She sang. She joked. She danced. She autographed. Even though she's one of the biggest names in country, Sara Evans still knows how to multitask.
Evans only performed for an hour Friday night at the sold-out Hemmens Cultural Center on the Fox River in Elgin. But nobody seemed to mind because it was an hour packed with enough good country music, laughter and dirty dancing to please everyone.
Backed by a six-guy band, with three guitarists, a fiddler, drummer and keyboard player, Evans proved she's country to the core.
She opened with a strong husky voice and a sexy saunter on "Perfect." And even threw in a little air guitar for good measure. Evans kept up the pace with her older hits, such as "No Place That Far" and "Born to Fly," then started on new stuff off "Real Fine Place," her latest gold album.
Evans said "Momma's Night Out" was for all the hot mamas out there. And that "Cheatin'" was the perfect country song because it's about all the bad things that happen if you get caught.
But if you'd taken a vote for crowd fave, it would've been Evans' newest single, "Coal Mine." Even after the recent coal-mining tragedies, it's hard for outsiders to understand that world. Until Evans explained the draw of a coal-mining man: "I can't wait to get him home/Ain't gonna have nothin' but the supper on/Gonna keep him busy 'til it's time/'Til he goes back to that coal mine." There are so many things you can do with a sexy miner, apparently, that the song had three choruses to adequately describe them all.
Early in the show, when throat trouble threatened her voice, Evans asked the crowd "Can somebody get me a Ricola?" It reinforced her I'm-just-like-y'all attitude and candor. Before the show, Evans described how she felt when she recently won the ACM female vocalist-of-the-year award. "When they called my name, I thought 'Sara Evans? That's not my name,' " she said.
And you can hear her small-town roots in every song. The Missouri town where she was raised had about the same number of folks that were at the Elgin show. Maybe that's why she seemed so at home on the stage.
Evans' trademark mic-hold -- head thrown all the way back and the mic upside-down -- fit nicely on slower tunes, such as "You'll Always Be My Baby," a touching ballad about the men in a woman's life.
A quick two-song encore included her hit "A Real Fine Place to Start," and ended with a powerful cover of Belinda Carlisle's 1987 overnight pop-anthem sensation "Heaven Is a Place on Earth."
Back when she was 7, Evans performed with bluegrass legend Bill Monroe at the Missouri State Fair. She must've learned a lot about stage presence that day because, 28 years later, the Sara Evans you see live is even better than the one you hear on the radio.