Nikki Lane Shows How Her Stagecoach Vintage Market Is a Perfect Fit For the Festival
The outlaw country firecracker is bringing her second love -- curated vintage of a cowboy ilk -- to the fest.
Long before Nikki Lane was headlining tours of her own and selling t-shirts emblazoned with her name, she could be found, more often than not, elbow-deep in a bin of second-hand denim or meticulously combing through racks of once-loved garments at estate sales.
Lane is as much an avid purveyor and pursuer of good vintage as she is a rising rock star, though this is no secret to admirers of her road wardrobe full of personalized pieces and nudie suits. Her parallel passions will intersect at this year’s Stagecoach (April 27-29) when she hosts her own pop-up vintage market, the Stage Stop Marketplace, at the festival’s bazaar.
Lane runs High Class Hillbilly, a Nashville-based vintage boutique, alongside her music career. Lately, she’s been frequenting spots specializing in perfectly broken-in boots and Stetsons in Austin during an extended stay there. But where Lane goes, so does High Class Hillbilly, and she’s always looking for places to set up a rack and bring someone their new favorite flannel -- and that’s exactly what she did at Stagecoach when she performed at the festival in 2017.
At Stagecoach, High Class Hillbilly will cover all your perfectly worn-in bandana and cut-off needs, but Lane’s also invited friends of hers who run like-minded vendors -- like Lone Hawk Hats and Bandit Brand -- to join her in Indio. Lane gave Billboard a preview of what Stagecoach crowds can expect from her Stage Stop Marketplace. (Spoiler: It involves music, day drinking and t-shirts that’ll give the merch table some tough competition.)
Nikki, this Stage Stop Marketplace is obviously very in line with everything you're all about.
The vintage dream has always been part of how I create my identity as a musician, but part of how I paid my bills early on, transitioning from a person who wanted to be in fashion into music. When I was living out in L.A., I went to the early Coachellas, and it was really a music experience with very little in terms of vendors and stuff. If you look at how much that’s turned into an experience and a way to kind of submerge yourself in an entire lifestyle, Stagecoach is trying to get in on that, I’m sure. They’re trying to get in on a lifestyle brand, but to me, there’s so much more depth with where we can go when country music and the desert are the influences. I’m excited to bring out all the shit that I think should be at a festival as festival-wear and kind of push that towards the people who are getting into the Stagecoach vibe.
When did you come up with this idea?
Stacy Vee, who is booking all the artists for Stagecoach, she’s fucking cool, and she wants to put that culture into something. Stagecoach is funded by big country music -- thank god, it allows us to put on a big party in the desert -- but on the other hand there’s a lot of great Americana, indie, outlaw country kind of artists that are getting a chance to show up there.
With the vintage thing, she just let that happen: This year, instead of putting the market out in the campgrounds, they moved it dead to the middle of the big bazaar where everybody already was. They let me get in and say what I wanted to do with their idea. Last year I had gone up and played a 30 minute set [in the market]; I just took my guitar over to my booth because my mom was over there and I was gonna sing to her, since she was working my booth for me. This year we have a stage. I was able to invite people and my friends who are L.A. country musicians [to play], like Ruby Boots, who’s working a record and is on the way to Australia -- she’s gonna come out there with me and play on our acoustic stage. They even let me decide that I wanted to make my own hangover bar, where like, the kind of cocktails I wanna drink at a festival that could be made available with a lot less of a line, so that you can hang out in our little retreat when things get a little crazy there.
So let me get this straight: You’re basically running a pop-up vintage shop and speakeasy?
Yeah! (laughs) They wanted what I would be doin’, and I would be day-drunk trying on vintage dresses! I think a lot of people will get into that. Once you’re submerged in that kind of experience for three days straight, there’s no way that at some point you’re not thinking that you need a moment to kind of calm down and dig in. Maybe you spilled something all over your shorts you were wearing, I don’t know -- there’s no reason why you wouldn’t come and peruse the market. Bandit Brand, she makes the coolest rock t-shirts and is a vintage dealer. One of our artist friends, Charlie Overbay, he owns Lone Hawk Hats, which are some of these awesome, handmade, hand-embroidered rocker’s hats -- they kind of turn you into a character like Johnny Depp. He and his girlfriend are coming out and dealing vintage. It’s a way for me to kind of show the people who might be used to shopping in a more commercial setting for country attire what’s up.
Do you find that people are really into the idea of wearing vintage Americana at the moment? Companies like Fort Lonesome -- who do incredible custom chain-stitching work, and have personalized a couple of your outfits -- are so popular they’re impossible to book these days.
