Keith Urban Pays Tribute to Loretta Lynn, Honors All the ‘Wild Hearts’ at Nashville Concert

From the ferocious opening of “Tumbleweed,” backlit by white and neon lights, Keith Urban and his ace band (which includes former The Ranch bassist Jerry Flowers) ripped through a two-hour set at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Friday (Oct. 7) as part of Urban’s The Speed of Now World Tour.

Urban and company offered a string of hits, including “Days Go By,” “Never Comin’ Down,” “Somewhere in My Car” and “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16,” as well as his 2021 Billboard Country Airplay hit “Wild Hearts,” which honors “all of those dreamers ready to fly,” as the country music singer encourages them that “Anything can happen in this life/ If you got that heart and the passion and a God lit fire inside.”

Over the nearly four decades Urban has spent honing his craft, from playing tiny clubs to sold-out arenas, it’s clear that his own passion for music and performing hasn’t dimmed. That timespan also forged a musician with not only ace guitar skills and an encyclopedic knowledge of a range of music, but a level of musical dexterity that allows him to interweave his own hits with snippets and riffs of everything from Ram Jam’s 1977 hit “Black Betty” to interspersing his own “Kiss a Girl” with Ed Sheeran’s “Bad Habits.” The lofty musicianship displayed by Urban and his band made the meticulously planned set feel spontaneous and freewheeling.

He themed the evening “Broad to the Big Time,” offering a retrospective of his career, including footage from a 1997 set of his former trio, The Ranch, playing at Jack’s Guitar Bar off Nolensville Road in Nashville.

“I started playing in the clubs when I was about 15 years old, four hours a night, five nights a week,” Urban told the crowd, “all the way up until the late ‘90s when I was still playing the clubs … so tonight we are going to be highlighting the journey from places like that to those who play Nissan Stadium.”

Though Urban’s set was noticeably missing early-career songs — such as The Ranch’s “Desiree” or their rendition of “Some Days You Gotta Dance” (recorded prior to the Chicks’ 1999 hit with the same song), as well as “Where the Blacktop Ends” or “But For the Grace of God” from his 1999 debut solo album — Urban instead used that time to shine a spotlight a couple of the “Wild Hearts” putting those famed 10,000 hours in Nashville right now.

He welcomed local Nashville singer Kayley Green, a regular performer at Nashville bar The Stage. Urban accompanied Green as she offered a spot-on, powerful version of Martina McBride’s “Independence Day,” before duetting with Urban and singing Miranda Lambert’s vocal part on “We Were Us.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Urban welcomed Luke Combs, the reigning CMA entertainer of the year (an accolade Urban first won in 2005 and again in 2018). The decibel levels inside the building ratcheted, as Combs performed “When It Rains It Pours,” later taking on Eric Church’s vocal role on the 2015 Urban/Church collaboration “Raise ‘Em Up.”

Urban also incorporated a tribute to Country Music Hall of Famer Loretta Lynn, who passed away on Tuesday (Oct. 4) at age 90. Urban performed “Blue Kentucky Girl” and “If You’re Looking at Country,” as images of Lynn, including one of the late icon with Urban, lit up the massive screens.

“We love you, Loretta,” Urban said.

Throughout the evening, Urban offered a master class in what it means to not just entertain an audience, but to connect with them and make them feel as one with the entertainer. As is part and parcel of an Urban show, he took time to read various signs that fans held up around the arena, and grabbed a pair of binoculars to see signs in the furthest reaches of the venue. That proved good news for a young girl from Starkville, Miss., who held up a sign requesting a photo with Urban and stating that she skipped school to attend the concert. Urban obliged, inviting the girl and her family onstage.

As is customary at an Urban show, he also made the trek through the crowd to a satellite stage at the rear of the arena, giving fans in the nosebleeds a front row seat as he played a brief acoustic set that included “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” “Better Life” and building into an angsty rendering of “You’ll Think of Me” (“Take your space and take your bulls— reasons, but you’ll think of me,” he growled, as the crowd cheered). As he strained the final notes from his acoustic guitar, he signed it and slowly lowered it into the crowd gathered around the small stage, gifting it to an audience member.

