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Sara Evans frustrated by bias against women on country radio

All Sara Evans wants for Christmas — and any other time of the year, for that matter — is to hear more female voices on country music radio and maybe fewer lyrics about trucks, tight jeans and beer.

“I just get furious,” the singer says from her home in Alabama. “I’m just like, ‘What is this crap?’ This is supposed to be the genre that I grew up in, with great songs, like ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’ and ‘Crazy’ by Patsy Cline. Or ‘Born to Fly’ by Sara Evans.”

She chuckles after that last example, but she’s serious about her complaint.

“When I don’t hear anything good like that,” Evans says, “then I just get frustrated and furious, so I don’t listen to country (on the radio).”

During her more-than-20-year career in country music, Evans has released eight studio albums, which include the certified double platinum “Born to Fly,” released in 2000, charted more than 20 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, and sung in venues around the world. The singer was even called by producers of the television series “Nashville” to help with the development of one of the show’s lead characters, Rayna Jaymes.

Despite her success in the country genre, Evans is unhappy that listeners today are hearing less new music from female artists, including herself, on country music radio.

“I get so frustrated when people are like, ‘Are you still making music? Are you still whatever?’” the singer says. “My answer is, ‘Just because you don’t hear me on mainstream country radio doesn’t mean that I’m not still making music and releasing music.’”

The singer’s most recent release, “Words,” is Evans’ first independent record. She released it through her own label, Born to Fly Records, last year, in conjunction with a distribution deal with Sony RED.

Fans have the chance to hear songs off “Words,” the Christmas album “At Christmas” and the singer’s hits when she performs Sunday at the LaPorte Civic Auditorium as part of her “At Christmas Tour.” Proceeds from the show will go to help build a splash pad and handicap-accessible playground equipment in LaPorte.

A wave of artists has begun to speak out about the under-representation of female artists in country music, including Evans and Miranda Lambert, who spoke to the Washington Post earlier in November and said that in order reach No. 1 on the charts these days, she has to sing with a man.

A new, weekly online showcase called Song Suffragettes uses the tagline “Let the Girls Play” and works to spotlight new and up-and-coming female country artists in order to help bring attention to artists and songwriters that country music radio is largely ignoring.

There have been outliers such as Kacey Musgraves’ recent win for Album of the Year at the Country Music Association Awards. Only seven women have won the award since its inception in 1967; Lambert has done so twice.

“Kacey Musgraves’ new album is incredible and it’s gotten a lot of critical acclaim, but there’s a difference between the CMA awards and country radio,” Evans says. “You know country radio is the problem. Country radio is refusing to play females. … So that, to me, is just appalling, and it’s so depressing.”

The Billboard Hot Country Charts support Evans assertion. In the Top 50 songs listed for this week, only four have female voices on the track, one of which is a collaboration between Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line. This time of the year in 2008, there were 14 women in the Top 50 on the Billboard charts and 18 in 1998.

On Tuesday afternoon, South Bend’s B100 (WBYT-FM) country station played 27 songs over a two-hour span; only one of the songs, Lady Antebellum’s “You Look Good,” featured a female vocalist.

“I think the main thing that will change country radio is country fans calling and demanding that they play half-and-half,” she says. “That they play as many women as they do men, and stop playing all this stupid bro country stuff.”

The problem with that is that because fans are not hearing female artists on the radio, they don’t even know what they could be requesting.

“People don’t know what other music is available because they’re not hearing it,” Evans says. “So whatever you hear on the radio, and if you hear it enough, you think it’s famous, and you think it’s famous because it’s the best, but that’s because you don’t hear anything else.”

Evans wants to make it clear that she doesn’t have anything against male country artists. She even has a son trying to make it in the music business.

“It’s not that I’m bashing on the guys,” she says. “I’m just saying in country radio, these program directors need to open their minds and their hearts to broader music, but it’s all about the dollar and as long as they’re successful they’re going to keep doing it. Females don’t have a genre right now.”

Despite frustrations, the country singer continues to tour and release music, such as “Words,” which had contributions from 14 different female songwriters, including the singer herself.

In the meantime, the dial on Evans’ radio probably won’t be tuned in to country radio stations any time soon.

“I cannot stomach the tight jeans in their boots in the truck, you know, in the moonlight and the beer, I mean, ‘Ugh, gag,’” Evans says as her voice becomes twangier with each word. “I can’t do it. We’re better than that.”

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