Everybody likes the response of wearing something unique. I always joke that you really don’t wanna see someone in something that you thought was your badass outfit. When you’re shopping at a big brand, that’s just gonna happen by default because there were 5,000 units made. Digging a little deeper and listening to cool records and having a cocktail while you find stuff, you might find something you like where you might be mistaken for an artist instead of a concert-goer. That’s why I think people might be creating identity for themselves. That’s why Fort Lonesome is killing it: Somebody realizes they can get married in a traditional tuxedo where they can embroider little symbols of their whole life onto a jacket. It’s a bigger investment and it’s harder to get, but it creates an individual identity for the wearer, right? That’s what we’re doing: It’s all about the music, but it’s also about the lifestyle and making sure there’s something real behind the stuff you’re supporting.
This breaks free of the carbon copy situation that we run into with a lot of festival fashion, too. You’re not selling the same Frye cowboy boots everyone else is wearing; you’ll have stuff that’s been picked by you, the real thing vs. the imitation.
That’s the thing -- it’s supposed to be a complement to all those things. There are certain joys of being able to get online and order a boot if it’s made in the right size and have it fit, but if you’re gonna go that route, try to mix it with a real squash blossom necklace. I feel like the common thing in vintage is, “Oh my god, you can pull that off.” I just put it on. Educating people that they can put it on -- that vintage cowboy boot, it literally is a Frye, just from 45 years ago, and everybody’s gonna want it because nobody’s seen it -- and that’s a good thing. Not treating them like they’re a mass coming in: “Oh, I bet you’d like the pink one!” Digging deep -- when people are thumbing through a vintage rack and go, “Oh shit, that’s my last name on that jacket!” or “My dad went to that high school!” Find a connection with the stuff that represents you, so when people do see you, you’re wearing overalls because you actually have a farm back home or some shit -- you’re representing who you are.
You’ve taken a personal approach to your merch in general, with limited runs of shirts and collaborations with artists you like filling your shop. How is the vintage business and your merch related?
I wasn’t going to sell a t-shirt that I wasn’t going to wear. I believed that t-shirts were the kind of thing you bought because you love the artist and you put it in your drawer and you give it to your buddy when he spends the night because it’s actually cardboard, but you bought it as a reaction to an experience. Our Bandit Brand t-shirts are super soft and only get better with age, but they take more time and take a bit more money. I just believe in quality. I wanted to make merch that I would wear, and I would be able to point back to who made it -- I’m trying to help support somebody else with you supporting me. There’s a common thread. Getting out on the road, you realize there are people who come to a festival looking for things other than music to keep their brain busy during their entire time there.
It all goes back to this, that selling vintage is as organic for you as picking up a guitar.
That’s the thing! At Stagecoach, you only play every other year. It’s important to keep the roster awesome. We played last year and hopefully I can pitch for a slot next year, but it’s Stacey -- it’s not just a big company booking these artists. She’s building relationships with everybody and friendships. Even allowing me to be around and participate and provide something for them, it’s fun! It’s fun to not have to stay home and see other artists promoting records. I was just excited to see the roster and know I’m gonna get to be out there the entire time. When you’re touring, you don’t always get to go anywhere; you’re mostly working. I see most of my good buddies at shows. It’s packed out every year. We’re playing Pappy and Harriet’s, and the desert is a special place. I can’t even believe what something like Coachella looks like compared to something like Coachella when I was younger. But like, Stagecoach has still got it. It’s very organic out there. I’m excited to go do it as part of my business.
What are some items you’re hesitant to sell because you want to keep them for yourself?
That’s always a fine line (laughs). I’m coming out with stuff that’ll get you through the weekend. Hopefully you’ll bring your own bandana, but since nobody does, when the dust flares up, we’ve got ‘40s and ‘50s bandanas and cut-off shorts. Spending time out here in Texas, I can part with some of the cowboy hats and boots most of the time, because the odds of them being my size are a whole 'nother game. But some of the stuff, when you see it’s handmade and it’s got the name of the original person in the hat -- I’ve got a cool Stetson with one of those, a little tag that says “THIS ISN’T YOUR HAT,” a smartass thing someone put in at the hat store in the ‘50s, those things are hard to part with. But typically, when they sell, they sell to somebody who’s going to feel the same way about them. It’s going to be hot out there, so I’m bringing really cute, tiny sundresses to keep the ladies looking like cowgirls so they aren’t burning up. What’s exciting for me is to see what my other vendors are bringing. I know we’re going to be digging in each other’s shit, because with vintage, you never know what you’re gonna find. That’s the point.