If I asked you, who's the nicest guy in country music today, who would you say? My answer is now, without a doubt, Keith Urban - and here's why...
I'm a huge country music fan, but I will admit that it's a relatively new-found love. I've always kind of "liked" country music, but I'd never really gone out of my way to immerse myself in it.
Here in Melbourne there aren't any country music radio stations and neither of my parents were huge fans either. I grew up listening to classical music (my dad) and classic rock/golden oldies (my mum). I have a strong appreciation for classical music, but I absolutely love old school rock and the golden oldies that my mum knows every word to. From AC/DC to U2, from The Mamas and the Papas to Creedence Clearwater Revival, I love it all.
Really the closest I came to country music was listening to Taylor Swift back in her early days when she was more country and less pop. A few years ago, however, my friend Emma introduced me to a country band called Rascal Flatts, and I've been hooked on country music ever since.
My list of bands that I follow has grown exponentially with each passing year and I'm now a genuine country fan (as you can tell from my previous post about travelling to CMC Rocks in 2018). Since attending CMC last year, I've started going to concerts that I wouldn't have even known about a few years ago, such as Randy Houser and Morgan Evans (both of which played at the Corner Hotel in Richmond). I attribute my newfound awareness of all things country music related to 2 things - CMC and joining Spotify - the latter is definitely all because of Emma.
Here's the thing about Emma, she's a music nerd. An absolute, 100%, can sing every word to every song ever written, music nerd. When we became friends 15 years ago it was in the days of mix CDs and she used to burn them for me to listen to all the time.
Remember these? Burnt CDs were the shiz back in the day!
When the iPod came out, she was first in line. When the iTrip arrived, which meant you could play your iPod in your car, Emma was the one who set it up for me. Pretty much everything I've listened to, or used, or seen in relation to music in the last 15 years has been because of Emma. So when Spotify arrived, that's where she steered me next, and here's how it happened.
This is Em's actual iPod and iTrip that she found in a drawer not long ago!
I'd heard about CMC Rocks and decided that it sounded like a fantastic event, but alas I only had one friend who even liked country music - Emma. So I convinced her to come with me but she had one stipulation, I had to learn as many songs of as many artists as possible in the lead up to the festival.
"I can't do that, I don't want to buy that much music from iTunes," said I.
"Not to worry," said she. "I give you... Spotify!"
"I am not paying for a music subscription," I declared.
"Oh yes you will," she replied. "And you'll thank me for it too."
Turns out, she was right. I'm completely addicted to Spotify now and use it to listen to all my music (country is a massive genre on Spotify), I follow at least a dozen podcasts (something I'd never listened to before joining) and have even made my own playlists (Christmas Carols by the Glee cast anyone?).
So where is all this leading I hear you ask? To Keith Urban, that's where. Now that my country music tastes and knowledge have expanded so widely, I'm always on the lookout for concerts and upcoming events that I can attend, usually dragging my long-suffering friends behind me. Spotify is great for this because it will suggest concerts for you in your area based on your listening history.
When I saw Keith Urban was bringing his worldwide smash hit Graffiti U show to Melbourne, I was totally there. The tour had been going for over 6 months and Melbourne was the last stop, capping off a stellar tour. (Also, for those of you who aren't aware, Keith recently won the biggest prize in country music - Entertainer of the Year at the annual CMA Awards.) Tickets came on sale and I immediately messaged Emma asking if she wanted to go. Turns out she was already way ahead of me and had bought tickets for us both. They cost $150 each for reserved seating, but let me say that it really didn't matter where you were sitting, everyone had a fantastic view.
A few months later and finally the day rolled around. Emma and I caught the tram into the city to Rod Laver Arena (the number 70 will take you straight there) and headed in to see one of the best in the business put on a 2.5 hour music spectacular.
The warm up act was Julia Michaels, an American songstress and songwriter who co-wrote Keith's Graffiti U album with him. Additionally, she's also written for some of the biggest names in pop music, including Justin Beiber and Selena Gomez. She looked to be having an absolute blast on stage, dancing around and chatting to the crowd in-between songs. Her set was about 45 minutes and she sang a variety of songs that she's written for others as well as her own stuff. She finished up her set with her most popular song - Issues (which was nominated for Song of the Year at the 2017 Grammy Awards).
Then it was time for Keith! Opening with Never Comin Down the stage burst to life as Keith and his band made their presence known, followed by Days Go By and Coming Home featuring Julia Michaels. After a couple of songs, Keith pulled out a pair of binoculars and a spotlight so he could scan the audience and read out the signs his adoring fans had made to show their love for him. He spotted two girls waving signs that read that they would donate $1000 to the drought relief fund if they could come up onstage. Keith was like "Absolutely, get up here!" and sure enough, Tyler and Taylor, were pulled up on stage along with their boyfriends for a chat and a selfie. Here's hoping they followed through on their promise and donated the money afterwards!
The band were fantastic with each of them playing more than one instrument as well as having amazing vocals. In addition to the great band was the innovative stage setup. It was 3 layers that shifted and tilted throughout the show, keeping the look fresh and offering a great platform for the stunning visuals to shine.
A few more songs and then the house lights dropped and Keith asked how we'd light the place up if the power went out? Of course everyone answered and within seconds the entire Arena was awash with mobile phones, lighting it so much it was almost daylight inside, as we sang along to Somebody Like You.
At one point during the night, Keith made his way down onto the floor, through all the people to a small stage at the back of the general admission area to play a close up for those at the back. He was phenomenal with everyone, stopping to shake hands and take photos, all while still singing. He played a half dozen songs at the back, before pulling a young lady up on stage with him to gift her his guitar. Her face said it all, she was beyond shocked and I thought she might have a stroke right then and there with Keith Urban standing next to her.
Eventually he made his way back to the front main stage to finish up with confetti canons going off and covering the crowd. The final song was Wasted Time and by this point Keith had been going for over 2 hours! After a quick 60 second break, Keith and his band were back on stage with Texas Time song one of the encore followed by Horses which finished out the night.
To illustrate even further just how much of a great guy Keith is, he spent time shaking hands and taking photos with many fans long after his band had departed the stage and everyone else was leaving the Arena.
So when I asked you at the very beginning of this post, who's the nicest guy in country music? It is without a doubt the guy that gives you a massive show of almost 2.5 hours, gives away a guitar to an adoring fan, puts on a set at the back of the stadium to give everyone a close up view, and then sticks around after the lights have come up to spend time with his fans.
It was a fantastic night and a brilliant show by a "true-blue" Aussie who is a genuinely good guy and who loves what he does. He's clearly thankful for each and every fan, a wonderful trait that's seriously lacking in today's celebrity world of reality wannabes and mega movie stars. The CMA Entertainer of the Year delivered in spades.
Until next time,