But that electric, live-wire connection between Urban and his fans doesn’t only rely on gifts and onstage photos — just as often, it was simply Urban’s bold willingness to be vulnerable enough with his audience to share unpolished, silly moments — another signal of the trust Urban has painstakingly built with his fans over the years. He engaged the whole audience in a singalong of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (“Everybody’s got a guilty pleasure song,” Urban said) or sinking down beside his microphone stand center stage to engage the audience in a vocal challenge of “How low can you go?”

Notably, it’s those years building that connection one fan at a time that have allowed Urban to freely explore and meld in other musical genres into his own, from pliable pop, beefy rock, soul, hip-hop, reggae and more. Though Urban is primarily known as an ace entertainer, masterful guitar player and noted songwriter, he’s often not credited enough for his vocal talents. Throughout the evening, he showcased his supple-yet-commanding tenor, which easily swooped and soared through that range of music.

The evening neared its conclusion as Urban offered a challenge to the audience — as the blazing stage lights slowly faded and the entire arena went pitch black, Urban dared the audience to light up the arena themselves.

As the light from thousands of cell phones quickly bathed the room in a soft glow, Urban said, “This is proof positive that what we can’t do alone, we can do together. Don’t’ fall for the ‘divide and conquer.’ We are stronger together and always have been.” He encouraged the audience to seek unity and pursue their best selves, adding that while everyone is different and may want different things, “We can find common ground with our fellow humans.”

With that he ripped into his 2002 hit, the gratitude-filled “Somebody Like You,” tweaking a key lyric as he sang “I don’t want to take this life for granted like I did in 2019.”

From there, he sailed through the moody “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” followed by “The Fighter,” albeit sans his duet partner Carrie Underwood, who was out of town and gearing up for her Denim & Rhinestones tour.

The concert concluded in a shower of confetti and cheers from the audience as he exited the stage, returning shortly after to perform “Stupid Boy” accompanied only by his guitar. A riser elevated Urban — who by this point had swelled the acoustic performance into a guitar solo operating at a fever pitch. As the final notes rang out over the arena, Urban hoisted his guitar into the air, as balloons and confetti rained down over the audience.

Urban’s openers for the evening were Ingrid Andress and Tyler Hubbard.

Andress’ concise set was impactful for her easygoing performance style. Though the sound was slightly muddied, her voice was still pristine on “Seeing Someone Else,” “Lady Like” and “More Hearts Than Mine.” The audience was treated to its first surprise appearance of the evening, when Sam Hunt made his way to the stage to collaborate on “Wishful Drinking.” But Andress was at her best on a cover of The Allman Brothers band’s “Whipping Post,” dropping to the floor and lying on the stage for the song’s grungy final notes.

“You weren’t expecting that were you? That was my favorite song to sing in college,” she told the crowd.

Hubbard’s opening slot for Urban marks his first as a solo artist, having spent 12 years as half of the duo Florida Georgia Line. His set was a mix of new solo songs, such as “Everybody Needs a Bar” and “Way Home,” as well as FGL hits “Cruise” and “Meant to Be” (with Andress returning to the stage to perform Bebe Rexha’s role).

“I’m so grateful to have a second first single in my career,” he said before singing his debut solo single, “5 foot 9.”

Hubbard most often handled lead vocal duties for FGL, so even his solo renderings of the duo’s biggest hits sounded familiar to fans. His gratefulness for the chance to forge a solo career was palpable, another “Wild Heart” thankful to be seeing his dreams realized.

“I spent the last 12 years of my career chasing a crazy dream with my brother BK,” Hubbard said. “I’m so extremely grateful for those years. I never want to take for granted that time. You have been gracious to let me try some new songs.”