because I’ve been on stage my whole life. And I think it’s rare that you start something as a child and you dream something as a child, and it comes all the way to fruition with something like this.”
Evans says that Opry member Vince Gill was one of the first artists to support her at the beginning of her career. “Vince Gill has always been so kind to me, so supportive. He helped me get my first number-one record by singing harmony on ‘No Place That Far.’” Reflecting on the members who have come before her, Evans is grateful for their kindness and support. “I think my favorite part about doing the Opry is standing side stage and getting that introduction because that’s what you see in the movies and you see that on Coal Miner’s Daughter and the movie Sweet Dreams about Patsy Cline, and they’re standing there and they get introduced and they walk out and wave, and it’s just like, who gets to do this? So it’s an incredible honor.”
For her first performance as an official member of the Opry, Evans chose to perform songs that were defining moments in her career – “Suds in the Bucket,” “Real Fine Place to Start,” “A Little Bit Stronger,” and “Born to Fly.” Evans’ career grew bigger with each song, helping her achieve her Opry membership status. “When people tell me congratulations, well, I’m saying congratulations to those songwriters too and everybody that’s involved because there’s so many people behind the scenes and I’m just the one that gets to come out and get all the glory.”
“Dream Come True“
Opry member Crystal Gayle took the stage to make Evans’ membership official, telling her, “On behalf of all the Opry members, you are going to be the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry. Welcome to the family.”
In her acceptance speech, Evans took the opportunity to shine a light on her family, who have been an integral part of her career on and off stage.
“It takes a lot, a lot of people to get one person to a position like this. And starting with my mom, who realized that my brothers and sisters and I had musical talent, so she went out and bought music equipment and hired musicians. And by the time I was six years old, I was singing in bars and everywhere you can imagine all over Missouri. I’ve always been on stage my entire life with my brother Matt Evans right there. And so even though I share this with my whole family, I really, really do share it with you, Matt. I love you so much. And then of course, I’ve got my daughter, Olivia, singing with me, got my son Avery and my daughter Audrey’s here somewhere.”
She also thanked the Opry and shared what becoming a member means to her. “This is a country artist’s dream come true, and I have been dreaming about this my entire life.”
Continuing her list of supporters, she expressed her gratitude for her husband, children, and her fans. “None of us would be here or even exist without you guys. And you guys have supported me through my whole career. I feel like we’ve grown up together and thank you.”
She also reflected on her faith and how it has gotten her through both good times and bad. “And most importantly, above everything, I want to thank my heavenly Father. My faith in the Lord has been the one constant in my life that has gotten me through good times, bad times, and y’all, I’ve had a dramatic life. I got hit by a car when I was eight, almost died in a plane crash. There’s been a few other near-death experiences and God has just always been there watching over me and protecting me, and not just protecting me, but blessing me with three amazing children and just a voice to sing country music because it doesn’t matter what song I’m singing, you can always hear this country voice that comes from growing up on a farm in Missouri and my parents listening to country music.”
Working On New Music
During the press conference, Evans shared that she is heading back into the studio to record new music. “I’ve been writing for two years,” says the “Real Fine Place to Start” singer, who still uses pen and paper for her craft. “I always start with a fresh notebook when I’m going to make a record.” She hopes that her children will enjoy seeing all her notebooks from over the years, which include “Born to Fly” and every other song she’s ever written. For this new project, the music has evolved from her original vision. “It was like December of ‘21, and I thought, oh, I’m going to make a stone-cold country record… well, then I started working with a certain producer that I’m not going to announce yet. And so now the record has turned into being a little bit progressive country. And so I can never really predict what the album’s going to be. It just is what it is when you’re done. But my thing is, if you have great lyrics, you can do anything you want.”
Championing Female Artists At Country Radio
Evans hopes her new music will be played at country radio, which she feels is an uphill battle for women today. “You can listen to mainstream country radio for two hours and hear two women. And to me, I just don’t get that. Where would we be without music from Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline and Tammy Wynette and The Judds and Patty Loveless and Reba McEntire? And hopefully, someday people will say, ‘and Sarah Evans.’ So I just don’t understand that part of it because women, especially in country music, have written some of the most provocative songs that there are.” She hopes that her new status as an Opry member can help get women back on country radio.
“Think about it, if Hollywood only used male actors and every movie you saw or every TV show you watched, there were no women? That’s just bizarre. And so it’s become bizarre and it’s gotten to the point where it’s like we’re in the Twilight Zone. They just don’t play women like they used to. So I really want to see that happen.”
Nicole Palsa is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tennessee. Since 2012, she has written about the newcomers, superstars, and legends of country music for publications including Music Mayhem, Country Now, and Country Music Tattle Tale. Palsa has served as a volunteer guide with Musicians On Call since 2016 and is a Troubadour member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. She graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications and her Bachelor of Arts degree in French. In addition to being a devoted country music fan, Nicole is a family historian and genealogist who can often be found in stacks of research. She is also an avid traveler with a passion for wildlife and nature photography.