THE CELEBRITIES NEXT DOOR
by Susan Swagler photos by Emmie Arendall, David M. Russell,
Marla and Shane and courtesy of Sara Evans Barker
Sara Evans Barker makes a great BLT, and her family loves it when she does. Her husband, Jay Barker, even has a photo of one on his phone.
But this is no ordinary BLT. There are fried eggs and melted cheese layered between perfectly ripe tomatoes, crisp lettuce and slices of bacon. The ordinary can become extra-ordinary quite easily, but at the end of the day, it’s still a BLT for dinner.
Having celebrities as next-door neighbors is a similar mix of noteworthy and normal, because even a Mountain Brook mom with her own tour bus has to drive school carpool.
And yet, while Mountain Brook is full of beautiful people, only a couple of them have made People magazine’s “Most Beautiful People” list. Our community is home to elite athletes of all kinds, but very few have led the Crimson Tide to a national championship.
Sara, an award-winning, multi-platinum, chart-topping country music singer and songwriter with fans around the world, has sung the National Anthem at a World Series game and before Boosterthon at Crestline Elementary. She has had a guest role on the television show Nashville, and she danced on Dancing with the Stars. Jay is an author and a former professional football player. As a star quarterback at the University of Alabama, he earned a national championship title and was named
SEC Player of the Year. Today, he’s a successful entrepreneur who co-founded the online coupon site TheSuperDeal.com as well as Preptix.com, the first digital ticketing company for high school sports. That company merged with Huddle and now serves some 13,000 schools in 42 states. He also owns Mountain Brook Sporting Goods with two other business partners.
In the 10 years since Sara and Jay began their life together, they have raised seven children in Crestline—hers, his and now most definitely theirs together. And these are standout kids. Some are musically gifted like their mother. Several are elite athletes following their father’s footsteps. These kids grew up having grilled dinners by the pool; playing (highly competitive) games of ultimate Frisbee; and watching Modern Family—fairly apropos for the situation.
Sara and Jay both report that Mountain Brook has embraced them and their family in ways that just let them
be themselves. Sara says, “We’ve been through a lot in 10 years. And I don’t think we could have handled the stressful things we’ve been through if we had not been in Mountain Brook and had this community around us. We’ve had a ton of support and love. ”
Jay was the one who first suggested they live here. “I didn’t know anything about Birmingham,” Sara says, “but I knew he had impeccable taste and perfect judgment. He said, ‘I think Mountain Brook is where you want to be.’ A house on Elm Street was for sale. Right across from the field. And we thought, ‘This would be our yard.’ And how easy it would be for the kids to go to elementary school here and make new friends. It was awesome right from the beginning,” Sara says.
“Every Saturday there were little league games across the street. We thought: ‘We’ve moved to Mayberry.’ Jay knew that Crestline would appeal to me because it’s so much like downtown Franklin where I used to live.
Some of their friends questioned the lack of privacy in closely-built Crestline, but Sara actually found it appealing. “I’m very social—I wanted to get to know people right away.”
She laughs though, when she recalls their first Halloween in that already-popular neighborhood. A line of trick-or-treaters stretched from their front porch, down Elm Street, around the circle and as far as she could see on Jackson Boulevard. “We spent the evening signing autographs and taking pictures with folks,” she grins.
For the most part, being a household name has not been a big deal in Mountain Brook. “I think it’s different here than anywhere else,” Jay says. “We are surrounded by so many high achieving successful people—most are not awed by celebrity. We really didn’t experience pandemonium until we started traveling with our kids’ sports teams. People just did not expect us to be there.”
Sara and Jay worked hard to raise a close-knit family. In their graceful home filled with the work of local artists such as Meredith Keith and Carolyn Goldsmith and Xander Booker, Sara taped a set of simple house rules on the refrigerator. “Make your bed when you wake up. Boys, use only your toilet and shower. Be respectful of God, parents, one another and yourselves.”
There are family traditions that will always stand: summer vacations at the beach; Christmas Eve church services followed by a family dinner at Fleming’s Steakhouse; Wednesday night takeout from SAW’s Juke Joint. Jay says, “When we got married, we promised each other ‘I’ll take up for your kids, and you take up for mine.’ It was the best thing we ever did.” When Jay’s children came over, Sara wanted them to immediately feel at home. She put each child’s name on his or her pillow. “The kids would see this and say: ‘That’s my bed—it’s got my name on it.’”
Sara loves cooking for her crowd. “It’s important to eat home-cooked food—it doesn’t have to be fancy. Jay throws a few steaks on the grill and the kids hang out in the kitchen while I cook the sides. It ends up being some of our favorite time together.”
For years the family toured as a group. “Early in our marriage, we’d take them on the road,” Jay says. “All seven. Sara would get ready for the show, and I’d take the kids to the fairs and festivals nearby.” Sara says, “I’d look over during my show and I’d see Jay and his four kids side-stage. My kids would be on the bus watching movies—they got over the celebrity pretty quickly. In the early days, Jay’s kids were fascinated with their backstage view. Now all of them are over it.” Regardless, the kids still travel with Sara and as often as possible, she books weekend shows to work around their schedules.
“This has been the best 10 years of my life,” Jay says. “ I’ve lived other places and I tell people that Mountain Brook is different. There’s a sense of community. People here care about their schools, about their neighborhood, about sports, about the arts, and about each other. We couldn’t have asked for a better place for our family.”
Sara agrees, “It’s been the most incredible place to have raised our children. I feel like it’s my home now, and always will be-. It’s definitely where our kids call home. Jay has legally adopted my kids, so we now have seven—and they’re all Barkers—we don’t even call our family ‘blended’ anymore. Crestline is our children’s ‘forever’ home. When they leave to pursue their dreams, this is where they’ll come back to, and we’re so thankful for that.”