It’s busy times in country music. Country music is at the very top of the Billboard all-genre charts via a host of songs. It’s being mentioned on major news channels and publications all across mainstream media day and night, and it’s been this way for weeks and months now. It was the subject of the opening question at a Presidential debate Wednesday night (8-23). Country music is having a moment, and however this moment shakes out might determine just how important country music is to American culture at large in the coming years.
But beyond the big headlines and the culture war back-and-forths, the regular rhythms of country music continue on, like the rare but vaunted invitations to join country music’s most storied institution, The Grand Ole Opry. On August 17th during her sold-out show at the Ryman Auditorium, Sara Evans was surprised by the Opry’s longest living member, Bill Anderson, with an invitation of her own. Evans was there in part celebrating the 20th Anniversary edition of her 2003 Platinum-selling release Restless.
Sara Evans is an interesting pick for the Opry for sure. It won’t get the purists jumping for joy, but it won’t necessarily raise their hackles either. Sara Evans isn’t exactly a current country pop star, but she’s not exactly a “legend” just yet. She’s not even really a beneficiary for the whole ’90s country resurgence since the heart of her career came bookended by the 00s.
If you’re a Sara Evans fan then you’re happy about the invitation of course. But if you’re just a country fan with an average familiarity with Sara’s music, it’s probably hard to know what to feel about it, because it’s hard to know what to feel about Sara Evans.
Right before the surprise Opry invitation came, Sara sang her 2004 #1 hit “Suds in the Bucket” with Carly Pearce. Not only is it one of Evans’ signature songs, it’s super country. Though she was still very much under-the-radar at the time, Sara’s 1997 debut album was titled Three Chords and the Truth, and was truly a traditional country work cover to cover.
But when you consider Sara’s last #1, “A Little Bit Stronger” from 2010, you can definitely tell that she was chasing the Taylor Swift craze of the time. You see Evans live these days, you’ll get some traditional country performances. But you’ll get a lot of pop country ones as well. It’s a pretty glittery, girl boss affair.
But what the induction of Sara Evans as a Grand Ole Opry members really feels like is Sara having the confidence in herself to embrace the idea of maturing with her music instead of trying to case trends. This is one of the things that the Grand Ole Opry is great for, and great at helping to foster in artists that radio has left behind.
Eventually, the whole retro ’90s country thing will begin to cool off, if it hasn’t already. One of the things that was fueling it was how terrible current country was today. But now there are new shoots of life bursting through the creatively barren landscape that was Bro-Country, and growing even taller than the heights that Bro-Country ever achieved. The good country of the early 2000s is also starting to fall within the retro window, like some of the early work of Sara Evans.
What seems to be eternally in style in country music is country music itself. Sometimes popular country music gets away from it, but it always comes back around. Sara Evans has some of that eternally great country music in her catalog, and a great voice to sing it with. If she embraces those aspects of her sound and legacy, and sticks close to her roots when it comes time to record new music, her Opry induction could just be the start of an important second wind to her career.