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12:00 AM Monday, 4/12/99 |   |

TRADITIONAL COUNTRY MUSIC IS SARA EVANS' first love. Her retro-sounding debut on RCA won her critical acclaim in Nashville and an Academy of Country Music nomination for top new female vocalist. One reviewer even boasted, she's "so good, she's scary." However, that wasn't good enough for country radio.

While radio programmers admitted they loved Evans' music and thought she had star quality, they just couldn't overlook the fact that her songs weren't "commercial" enough for today's young, pop-happy country music listeners. Though Americana radio was receptive, Evans hoped her career would reach beyond that. So she set out to make the necessary changes.

"It was so tough not being successful at radio," she told POLLSTAR. "I was like, ‘I'm not gonna be in this and just be an Americana artist and struggle because I want to tour.' That's my biggest love, to be on stage."

However, touring and touring in comfort are two different things. Evans knows that. And she knows that radio can make or break her in that respect.

"With radio success comes offers and better paying gigs and also album sales, which allows you to tour more comfortably," she said. "So I made an effort to really get in the game and say, ‘OK, I'm still gonna make a country record, but it's not gonna be so hard core where the fans aren't getting it.'"

The result: No Place That Far, Evans' sophomore release produced by Music Row veterans Buddy Cannon and Norro Wilson. "It's still country; it's just a little more contemporary," she said. It's an album that radio programmers were actually asking for.

With her first album, Three Chords And The Truth, Evans kept having to dodge the Americana stamp. "Although Americana is some of my favorite music, personally, it sort of hindered me at country radio," she said. "They look at it and say, ‘Well, she's an Americana artist. She's too weird for us.'

"The "California sound" captured on that first record came with the help of Dwight Yoakam producer Pete Anderson. Apparently, commercial country was somewhat of an aversion to Anderson. Why? "It's because of Dwight," Evans said.

"Dwight has kind of shunned radio. Pete has definitely shunned country radio." Evans didn't share that attitude, but radio programmers made assumptions based on the company she was keeping. "But I certainly didn't [dislike country radio]. I just love Pete, and I love his music."

Evans said it's too bad that program directors can't just play the music they like. "All the radio stations are bought up by these big companies, and then they hire consultants to tell them what to play; so it's more about promotion nowadays.

"But listen, I'm not grumbling because it's working for me right now, and I'm just really excited. I actually think they're doing a great job. I think we went through kind of a lull with some really bad music for a while, but I think the music is great right now."

The one place Evans doesn't have to worry about radio is on stage. That's where she can break out into her renditions of songs by legends like Patsy Cline or Hank Williams. "I can really do whatever I want in my live shows," she said. "I can do three or four old country songs and explain to the fans, ‘This is another side of me that you haven't necessarily heard.'

"That's important because performing live and touring is what keeps Evans happy. See, the Missouri native is not the businesswoman type and never planned to have a full-time career. "I never wanted all that because I grew up on a farm, and if I wasn't a singer, I'd be a farmer. I'd just be at home having children and cooking.

"So when you get into this business, and you sign your deal, you realize that, ‘I am a career woman.' So you kind of struggle against that. It's like, ‘Ugh! I don't like this. All I want to do is be on stage. I'm a performer.' But so much of it is business, and you have to learn that."

No matter how much she'd like to be in denial about being a businesswoman, it turns out that Evans is actually a workaholic. "I make it my business to know exactly what's going on with everything, even as far as what color paper my fan club letters are sent on. Just little details like that I think, ‘Well, if you don't take care of it yourself, it may not get done the way you want it, and then you're going to be disappointed.'"

Not that Evans is alone in her quest for stardom. Between her two managers, Kip Krones and Brenner Van Meter; William Morris booking agent Keith Miller; a publicist; a business manager; a road manager; and a fan club president, she's got plenty of help. And it's a good thing because she'll be taking some time off at the end of the year; she's expecting a baby in late August / early September.

Until then, Evans will stick to the road, touring behind No Place That Far, which has spent at least 12 weeks on the SoundScan album chart. She also joins country music divas Lorrie Morgan, Martina McBride and Mindy McCready in the CMT special "Girls Night Out."