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It’s hard to define today’s country music. It’s without a doubt the nation’s soundtrack, but it shies away from a standard set list as it’s a true blend of pop, rock, roots, blues and — of course — traditional country.
Keith Urban, though, is both none and a little of all the above. He’s a coined country New Zealand-made global guitar hero who — at the age of 47 — is hitting a stride that makes him one of music’s best, most authentic performers.
On the first Friday of Summerfest 2015, Urban came back to Milwaukee for the first time since 2011 to own a two-hour set that was real, honest and pure Summerfest gold. Noting four songs into the show that it was "great to be back at Summerfest even though it’s four degrees," Urban opened ironically with "Long Hot Summer" before cranking through "Even The Stars Fall 4 U," "Somewhere in My Car" and a shiver-inducing solo version of "Without You."
While "American Idol" and a superstar wife have helped make the man, the guitar is what defines him. And defy he did on Friday night, changing guitars for nearly every tune and strumming amazingly with only three other bandmates on a simple, no glitz stage that helped make the night about the music and only the music.
Still riding the wave of his 2013 release "Fuse" – featuring five hit singles – Urban also showcased "John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16," the lead single from his next, not yet titled studio album. That was it, though, for new music as Urban focused on his hits, his friendly nature and his easy-going showmanship – especially during "We Were Us," when he brought UW-Oshkosh student Lauren LaDell on stage to sing Miranda Lambert’s part.
Urban further connected with the near sell-out crowd by climbing to the lawn seats to sing "Good in My Shirt" before giving away his guitar to an adoring fan. In-song banter during the same tune also produced the best quote of Summerfest to date as Urban proclaimed, "I thought it was the beer, but you guys are Milwaukee's Best!" Two songs later, during "Kiss A Girl," Urban continued his good guy approach by inviting a near front row fan, "Tracey from Hartland," on stage for a selfie.
The air was a bit crisp Friday inside the Marcus Amphitheater, but the sound was perfectly comfortable — not too hot or cold and acoustically solid. Urban’s voice shined while his guitars grooved in a musical manner that only a guitar guru can produce.
Thus far this summer, Urban’s mainly been playing big country music festivals so you could tell this two-hour Summerfest set was a chance for his band to cut loose, extend a few tunes and really rock. And rock they did, especially during "Raise ‘Em Up," the song that ended the main set. "Up," his anthem with Eric Church, is a sing-along song that hits all the right cords: faith, family and friends. All are represented in the song that brought the phone lights out to fill the Amphitheater air.
Urban’s set skipped a few favorites like "Raining on Sunday" and "Days Go By," but no one cared as he brought opener Dan + Shay back for the encore and closed his show with a rousing rendition of his 2002 smash "Somebody Like You."
After the show, my wife simply said that it was just "honest and real." Truly, that’s what the show was. Urban and his band even stayed on stage afterwards shaking hands, slapping high fives and thanking the Wisconsin fans. He also recorded a short video thanks and instantly posted it to Twitter after the show.
.@Summerfest - We've played here a lot over the years, and I have never seen this many people... EVER! - KU https://t.co/wyYVNqo3mb — Keith Urban (@KeithUrban) June 27, 2015
And while these types of videos are the norm today, there was a non-norm (if that’s a term) feel to Urban’s Summerfest set. It was genuine, not over produced and authentic – fitting for the World’s Largest Music Festival that’s set right here in one of the most authentic places you’ll ever find, Milwaukee.
Long Hot Summer
Even the Stars Fall 4 U
Somewhere in My Car
Put You in a Song
John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16
We Were Young (with contest winner Lauren LaDell)
Fly With Me
Good in My Shirt
Kiss a Girl
Raise 'em Up
Tonight I Wanna Cry (with Dan + Shay)
Somebody Like You
A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.
He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.
Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.
He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.
He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.