An Outlaw Comes to Town for Her First Performance in Savannah

WHEN WE SPOKE TO NIKKI LANE, the first lady of outlaw country, she had just reached a major milestone in her life. As it is with most artists, she’d reached that turning point where new creative endeavors beckon and new avenues of expression open before them.

Calling from Steamboat Springs, Colorado (then-current temp: 16 below), Lane confessed she had reached a crossroards. She had officially retired from snowboarding and gone over to skiing.

“I told Jonathan (Tyler) I could snowboard and I hadn’t done it since 2006,” she said. “I just fell the whole damn day.”

So Lane took a bold new step: she joined her girlfriend in line for skiing. “This is my new thing. Not falling.”

When Lane takes the stage for the Savannah Music Festival not only will it be a much warmer, flatter departure from Colorado, it will mark her first performance in the city of Savannah. This, despite a steady touring schedule over the last few years that has taken her to all points across the South and beyond.

But already, this Greenville, South Carolina, native knows probably everything a country gal needs to know about Savannah.

“In spring I’d go for St. Patrick’s Day and teeter around on that cobblestone road in high heels, which I still think about all the time,” she said with a laugh, her upcountry twang lightly tinged with the sandpaper edge of her trademark vocals.

The rest of what she knows about the city comes from an encounter with one Savannahian whose ghost stories wore the edge off her paranormal skepticism (“It was the first time I’d ever believed in ghost stories. This was a grown ass man telling me about his haunted home, and it didn’t seem like bullshit anymore,”) and another whose dog had lost a leg to an alligator.

Really, if you know that ghosts are real, gators eat dogs and you don’t walk River Street in high heels, what else do you need to know about Savannah?

In fact, had things gone differently, Lane might have wound up calling the city home. “I was going to go to SCAD, but dropped out of high school. That makes it hard to get in.”

"In spring I’d go for St. Patrick’s Day and teeter around on that cobblestone road in high heels, which I still think about all the time."

While higher education wasn’t in the cards, the lessons she would have learned in design and fashion clearly would have been redundant anyway. Leaving South Carolina for Los Angeles, New York and finally Nashville, Lane began a career not as a musician, but as a full-fledged brand. Nikki Lane, the musician, is just part of who she is. There’s Nikki Lane, the fashion maven. Nikki Lane, the brand ambassador. Nikki Lane, poster child for a rough and tumble country aesthetic they call Outlaw Country.

The tenents of Outlaw Country, which reach magnificent expression in her third album “Highway Queen,” inform every aspect of Lane’s empire, from her Nashville-based boutique Highclass Hillbilly to her brand partnerships with names like True Religion and Stetson.

“Fashion and music go hand in hand,” she said. Without damaging her art, Lane has found a way to make her music part of the revenue stream. It’s a simple fact of the industry, especially in the age of Spotify.

“Musicians have to go out show after show and keep the business going,” she said. “That’s part of why I have the retail store. I could put out a record and the whole would Tweet that I’d lost my edge. And I wouldn’t have a career anymore. We talk about people working a career for 20 years and they just close the doors one day; that’s most musicians after 2-3 records.”

Indeed, even as the creative processes of making music and fashion inform each other, they also give Lane a little job security. “It’s about enjoying the art, but building a comfort structure around it.”

For what it’s worth, no one’s going to be Tweeting that Lane had lost her edge after hearing Highway Queen. If anything, it’s been sharpened to a prison shiv point. While her previous record, All or Nothin’ carried unmistakable traces of indie rock courtesy of producer Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, Highway Queen is pure outlaw country.

From the first notes, a rollicking “yippie kae yay” that launches the premiere track, “700,000 Rednecks,” “Highway Queen” is whiskey and sawdust cut with a throwback vibe that showcases Lane’s modern-day Wanda Jackson vocals beautifully.

If it feels like a tighter focus on her signature sound, that’s because for the first time, Lane is producing (along with Tyler, her bandmate and partner).

“This record is what I’ve always said I’d like to make. It’s like a mix tape, but it’s all my shit,” she laughed.

Nikki Lane plays the Savannah Music Festival 8:30 p.m. April 6 at North Garden Assembly Room at Ships of the Sea Museum.

Read The Avett Bros. and the 11 Really Good Reasons Not To Miss The Savannah Music Festival. To read the full article, subscribe now or pick up the February/March issue of South Magazine