Review by Billy Dukes, Photo by Sean O'Halloran
It’s a strange thing to hear Savannah Keyes talk about the things that have gone wrong in her life. It’s a strange thing to believe anything has.
But the California-born, Sandy, Utah-raised singer-songwriter is human, so her life has featured plenty of highs and lows. On stage Keyes talks a mile a minute with teenage enthusiasm straight out of central casting. She’s wide-eyed and witty. Call her anything but “shy.” A favorite response to good news or the most mildly remarkable occurrence (like say, a 90-year-old in the audience) is, “Oh my God, that’s incredible.”
The 19-year-old is infectious in every good way possible. When asked for a 5-year-goal she immediately lights up with, “If you’re talking big picture, I would love to perform on Good Morning America. I watch it every single morning. I’m not even kidding. I wake up at 7AM just to watch it.”
Somehow it feels like April’s #LetTheGirlsPlay artist of the month wakes the world around her up as well.
While she admits she may forever consider herself a newcomer, Keyes has been at it for years. At age 13 Ellen DeGeneres discovered a cover of a Miranda Lambert song and brought her to the show to sing the Dixie Chicks. A few short years later she was living on her own in Nashville, a 16-year-old signed to Republic Nashville. That marriage dissolved in 2016 and songs like “Talk” are finally free for the world to hear. It’s best to hear it without introduction:
“Imagine if you’re walking down the street and somebody just walks up to you out of nowhere and says, ‘Hey, by the way I’m your dad,’ and asks things of you that you’re not willing to give,” Keyes says.
That’s more or less what happened last year. Her birth father, a man she had never known, tried to reach her on Facebook. Her response was to write a song she hopes he hears. It’s a devastating way to repudiate someone’s advances, but who could blame her?
“I have a dad now, and he’s amazing and I didn’t want anything to do with it,” she says.”I gave him 19 years … and you can’t come around when it’s going right.”
The mood of this conversation hardly breaks from the upbeat, positive, professional tone set by her telling stories of karaoke at age four in a sleepy California farming town (Disney and Dolly Parton songs were her jams). Keyes recalls feeling liberated at age 16 when her mother went back to Utah, leaving her to figure out life on her own. Even separating from her record label and learning an ex-boyfriend had written a hit song about you (she won’t say which) sounds like something we’d want to happen to us!
During a recent Song Suffragettes concert, Keyes performed “Talk,” an ex-boyfriend song called “Bad Tattoos” and a modern pop-country original called “2000 and Us.” Between songs she told bad jokes and jumped into the normal #LetTheGirlsPlay banter like a seasoned pro, which even at a young age she is. There’s no sense of giving up, nor any sense that there ever was. She comes from a family of athletes, and so often a first-generation starving artist lives in fear of that phone call from home that says, “Why don’t you come on back and get a real job?”
“I think that that’s a fear of anyone at any stage of life when you’re chasing a dream,” Keyes admits. “It’s taking a little longer to work out than the way you originally planned it would.”
It’s working out, however. A publishing deal and one of her songs on hold by a major artist (again with the secrets Savannah!? Geesh!) have her looking way ahead in 2017. You’ll also find her on red carpets doing correspondence work for Radio Disney. She even got to interview Lambert recently, who recalled writing her own songs at age 20. Ironically she’s getting her chance to “Talk” to her heroes.