"I think this is officially one of the greatest open mikes we'll ever see in Nashville," Keith Urban told the sold-out crowd at the inaugural We're All for the Hall concert on Tuesday night (Oct. 13) in downtown Nashville's Sommet Center. And with guests that included Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Vince Gill, Faith Hill, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Brad Paisley and Taylor Swift, who could argue?
Photo Credit: Larry Busacca/Getty Images
With all proceeds benefiting the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the idea stemmed from Gill's plea that everybody in country music should donate one night of performing to raise money for the museum.
Urban noted the concert was the conclusion of his 2009 tour, but because so many artists had asked him to take part in this particular benefit concert, he said he'll return for another all-star event next October. Still, it would be hard to imagine a more impressive lineup in 2010 since Urban had gathered nearly all of his recent opening acts, as well as close friends like Paisley and Bentley, who have been traveling together on their own tour. Despite his philanthropy, Urban's most generous gifts are his common-man charisma and his ability to spiritually connect with fans through music.
With a gigantic fallen curtain and blinding stage lights, Urban opened with "Hit the Ground Runnin'," then rolled on through "Days Go By," "Stupid Boy," "Who Wouldn't Wanna Be Me," "Sweet Thing" and "When Summer Comes Around." With his parents and his wife, actress Nicole Kidman, also in the crowd, Urban stated he wanted to provide an example of the music that encouraged him to move to Nashville by submitting a lovely, simple rendition of Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors." But the lull didn't last long as he jumped right into "Only You Can Love Me This Way" before bringing out Paisley for a rare live duet of "Start a Band." Eventually, both men sauntered up the stairs on opposite sides of the arena and settled into the audience, almost like they were giving a private guitar lesson for a few lucky fans who could be seen freaking out on the massive LCD screens.
Although that would have made a fine transition into the intermission, Urban knocked out "Kiss a Girl," "Tonight I Wanna Cry" (an undeniable country song) and the buoyant "Better Life" before taking a break to set up for the second half.
When the video testimonials about the importance of the Country Music Hall of Fame concluded, Urban brought out Gill to say a few words. Having just come off the road after two and a-half weeks, Gill promptly mentioned the "graciousness and kind heart of my friend from down under," then joked that he and Urban are starting their own band, called Over Yonder and Down Under. ("Guess which one I am?" he quipped.) As usual, Gill also grabbed the best line of the night when he dedicated "Whenever You Come Around" to his wife, Amy Grant, by saying, "I'll sing this for her tonight because I've been gone a long time, and I'd like to get lucky later."
Gill and Urban planted themselves in the background with Gill's band as guest artists filed across the stage for two songs each. Little Big Town mixed old ("Boondocks") and new ("Fine Line"), while Bentley kept the energy high with "Sideways" and "Free and Easy Down the Road I Go." It's always fun to watch other country artists casually singing along with other artists' hits, and Urban especially seemed to know all the words to every song all night long.
Lady Antebellum charged ahead with their recent No. 1 hit, "I Run to You," then slowed things down with their latest single, "Need You Now," giving the Nashville audience the privilege of being among the first country fans to hear the song in concert. After that, Aldean cranked it up with "Big Green Tractor" and "She's Country." Gesturing toward Gill and Urban, he also told the crowd, "If you're an aspiring guitar player, you're watching two of the best right here."
Faith Hill took the opportunity to reprise her hit song with Vince Gill, "Let Me Let Go," from the late '90s before going even farther back for a potent reading of "Piece of My Heart." Dressed in a stylish, shiny black pantsuit, Hill carried herself with class, and even without new material to offer, she remains one of the most recognizable voices in country music.
After Hill waved goodnight, Gill wondered aloud, "Is there someone left?" Judging by the screams, yes -- and that would be Taylor Swift. He asked, "You know what I love about this woman? We both have been dissed by Kanye West! We have come together as one!"
Swift smiled shyly, then told the audience, "We're all here to honor the Country Music Hall of Fame. What I love about country music is that we're all allowed to tell our stories, and this is my story." Without any spectacle that accompanies her Fearless tour, she sang "Fifteen" backed only by her guitar and three harmony singers. Swift then slipped off her guitar (decorated with a rhinestoned "13") and announced that she's auctioning it off to benefit the Hall of Fame.
One of the most popular singer-songwriters in contemporary music, Swift said she believes that "music is just love stories set to melodies," then invited Gill and Urban to join her for "Love Story." And the love continued with an all-star encore of "Lay Down Sally" with producer Dann Huff on guitar and Urban's frequent co-writer Monty Powell singing along. With that, the lights came up, and one of Nashville's greatest open mike nights in history came to an end.
View photos from the We're All for the Hall all-star concert.