The first time Keith Urban heard one of his solo songs on American radio, he was at a gas station across the street from the Grand Ole Opry. He’d stopped to fill up in route to downtown Nashville when “It’s A Love Thing” came across the airwaves. Saturday night, things came full circle as he was across the street from that same station, being inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. Vince Gill surprised Keith with an invitation to join the Opry during their We’re All For The Hall benefit concert on April 10.
“It’s such a long journey for me to get to this stage,” Keith said tonight. “The first time I played the Opry was actually backing another guy, Slim Dusty, a legendary Australian country artist who was invited to perform. He used this little band I had called The Ranch as his backing band and I was standing back there thinking it would be great if I could get up there sometime and sing on that microphone. From that to this tonight is extraordinary.”
Keith was reflective as he discussed his early days in Nashville. As an Australian country artist, he had the odds stacked against him in the beginning of his career. He recalled one of his early visits to Nashville to shop around a self-described ‘terrible demo.’ Several labels turned him down, but one label representative sent him a follow up letter, telling him that country music was in a traditional swing, but wished him the best of luck.
“I was so out of place, but I didn’t feel out of place,” Keith said, going on to paraphrase the letter he received. “She said ‘Your music is a little out of step but I hope you find a home here.’ That was all I needed to hear. It was just like ‘okay, good. This is the right place, it’ll just take a while.’ That’s what I took from the letter. It was totally inspiration for me.”
Keith’s passionate fan base wasn’t far from his mind. He shared his gratitude for them several times throughout the night, expressing that the honor was one he wanted to share with those who have supported him for so long.
“I was driving here thinking about how important the fans are,” Keith said. “Like a lot of artists, I get cards and notes and letters and stories in the meet and greets of how the music affects them, how the songs touch them in their lives. They often say ‘you just don’t know how much that means to me.’ This opportunity for me is a way for me to say they don’t know how much they mean to me. They’re why I do what I do.”
When Keith and his guitar took to the Opry stage, he elected to play some of his fan favorites, kicking things off with a rendition of “Days Go By” that brought the Grand Ole Opry crowd to its feet. He then pulled up a stool and sang “Without You” acoustically with no accompaniment, as wife Nicole Kidman looked on from backstage.
Keith was officially inducted into the Opry family by General Manager Pete Fisher and fellow Opry Members Trace Adkins and Josh Turner. “This is a huge honor for me tonight,” Trace said as he passed Keith the microphone trophy containing a part of the original Ryman Auditorium stage that signifies membership. “I get to say ‘Keith, you are now a member of the Grand Ole Opry.’”
Keith stepped into the historic Opry circle for the first time as a member to deliver an emotional acceptance speech. He thanked his wife and daughters as well as his band, crew and team, country radio, and his legion of fans. The first non-North American artist to be inducted into the Opry, Keith’s gratitude as a recipient of the honor was palpable.
“It’s a long way from Caboolture to the stage here at the Grand Ole Opry,” he said. “This is a responsibility that I take deep into the heart of me. I tell the Opry that why this touches me is two things. One, it says you know where my heart is. And it once and for all shows the global popularity and reach of country music. I am the first I’m sure of many non-North American born inductees because it is truly a global thing. Tom T. Hall says it’s a state of mind. I honor the history of country music but I absolutely fully dedicate myself to the future of country music as well.”
Keith closed the Grand Ole Opry performance with an appropriate choice, his hit “Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me,” changing up the chorus at the end to proclaim “‘I’m alive and I’m free and I’m a brand new member of the Grand Ole Opry!’” And he’s definitely a long way from the gas station across the street.