Keith Urban hosted the second annual We're All for the Hall benefit concert in Nashville on Tuesday night (Oct. 5) along with a stable of guests that included Billy Currington, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Alison Krauss, Miranda Lambert, John Mayer, Martina McBride, Dolly Parton and Charley Pride.
Photo Credit: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images
The night was a benefit for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, but there were no showy speeches or guest speakers. Instead, Urban put the focus on the music right away. When he did address the crowd early on, he kept his remarks quick and simple.
"What a great night we have and so many people that I'm looking forward to playing with," said Urban. "Thank you so much for helping out the Hall of Fame."
"Heroes" was the theme, and each star chose a song to cover from one of their country music inspirations after playing a hit of their own, highlighting the importance of preserving country music history and that of the Hall itself. But first, the night's host took some time onstage for himself.
During a 30-minute set with his touring band, Urban welcomed the nearly sold-out crowd (only a few empty seats were visible) by immediately jumping into three back-to-back songs. With a giant, floor-to-ceiling video screen behind him, he worked the stage with "Kiss a Girl," "Days Go By" and "Stupid Boy." Owing much of his guitar-playing to '70s rock stylings, Urban shredded a solo over the refrain of "Stupid Boy." There are truly not many players who could have done it so effortlessly, especially while singing at the same time. His showmanship did not end there.
Lacking a catwalk out into the crowd, Urban sang from each corner of the stage to the delight of fans who rose to their feet as soon as he arrived. Offering up his current single, "Put You in a Song," he ended by yelling out, "I love playing at home!"
He closed his set strongly with "Somebody Like You," calling for fans to raise their hands. He hugged a young fan wearing a pink cowboy hat in the front row and quickly accepted a bouquet of flowers in the middle of the song, leaving the stage to a roaring crowd proclaiming, "Welcome to All for the Hall!"
After a short set change, Gill, wearing a Nashville Predators jersey, took the stage as the night's first guest. Urban introduced the Hall of Famer by saying, "This whole thing really got started with this guy right here." Gill is also the Hall of Fame and Museum's current president of the board. His set included "One More Last Chance" with Urban on rhythm guitar, and his "hero" song went out to Emmylou Harris and her hit, "Two More Bottles of Wine."
McBride earned the first standing ovation of the night (one of many) for a powerhouse rendition of "A Broken Wing," and she joked to Urban and Gill, "Too bad you couldn't find a good band." The house band for the evening was a crack squad of Nashville session musicians who regularly play on major hits recorded on Music Row. McBride chose to honor Reba McEntire with "Is There Life Out There."
Up next was Currington, who led with a swaying version of "Must Be Doin' Something Right." He also offered one of the most moving cover songs of the night, choosing Kenny Rogers' "Sweet Music Man." It was a heartbreaking rendition, made stronger by his poignant introduction.
"If I'm right," said Currington, "this is the only song Kenny Rogers ever wrote, and he wrote it by himself. I want to sing you these words. They are very special to me."
He accompanied himself on acoustic guitar with just a few flourishes of bass and steel guitar behind him. The effect was almost enough to make a grown man get something stuck in both of his eyes at once and led into another weeper delivered by one of today's hottest country stars.
Lambert took the stage and announced she thought her song would be appropriate, "Since we're here for the Hall." That song, of course, was "The House That Built Me." She took a moment to talk about how inspiring it was to have Urban and Gill backing her as members of the band and shared the not-so-well-kept secret that she happens to be a big Merle Haggard fan. Whoops and hollers greeted her cover of Haggard's "The Bottle Let Me Down."
Urban again took center stage, this time seated and playing an acoustic guitar. His cover song was originally done by Don Williams, who is set to be inducted into the Hall of Fame later this year. Dedicating the tune to his wife, actress Nicole Kidman, who he said was in attendance, he offered the quietly poetic "I Wouldn't Want to Live If You Didn't Love Me."
In introducing Hall of Famer Charley Pride, Urban said he remembers attending one of Pride's concerts in Australia at age 7. The groundbreaking country artist could hardly get a word in edgewise after performing his 1971 hit, "Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'." He eventually waited long enough to say a quick thank you before jumping into Conway Twitty's "Hello Darlin'." After another extended response from the audience, Pride actually skipped off of the stage, clearly elated.
Not skipping, but rather confidently loping, Jackson strode out and claimed the loudest welcome of the night, keeping the cheers coming with the perennial favorite, "Chattahoochee." With Gill plucking out the song's signature guitar lick, Jackson stood grinning and pointing at each band member for their turn with a solo. He said Hank Williams was a big influence for him -- but so was Williams' son -- so he decided to perform a song that honored both of them at once. "Mind Your Own Business" was written by Hank Sr., but Hank Jr. turned it into a No. 1 single in 1986. Jackson's version featured the expert fiddling of Stuart Duncan and verses sung by Urban and Gill.
Krauss silenced the arena with the first note of her "hero" song, the Cox Family's arrangement of the hymn, "I Know Who Holds Tomorrow." Her voice soared to the rafters and back again, seeming to fill the entire arena. She left the crowd stunned and maybe a little spooked with "Ghost in This House."
Mayer probably had the most difficult commute to the concert as Urban let the audience know the bluesy pop-rocker had flown straight from Milan, Italy, for the gig. Not showing any signs of jet lag, he brought the crowd back up again with "I'm Gonna Find Another You," all the while trading riffs with Gill and Urban. His cover was Dwight Yoakam's "Ain't That Lonely Yet."
And last, but certainly not least, was Dolly Parton. She told the crowd with much honesty in her voice, "One of the greatest moments of my entire life was when I got inducted into the Hall of Fame." After a round of applause and some joking with the band, she harmonized with Urban on a fiery version of "Jolene." As for her hero, she stopped short of actually naming one. Instead, Parton related that she thinks there are songs that are heroes, too, so she chose "He Stopped Loving Her Today" by George Jones.
With so much to take in, there was still one more musical moment to enjoy. Urban and Gill started into Don Williams' "Tulsa Time" as Parton left the stage, but they were soon joined again by Parton, Jackson and McBride to lead the crowd in a clap-along finish.
Over thank yous and the ringing of the last chord, we were reminded that the idea behind this parade of stars was to raise awareness for the Hall of Fame's mission, "To identify and preserve the evolving history and traditions of country music and to educate its audiences," according to the organization's website.
With thousands of smiling faces -- young and old -- in attendance, Urban achieved his goal once again and even managed the words we were all waiting for, whether official or not: "Let's do it again next year!"
View photos from the We're All for the Hall concert in Nashville.