For Sara Evans, music and family go hand in hand.
Born in the rural town of Boonville, Mo., the country singer/songwriter has been a part of the music world since she was a kid. From traveling with the family band when she was five to singing at the Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater tonight, her family has supported her throughout her career.
"I have two brothers and four sisters, and my parents put us on music lessons when we were very young," she recalls. "They decided to put together a band and we started performing all over Missouri. It just kind of grew from there."
As she grew, so did her desire to make music her profession. While in her 20s, she followed the path any aspiring country music artist would follow by moving to Nashville. Setting her apart from the pool of amateur musicians, however, was her determination and dedication to making her dream come true.
"Once I moved there, I started making calls, just trying to connect with anybody and everybody that would give me the time of day," Evans remembers. She found the help she was looking for and was able to land a record deal with RCA. "It was very quick. I got a record deal within the first two years that I moved there."
Her first record, "Three Chords and the Truth," came out in 1997, but was not a big hit on country radio stations.
It was her second album, "No Place That Far," that boosted Evans into the national spotlight.
The title track was a duet with Vince Gill that reached number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles and Tracks chart.
"I called Vince Gill and asked him to sing with me on it," says Evans, who had worked with Gill during a Buck Owens tribute beforehand. "He came in and did it for free, and he put more than harmony on it. He puts his voice all over it and that's the reason that song became such a huge hit."
Since "No Place That Far," Evans has released three more studio albums plus a "Greatest Hits" album in 2007. Some of those hits include "Born to Fly," which was her first solo number one hit, and her rendition of Edwin McCain's pop hit "I Could Not Ask For More."
Decades after touring with her parents and siblings around Missouri, family still plays a crucial role in her career. When she went through a divorce with ex-husband Craig Schelske in 2007, it was her career and her family that kept her on track.
"Staying busy was the saving grace for me," she says. "I just focused on my children, [who] travel on the road with me almost all the time? and I have two sisters and a brother that tour with me on the road, so I was surrounded by family. It's a huge support system."
At the time of the divorce, Evans was performing on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," but was forced to pull out of the competition prematurely for "personal reasons." While on the show, however, she was able to boost her popularity while still being able to enjoy herself.
"It's physically gruesome," she says with a laugh about participating in the show. "It's exhausting, but at the very same time, it's so fun and rewarding, especially if you are competitive like me. It was just a thrill to have to go out there and do something I had never done before."
Today, fans will not only see Evans' name on television screens and CD albums, but also on book covers. The songwriter has opened a new chapter of her life and will be coming out with a book called "Sweet By and By," which she wrote with author Rachel Hauck.
"I never really thought of myself as a book writer," admits Evans. A publisher noticed that most of the songs Evans writes are 'story songs,' and asked her to consider the idea of writing a book. After considering it for a few weeks, she came up with a character and a storyline.
"It takes place in the South. It's about a girl and it's a story about redemption and forgiveness. It's due to come out in January and I'm really, really excited about that."
The audience tonight at the Chautauqua Insitutuion Amphitheater will see Evans doing what she loves, performing her music. An essential part of a musician's career, she says concerts are one of the most exciting aspects about being a professional singer.
"I absolutely love the live performance," she says. "It's just my favorite, favorite, favorite part of the whole career. When I am on stage, I just relish every second. I'm naturally a kind of comedian at heart, so when I get up there I just want to make people laugh and make them cry.
"I want them to have the best time and go away from the experience just feeling happier than they were when they got there."
Evans is expected to release her next album later this year, and the single "Feels Just Like a Love Song" was released in mid-July. Expect her to perform that song and many other classics when she sings at the Amphitheater tonight at 8:15 p.m. Tickets for the concert are $38 general admission and can be purchased by calling 357-6250.