If you’ve ever noticed Keith Urban on an awards show, it’s probably been a shot of him in the audience enthusiastically singing along with whoever’s onstage, no matter who it is. (Or beaming at wife Nicole Kidman.) The New Zealand native, who hit the big time when he moved to Music City, is also one of the best celebrity cheerleaders in the biz, routinely shouting out new albums or singling out performances by artists of all genres on social media. In short, the man is a fan.
That was evident yet again Monday night at the jubilant All For the Hall concert at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, where Urban, his ace band and special guests like pedal steel legend Paul Franklin, backed a glittery parade of country music’s best and brightest including Blake Shelton, Luke Combs, and Tanya Tucker in a nearly 3-hour lovefest. The various artists line-up was convened in service of raising money for the music education initiatives at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and it added another $800,000 to the $4 million pot that the shows have raised since launching in 2007.
Urban’s usual partner in crime, All for the Hall founder Vince Gill, was unable to attend. (“He’s Eagle-ing,” said Urban with a laugh backstage before the show in reference to Gill’s prior commitment as a touring member of the Eagles. But Gill called him to offer good luck.) The multi-Grammy and CMA award winner managed a successful solo flight, introducing every artist who came to the stage with rapturous praise and then backing them with his searing guitar work and nuanced harmony vocals. He kicked the night off, setting the bar high with his own giddy “Wasted Time” and a gorgeous, slow-burn cover of Linda Ronstadt’s arrangement of “Blue Bayou.”
You can tell Urban’s a true fan because even when he wasn’t contributing vocals, he was at his mic upstage, unobtrusively singing along with every word of every song, no matter how disparate, from Blake Shelton’s classic country noir “Ole Red” to Ingrid Andress’ perfectly crafted bummer ballad “More Hearts Than Mine.”
Every All for the Hall show has a theme and Monday’s was “Under the Influence,” which translated into each performer playing one of their own hits and a cover that represented an artist who inspired them. “I just liked the play on words and the fact that it gave each artist a chance to show a side of them that we may be surprised at,” Urban said backstage before the show about devising the theme. “And also I had a feeling that most artists would choose something that would maybe be a little unexpected and yet we could see the connection deep down in their music.” He was right. As different as the songs were, from classic rock to ’70s soul to ’90s country, a glimmer of each artist was in the tunes they chose.
Herewith, a few of our favorite moments from the show.
Riding high on her recent pair of Grammy wins for her album While I’m Livin’, Tanya Tucker was her usual force of nature self during her time on stage, much to the delight of the crowd. She chose to perform a stellar medley of tunes by country legends — including Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” and Merle Haggard‘s “Workin’ Man Blues” — as well her own poignant ballad “Bring My Flowers Now,” an ode to expressing our love while we can.
Chris Stapleton, who may have prompted the largest number of people to whip out their cell phones to record, took the stage with wife Morgane for a double shot of sublimity with his own paean to the riches offered by love in “Millionaire” and Willie Nelson‘s gorgeous “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” perhaps the finest song ever written around the romantic metaphor of healing a broken wing only to watch the bird fly away.
Proving the timeless reach of music as an “influence,” all of the younger contingents on the line-up sang covers that were as old or older even than the artists themselves. Twenty-eight-year-old Lauren Daigle offered up a full-throated rendition of the 48-year-old “Killing Me Softly,” favoring the hit, jazzy Roberta Flack version complete with trombone. A song of the same vintage, “Take it Easy” by the Eagles was the choice of 26-year-old mullet enthusiast and “Whiskey Glasses” hitmaker Morgan Wallen, whose spirited take reminded of that song’s eminently singable durability. Carly Pearce, 29, a recent visitor to EW’s In the Basement series, sashayed through Shania Twain‘s 23-year-old “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” with brassy flair. Ingrid Andress, born in 1991, got the crowd singing along with “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” the John Denver classic born in 1971. And Canadian import Tenille Townes belted out U2‘s undying anthem “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” which preceded her in the world by seven years.
The night’s most incendiary exchange occurred when John Osborne of Brothers Osborne traded face-melting solos with Urban on the band’s galvanizing jam “It Ain’t My Fault.” As Tucker did, the Maryland-spawned duo also paid tribute to Haggard with their bracing take on the classic “The Bottle Let Me Down.”
Luke Combs has not only amassed a huge collection of hits in his short time in Nashville, he’s also already become an All For the Hall veteran, drawing ovations from both the crowd and his fellow performers at September’s Los Angeles edition of the series. (Those other performers included Gill, fellow All for the Hall show host Emmylou Harris and Sheryl Crow.) He closed out Monday’s show with his own tearjerker “Even Though I’m Leaving” and a barn-burning take on Brooks and Dunn‘s “Brand New Man.”
Urban joked throughout the night that keeping things “loose” was key. But given all the moving parts, the night had an impressive flow and neither the band nor any of the artists ever faltered, no doubt securing Urban’s further fandom.