From The Times-Picayune…
Keith Urban: ‘Have you ever seen the rain?’ at the New Orleans Jazz Fest
Musician Keith Urban performs on the Acura Stage at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on Friday, April 24, 2015. (Photo by Chris Granger, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)
By Keith Spera, NOLA.com The Times-Picayune
The day had started off promisingly enough for him.
Earlier in the afternoon, I interviewed him at the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage inside the Grandstand for a capacity crowd. He charmed old fans, and likely made some new ones.
And best of all, weather wasn’t a factor.
At the Acura Stage hours later, he and his sturdy, streamlined band went to work right on time at 5:20 p.m. Wearing a Johnny Cash T-shirt – as a boy in Australia, Urban attended a Cash concert that made an enormous impact on him – he led the charge into “You Gonna Fly.” The choice was suited to the setting — the song’s refrain contains the lyric, “You could be a songbird from New Orleans.” In the subsequent “Put You In a Song,” Urban bore down, bending deep notes as the band pulled back, only to pick up the pace again.
He stood alone with an electric guitar for “Without You,” a love song that posits that the “travelin’, the singin,’ it don’t mean nothin’ without you / the fast cars, the guitars, they are all second to this life, this love, that you and I’ve been dreaming of for so long.” The full band revved up again for “Sweet Thing”; Urban tore off aggressive, heavy riffs on a hollow-body guitar, slipping the line “I sure hope this rain stays away” into the song.
After an open-throttle “Long Hot Summer,” he changed up the set list, calling for an acoustic guitar. Alone with that guitar, he rendered “Making Memories of Us,” as forthright a love song as exists in his catalog. It was an intimate moment shared with thousands of strangers.
Those strangers were about to get wet. During his only other Jazz Fest performance, in 2006, a rain storm skirted just north of the festival grounds, saving his set. This time, he wouldn’t be so lucky.
Thirty minutes into his show, umbrellas had sprouted across the field in a crowd clearly reduced in size by the threatening weather. He and the band rattled off “Where the Blacktop Ends,” with Urban finding room for a short, stout solo; overall there, was little time him to flash his usual guitar heroics. Thunder cracked and lightning split the sky behind the stage during “Stupid Boy.” “I think we beat it!” he exclaimed, a bit too optimistically. Clearly, the storm was about to win.
But Urban wasn’t going down without a fight. He broke into Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” accompanied only by his own foot stomps and hand claps. “Have you ever seen the rain,” he sang, inserting the improvised answer into the melody: “Yes I have, comin’ down in New Orleans.” A great call, pulled off with aplomb. It felt like a moment.
But time was running out. At 6 p.m., Jazz Fest’s producers, concerned about the mix of severe lightning and people standing in open fields, pulled the plug on stages across the Fair Grounds. “They’re telling us to get off the damn stage,” Urban announced, adding “I don’t make the lightning” by way of apology.
He was determined to squeeze in a couple more, to put some sort of exclamation point on the shortened show. During an all-out “Somebody Like You,” he climbed down from the stage and made his way along the barricaded path toward the sound board. Halfway there, he counted off a pivot into the arena-sized “You Look Good in My Shirt,” and heaved himself into it. The crowd collapsed around him. Pumping his fist between riffs, he led a spirited singalong in defiance of the storm.
It felt like a finale, even if it came too soon. Counting the CCR moment, he managed to squeeze 11 songs into 52 minutes. “Even God loves Keith Urban!” declared Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis.
Minutes later, Urban escaped the Fair Grounds in a white Suburban. Still awash in adrenaline, he rolled down his window to wave at, and exalt, his soggy fans. From the looks of it, they, and he, wanted more.
Published at 12:24 AM Central…Sunday, April 26, 2015…Nashville, Tennessee…
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