The Doc Project

This woman makes country music about working on the pipelines

Inspired by her unique lifestyle, Chelsea Savage has developed a genre she's dubbed "pipeline music."

Married to a pipeliner, musician Chelsea Savage has coined a new musical genre: 'pipeline music'

Chelsea and her husband Jason. (Submitted by Chelsea Savage)

When Chelsea Savage walked into a karaoke bar in her hometown of Batesville, Ark., on her 21st birthday, she had no idea her life was about about to change.

A man introduced himself to her after she belted out a couple of cover tunes. This man would become her husband.

Jason swept her off her feet, and into the completely unfamiliar world of pipelining, a world where thousands of workers are sent across the country for months at a time to maintain and repair oil pipelines. 

When Chelsea and Jason met at that karaoke bar, he wasn't yet in the industry. He left for his first pipeline job about six months into their relationship. 

Chelsea was devastated.

"I felt like someone had just pricked the pin to my balloon," she says.

But Chelsea was determined to try to make it work.

Marriage, moving and music

Chelsea and Jason's fifth-wheel trailer. (Submitted by Chelsea Savage)

The couple powered through the distance, travel and separation.

Chelsea and Jason got married. About a year after that, they bought a fifth-wheel trailer and the whole family, including Chelsea's three-year-old daughter, Caroline, went on the road.

The travel suited Chelsea.

Inspired by her unique lifestyle to write equally unique songs, Chelsea Savage has developed a genre she's dubbed "pipeline music".

She was meeting all kinds of new people, seeing new places, and living completely new experiences. She met a hit songwriter along the way who gave her a piece of advice that's stuck with her ever since.

"Write your stories. Write the ones that are true and they'll be real, they'll be from the heart," Chelsea recalls.

She did just that.

Caroline, Jason and Chelsea. (Submitted by Chelsea Savage)

Soon, campfires in North Dakota, Oklahoma and Mississippi became concert venues — and her material was her life as a pipeliner's wife.

She wrote several songs that describe Jason's long days of muddy work; of being weary and homesick; of wives hoping for "rain outs" so their husbands could have an unexpected day off work; of having to keep each other tough or tender when either wants to "drag up" — that's quit, in pipeline speak.

Inspired by her unique lifestyle to write equally unique songs, Chelsea Savage has developed a genre she's dubbed "pipeline music".

"I've written my songs for people who live this lifestyle. I'm talking to them and singing about their lives," Chelsea says. "I've always seen it as my niche."

"I feel like the pipeline music, it almost has its own genre!"

A bump in the road

Caroline in the hospital with Jason, receiving treatment for her rare autoimmune disease called juvenile dermatomyositis. (Submitted by Chelsea Savage)

A couple of years into chasing pipeline jobs as a family, Caroline suddenly developed extreme muscle weakness and serious skin rashes. She was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease called juvenile dermatomyositis, which is triggered by sunlight and UV rays. She was six and a half years old.

She needed intensive treatment — regular infusions, injections and daily medication. The rest of the time, it was a constant routine of ensuring Caroline had enough sun protection — even if she was inside, just sitting by a window.

There's no cure, only a hope of remission. The days of travelling together from job to job were over.

Chelsea and Caroline now stay at home in Arkansas to be near her hospital and doctor, while Jason works wherever the pipelines take him.

Inspired by her unique lifestyle to write equally unique songs, Chelsea Savage has developed a genre she's dubbed "pipeline music".

A growing fan base

Today, as a semi-single mom of a young teen, Chelsea is busy.

Luckily, her day job in the safety department at a power plant facility affords her time to keep writing music.

"I take my guitar with me to work and work on songs in between."

Chelsea was asked to perform her songs about pipelining at the 2014 National Pipeliner’s Annual Reunion, where she and Jason are pictured. (Submitted by Chelsea Savage)

Chelsea's songs have gained her loyal fans within the pipeline community. In 2014, she was asked to perform at the National Pipeliner's Annual Reunion in the U.S.

Every once and a while, Jason will tell her about a new worker on a job who "introduces" him to one of her songs. He'll sit back and listen to it, then tell the person Chelsea is his wife. Every time, he'll have to prove it by pulling out his phone and showing pictures of them together.

It makes Chelsea laugh every time.

This story was originally published on Nov. 26, 2018. To hear producer Adrienne Pan's interview with Chelsea Savage, tap or click the Listen link at the top of this page. 

About the Producer

Adrienne Pan is the host of CBC Edmonton's afternoon drive show, Radio Active. This position comes after 15 years in television news. She's been a reporter and a host in Lethbridge and Winnipeg for Global News and CBC. In her hometown of Edmonton, she anchored CBC's TV News at 6 for six years before moving into radio in July 2018. TV was her first love, but radio is her new main squeeze. One of Adrienne's proudest moments is winning a national Radio Television Digital News Association award in the Best Long Feature category for her television documentary "Saving Grace: The Harry Lehotsky Story". Find her on Twitter: @adriennepancbc

This documentary was co-produced by Acey Rowe.