Keith Urban Is Exploring Socially Distanced Concert Options: ‘I’m Not Going to Stay Home!’
Keith Urban recently played a drive-in concert for a Nashville-area hospital's staff, and if he has his way, it will have been the first of many similar shows from the country star. The singer says he's been exploring the options for performing live during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, including social distancing shows.
In an interview with Billboard, Urban says it took about a month for him and his team (along with Brian O'Connell, Live Nation's president of country touring) to set up his May 14 performance at the Stardust Drive-In. They were working with ever-changing protocols, but Urban says they felt it was important to not give up on the idea.
"What I thought was gonna happen was I'd be playing to a bunch of people in cars in the traditional drive-in form, having not been to a drive-in [in] a long, long time. I didn't realize most everyone brings pick-up trucks ... So it actually resembled a tailgate party more than a drive-in," Urban says of the event. "Our fans have been doing tailgate parties forever before the concert. The only thing that's changed is the tailgate party will now be the concert. We'll just bring the stage out to them. They can just hang where they are."
Urban admits that testing the drive-in concert idea out with an audience full of healthcare workers was a safe bet — "They're gonna know how to handle themselves responsibly," he points out — but there would likely be more structure and monitoring needed to make the shows successful and safe with a varied audience. Still, he's keen on making it happen, noting that while he doesn't have more shows planned just yet, he and his team are "in the midst of talking about how and where and when and all the rest of it."
"I think there's even potential other modes that haven't been explored yet. I'm interested in all of it right now," Urban adds. "I tell you one thing: This has brought out an extraordinary creativity in a lot of people of how to do things, how to rethink the way we approach so much of what we do. A lot of us have gotten crazy creative in the last few months. Necessity is the mother of invention."
Urban's first drive-in show featured only him, a keyboard player, and someone in charge of backing tracks onstage, plus a minimal crew. Urban played for about an hour this time, but says there would be ways to add in more of his band, or to play solo for a longer period of time. The tipping points are the crew needed, and the money the shows would cost versus what they would make.
"It's complicated from my making money standpoint. But I also think the conversation has to be had about ‘What do you mean making money? What kind of money are we talking about?’ Because I think that has to get realistic, too, with where we are in the next handful of months. It may be just a sliver of what we're all used to, but that's better than nothing," Urban notes, adding "Keeping it lean and mean and to a minimum, I think it's the way to move it around the country."
When pandemic-related safer-at-home orders began taking effect around the United States, Urban was one of the first country artists to begin playing livestream shows for his fans from home. Still, the star confesses that living the quarantined life "affected my center as a creative person," so it's not surprising that he's eager to figure out a way to play live, even if from a distance.
"The connections between all of us is the one thing we can maintain through this. We may do it a different way, but we can absolutely maintain a sense of connection," he muses. "Look, at the end of the day, as a touring musician, and everything I'm doing, is I'm coming out to make a connection with everybody, particularly playing live. Given that the stages have gone away for the time being, I just had to find other stages in the form of digital platforms."
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