Keith Urban Dazzles Fans in Festival’s Final Show

Glen Campbell Sings a History Lesson, Willie Nelson Sings With Pat Green

It was the best of shows and the worst of shows. And it sure as hell was a long one — more than five hours, including a rain delay. The final superstar concert of this year’s CMA Music Festival at Nashville’s Coliseum was scheduled to start at 6 p.m. and end at 10. But a hard rain moved the opening time to 7 p.m., and it was 11:20 before Hank Williams Jr. and his band finally ambled off the stage. Many who attended the show stayed later to participate in the shooting of a Gretchen Wilson music video.

Of all the Coliseum shows, this one was the strongest fusion of rock and country. Except for Darryl Worley and Glen Campbell, both of whom managed to keep their bands in check and their voices audible, it was an evening of sonic assault. Moreover, there was a strong infusion of rock songs. Chris Cagle and his guest, Bret Michaels of Poison, belted out Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” Wynonna covered Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is.” Hank Jr. introduced the assembled country flock to Kid Rock’s boastfully lascivious “Cadillac Pussy.” And these were just the low points.

Keith Urban was magnificent. His band rocked just as hard as the rest of them but with infinitely more taste and nuance. Every version of his hits he performed was substantially different — and better — than the recordings he’d released to radio. He played them like he was having earnest conversations with his audience, so that each riff had the quality of an intimate verbal aside. Who, indeed, wouldn’t want to be him?

Hank Williams Jr. and Wynonna, the closing acts, were disappointing. And they didn’t have to be. It was apparent from the ovations that met them when they walked on stage that they were tapping into deep pools of memory and goodwill. But Wynonna was too loud, formulaic and pontificating, and Williams appeared far more interested in jamming with his band than taking note of the crowd. Just about any bar band could have done more justice to his hits than he did. He skipped and improvised lyrics, rambled around the stage like he was rehearsing instead of performing, led the band in pointless instrumental excursions and generally showed an indifference to fan expectations. That was a real shame, because when Williams is at his best, there’s no one better.

Wynonna walked into the spotlight amid a rising a torrent of sound that literally shook the stadium walls. After steaming through “Somebody to Love You” and “Burnin’ Love” with a voice that truly is a national treasure, she paused to lament that “too many songs [these days] bypass the heart and go straight for the libido.” Say what? Hearing her sing the old Judds’ standards — “Mama He’s Crazy,” “Why Not Me,” “Grandpa (Tell Me ’Bout the Good Old Days)” — almost made up for her initial offense. But not quite.

Listening to Campbell reprise his great and enduring hits from the ’60s and ’70s raised the obvious question, “Why isn’t this man in the Country Music Hall of Fame?” Many in the crowd were too young to have seen the benefits his network television show brought to country music, but even they were able to sing along with “Galveston,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Rhinestone Cowboy.”

Bentley was an obvious crowd-pleaser, as evidenced by the hundreds of “little white tank top” wearers and their admirers who leaped and waved to get his attention. Responding to a shouted request, he sang a fragment of David Allan Coe’s 1975 hit, “You Never Even Called Me by My Name,” which purports to be “the perfect country and western song.” Not so, said Bentley. How, he asked, could it be the perfect song if it didn’t mention the little white tank top? As that query hung unanswered in the night air, he blazed through “What Was I Thinkin’.” Because the concert was being taped for a television special, he had to come back and do the song again. And the crowd couldn’t have been happier. In introducing Bentley, singer Pat Green pronounced him to be “the prettiest man in country music,” a tag that’s likely to stick.

Green, who did a fine job hosting, turned in a thoroughly engaging set — and one that was given wings when he called Willie Nelson out to sing with him on “Threadbare Gypsy Soul.” Nelson got a standing ovation just for showing up. Ever the master of superlative, Green called Nelson “the most beautiful thing that ever happened to country music.”

The loudest and most sustained cheers went to Worley for “Have You Forgotten?” Most of the crowd stood throughout the song, and many waved flags. The towering singer introduced two new songs, “I Love Her, She Hates Me and I Drink” and his impending single, “Awful Beautiful Life.”

Cagle, who opened the show, was a dynamo on stage — but something of an amiable bully as well. He repeatedly hectored the audience for a response before going to the trouble to earn one. Even so, he earned its respect with such accessible fare as “Laredo” and “I Breathe In, I Breathe Out,” the latter of which he dedicated to “Mr. Johnny Cash, Mr. Waylon Jennings and all those who won’t be back from the war this year.”

Set List:

“I Breathe In, I Breathe Out”
“My Love Goes On and On”
“What A Beautiful Day”

“Every Rose Has Its Thorn”
“Chicks Dig It”

“Southern Nights”
“Wichita Lineman”
“By the Time I Get to Phoenix”
“Rhinestone Cowboy”

“Tennessee River Run”
“A Good Day to Run”
“I Miss My Friend”
“I Love Her, She Hates Me and I Drink”
“I Need a Breather”
“Have You Forgotten”
“Awful Beautiful Life”

“How Am I Doin'”
“My Last Name”
“What Was I Thinkin'” (performed twice)


“Threadbare Gypsy Soul”

“Baby Doll”
“Wave on Wave”

“Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me”
“Where the Blacktop Ends”
“Raining on Sunday”
“Days Go By”
“You’ll Think of Me”
“Love Somebody Like You”
“Days Go By” (performed twice)

“Somebody to Love You”
“Burnin’ Love”
“Mama He’s Crazy”
“Why Not Me”
“Grandpa (Tell Me ’Bout the Good Old Days)”
“I Want to Know What Love Is”
“What the World Needs”
“No One Else on Earth”

“If Heaven Ain’t a Lot Like Dixie”
“Waylon’s Guitar”
“La Grange”
“There’s a Tear in My Beer”
“All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight”
“Can’t You See”
“Cadillac Pussy”
“The Bluesman”
“A Country Boy Can Survive”
“Family Tradition”

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to