“I love you, too, and I don’t even know who you are,” Urban grinned while accepting the honor.
“Keith Urban is not just one of the CMT Artists of the Year, he’s a great musical citizen of the world,” Cornell said. “How else do you explain a kid who grows up in Australia and somehow becomes a superstar in country music with 17 No. 1 hits.”
Cornell paused and added, “Really? Seventeen. You couldn’t stop at 14? A judge on American Idol and a brilliantly-inspired guitar-slinger while all the while being a loving dad and husband, too. Keith’s latest album is called Fuse, and there’s no doubt that this man’s artistic fuse is lit and will burn brightly for years to come. And if you’ve ever seen him live onstage, you know he always delivers.”
Urban pulled the biggest hat trick of the night with a truly unexpected song — James Brown’s 1966 hit, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” — and performed it with an all-female band that included a five-piece string section and a four-piece horn section.
It was a rewarding performance, too, as Urban demonstrated his skills as a rhythm & blues vocalist and, above all, one of the most gifted guitarists in all of music. While the guitar solos on his own recordings have tended to become more technically-dazzling yet predictable through the years, he stepped out of his comfort zone on Brown’s classic tune and soloed with the taste and restraint of a true master.
In accepting his accepting his Artist of the Year award, he quickly added a word of support to Luke Bryan, his fellow honoree who canceled his appearance on the show following the sudden death of his brother-in-law in Georgia over Thanksgiving weekend.
“I want to send my love and prayers out to Luke and all your family tonight, too, brother,” Urban said. Patting his heart, he added, “You’re right here tonight.”
Continuing his remarks, Urban thanked his fans.
“People go, ‘Why is the audience so important?’” he said. “I go, ‘Because without them, it’s just one long soundcheck.’ That’s it. It’s why we do what we do, so thank you very much.”
After expressing his gratitude to country radio and those who work at his record label, management company and other business interests, he thanked his wife, actress Nicole Kidman.
“I have an amazing crew who take such good care of me … none other than the person who takes care of me the most and I love the most in the world — my wife, Nicole Mary,” he said. “I’m so glad you’re here tonight.
“It all makes sense because you’re in the world, baby. Everything I do has purpose and meaning now like it never ever has before. I think these things aren’t happening by coincidence. There’s just real meaning in why I do what I do, and it’s all from you and our girls. I’m so glad you’re here.”