Philadelphia - GRAMMY U SoundChecks With Keith Urban
Photo: The Recording Academy
By: David De Cristofaro / GRAMMY U Philadelphia Member
GRAMMY U members from the Philadelphia and surrounding areas gathered outside the BB&T Pavilion for a unique opportunity to spend time at the latest in a growing list of memorable GRAMMY U SoundChecks with none other than New Zealand born Aussie and GRAMMY-winning Country star Keith Urban. The prospect of gleaning from the experiential knowledge of an artist who has achieved such a high level of success and acclaim in a genre that is both one of the most popular in the United States and ones where physical music sales are still notably high carried with it great appeal. While those unfamiliar with Keith’s music may know him from his presence in popular culture be it as a judge on American Idol or as the husband of actress Nicole Kidman, he is known by his passionate fans for his talent, song work and charismatic personable engagement as well as to the music business for his numerous chart-topping accolades. Coming from an alt/pop-punk rock background and only having more of an inclination towards old mid-1900’s southern gospel style country music myself, I saw this as a great chance to get outside my usual comfort zone to gain some first-hand knowledge from one of the leading artists in music today. Little did I know what a treat we were in for!
The Greater Philadelphia area and its music venues have hosted some great experiences for GRAMMY U members in recent years. Some memories for me have included discussing the song “Rainbow Connection” with Jason Mraz, valuable lessons in personal creativity from Jon Batiste and learning from James Bay in the midst of his pre-show preparation for a show last November of the tragic Paris attacks that would bring music fans and members of the music industry together all around the world in unified support of our artists and fans. Each local GRAMMY U event has had its own unique experience, whether it is backstage with BØRNS or Halsey or at one of our great panel events, yet no one could have anticipated what awaited us as we made our way through the tour buses and load-in areas to the front of the BB&T Pavilion stage! It all began with an introduction from Keith’s NY-based marketing rep who took care to inquire of each of our names and specific vocational and academic focuses before inviting us to follow him on stage to get an up-close-and-personal look at the set-up on this stop on the 2016 RipCORD World Tour in support of Keith’s latest Capitol Records Nashville album by the same name.
Once on stage we were treated to an introduction to guitar tech Chris Miller who walked us through an audible tour of Keith’s rig and connectivity around the stage plot, which included Urban’s pedal board being located at Miller’s station- Chris know’s Urban’s songs so intricately that he handles all the pedal effect changes in precise time from his station as to allow Keith the freedom to move around as he plays and interacts with his audience. As Urban came forward to introduce himself, he took time to ask each of us about our family-backgrounds in music, which made for a fun group experience of getting to know one another’s musical history. As the singer of the band Stereorush, it was really great to engage in that type of shared dialogue on influences with a successful and established artist! Keith also spent time sharing his gear with us and telling the story behind each of the guitars in his rig before taking the stage, at which point we broke into groups positioned to experience his sound check from the vantage points of our unique individual career-focuses. For me, this experience also included a hands-on lesson from Miller’s fellow guitar technician Kevin Varnado who was kind enough to invest an invaluable wealth of industry experience and knowledge in conversation together.
Before leaving the stage area, we were also introduced to a unique member of Urban’s band in multi-instrumentalist Nathan Barlowe. Barlow shared with us a special construct instrument he had put together for the tour called "The Phantom". This device consists of a 4-foot long box that holds 4 programmed iPads and a mixing board that he uses as a programmed instrument to perform with the band in real time. The iPad setup allows Barlowe to take samples direct from Urban’s new album and play them live, and he also has access to every original individual track of every studio-recording (instrument, vocal etc.) of every song from every album in Urban’s catalogue! Following our time with Barlowe, Urban’s tour manager Chuck Hull took time to walk us through a complete tour of the backstage and production areas, which included stops to meet various lead members of the crew and learn about each of their roles in making each tour stop a success! I always have a quiet hope for how a GRAMMY U SoundChecks could potentially unfold in the back of my imagination when I am arriving to one of these amazing events, and we certainly got that and more as our group enjoyed Keith’s concert that evening courtesy of he and his team and their incredible hospitality, making this GRAMMY U SoundChecks our most memorable one yet!