Years before she was known as the “Highway Queen,” a 7-year-old girl rode atop pavement rollers in South Carolina with a driver named Rooster. Taking lunch orders for the road crew was Nikki Lane’s first job, and she was good at it.
“You don’t want to give an asphalt man the wrong combo on a hot day,” Lane told Tahoe Onstage.
Lane has come a long way with a strong work ethic, an amazing voice and an appreciation for pure country music. She headed from San Diego toward Lake Tahoe, talking about Saturday’s Crystal Bay Casino debut. The band includes pedal steel guitar, keyboards, guitar, bass and drums.
“When we’re on the West Coast, you guys are spoiled,” she said. “We’re running this West Coast tour like we’ve got tons of money, even though we don’t. But everybody comes together when we’ve got beautiful weather and California shows. We’re a big band with lots of harmonies. Lots of licks.
“I’ve got a fire band so it’s a pretty good gamble that you’re going to have a good time. We’re coming to see you on a Saturday night, so nobody’s even got an excuse. That’s what the headline’s got to be: ‘You’ve got no excuse not to go see Nikki Lane.’”
Lane, 35, is an emerging star, recognized as such by peers in the country music field and fans in towns she frequents. [pullquote]You should have some respect for the Opry. You shouldn’t be singing pop country out there.”[/pullquote]But “The First Lady of Outlaw Country” is still making first impressions in pockets of the country. She had just released the critically acclaimed album “Highway Queen” in 2017 when she played at less than a full house in Reno’s Cargo Concert Hall. But she packed them in at the most hallowed hall, the Grand Ole Opry, which led to a memorable occasion.
“I was outside the Opry and I had just played and I was smoking a joint,” Lane said. “I had just gotten into my car and there was a pop country singer out there. She wouldn’t have said nothing to me because I assume she knows better. But there were two younger girlfriends of mine kind of walking away and she says, “Have some respect for the Opry!”
Lane had a message for the offended one.
“Hank Williams would be upset that you were talking like that, scolding me for smoking pot. Get real, lady. You should have some respect for the Opry. You shouldn’t be singing pop country out there. That’s what you should be nervous about.”
Lane is tough, as is her mother, who rides dirt bikes, and father, the road paver. On tour, she and the band are honing three songs that will appear on an upcoming album, including a tune called “Try a Little Harder.”
“I’ve got really tough parents,” she said. “I grew up with a strong sense of determination. Also, a no-excuses household. I started reflecting on that and writing some of those songs. In looking at them, I see that I am road worn. I’ve put in the miles and I am looking to continue to do so, but am going to relax a little to keep the art at the forefront for me for the rest of the year.”
The saying goes, “Make hay while the sun is shining.” However, going into the woodshed to make some new music is a good idea, too. She plans to add to the three songs and make a full-length album. She said constant touring was shutting down her creativity. She recently canceled a European tour.
“I booked that tour the previous November,” she said. “I thought I was going to have a record out by then. I thought I was going to pop into the studio the beginning of the year. Then people offer you opening gigs and we had a great summer. We were out all summer, supporting big bands (such as Gov’t Mule and Hank Williams Jr.) and creating that exposure. The next thing I know we haven’t been home and there’s no recording dates.”
Lane was warned about the consequences of turning down the tour.
“It’s definitely a say-it-and-then-go-throw-up moment,” she said. “I’ve never done anything like that in my career but I kept saying yes to things. A great musician in Texas, Charlie Crockett, he works his ass off. He made a great comment on my page: ‘I always say I can’t afford to say no but sometimes I can’t afford to say yes.’”
As she did with “Highway Queen,” Lane is working with “her dude” guitarist Jonathan Tyler, and for the upcoming sessions producer Rob Schnapf.
“I am so excited to explore with Rob and a couple of guys in Nashville that I have been talking about working with and write songs with for 10 years. But I’ve just been working. I hadn’t created time for it.
“I am nervous but I am excited. It was like a weight off of me. I am still carrying around a shoulder that stopped working when I canceled Europe. I’ve got a pinched nerve. So, if you’ve got any good chiropractors in Tahoe, I will trade tickets.”
- Nikki Lane
Opener: Carl Anderson
When: 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5
Where: Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room
Tickets: $25 in advance or $30 on the day of the show
Red Room after-party: Hellbound Glory