When American Idol wraps its season May 15-16, first-year judge Keith Urban will hit the road in an effort to reach some of the viewers of the Fox TV show in person. Urban announced 20 more dates March 25 for his newly titled Light the Fuse Tour 2013, expanding the run to a total of 45 dates. The new additions will keep him on the road steadily through Dec. 8, when the tour closes in Louisville, Ky., though how the tour fits with other parts of his career remains a work in progress.
Urban is recording a new album, but it’s not finished, and a release date has yet to be set. He’s likely to have a new single before the tour launches July 18 in Cincinnati, though several songs are vying for that role. And he may — or may not — be in the middle of the 2014 Idol audition schedule when he travels to some of the dates in the fall. It’s still too early to know if he’ll be back on the judges’ panel, though he booked the shows with that possibility in mind.
“There’s been no discussion about it yet,” Urban told Billboard. “We’re certainly far from considering anything, ‘cause we haven’t even talked about it, but we did have to make provisions on the chance that they want us back, that we want to do it, and that we can do it. So we just carved out the time to work around that.”
Working around the Idol schedule has proven quite doable this year as Urban continues recording that still-untitled album, which was intended to shake up his creative process. After 10 years of working with producer Dann Huff, Urban indicated last fall that he had begun working with a new group of songwriters and producers – including producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Little Big Town), recently named the Academy of Country Music’s producer of the year.
Urban’s recorded 16 tracks to date, but trying to work with multiple producers threw a monkey wrench into the process, especially when he matched his career schedule with that of his wife, Nicole Kidman, currently shooting a movie, Before I Go To Sleep, in the U.K. He’s made several overseas visits.
“Because I’m working with a lot of different people and trying a lot of different things, it’s sort of everybody’s schedule — it’s not just mine that’s been challenging,” he explained. “When you make a record with one person, you sort of block out your time and you make a record, but when you work with multiple people, I’m at the mercy of their schedules, too. So it’s been challenging, but really exhilarating at the same time.”
Depending on how fast he can complete the recording process, it’s possible that fans at the Light the Fuse Tour dates will hear some of the new music before the album’s out. The tour name is meant to reflect another form of creative exhilaration – “the energy experience of just playing live,” he says — and it remains one of several potential titles for that unfinished album.
Urban’s particularly psyched about the tour because it changes his setting. After months of staying cooped up indoors on television sets, in recording studios and in songwriting sessions, the tour concentrates on outdoor venues. Sheds haven’t been the primary focus of his concert schedule in over a decade — maybe even since 2001, when he joined Toby Keith and Montgomery Gentry as opening acts on Brooks & Dunn’s Neon Circus & Wild West Show.
“I have amazing memories — particularly of the Brooks & Dunn tour — where you’ve got everybody up under the roof in the amphitheater and then just all the crazy partiers out on the grass and how those two end up coming together,” Urban says. “So I’m really looking forward to that experience again.”
The itinerary has two dates with historical dimensions. A previously announced Sept. 27 engagement at the Hollywood Bowl marks the first time Urban will play that 18,000-seat theater, which has hosted significant concerts in the careers of the Beatles, Glen Campbell, Genesis and Cher, among others.
Urban and Vince Gill will also host the fourth annual We’re All for the Hall benefit April 16 in Nashville, with all the funds slated for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The guest list includes Jason Aldean, Willie Nelson, Kid Rock, Tim McGraw, Loretta Lynn, Church, Brantley Gilbert and others — all presented under a “Renegades & Rebels, The Outlaws Are In” theme.
Urban’s guitar-driven, predominantly upbeat fare — which includes 28 top 10 singles on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs, 14 of which went to No. 1 — would not be considered particularly rebellious, though he has a distinct appreciation for the outlaw movement of the late 1970s. Nelson and the late Waylon Jennings were considered leaders in that era, as artists demanded artistic freedom, which had previously been tightly controlled in country music by the record labels and the producers that worked for them.
“Coming from Australia, it was very hard for me trying to do music on my own terms, because when you come from another country, originality is seen as ignorance,” Urban notes. “On one hand, you have to say, ‘I know how to do it, but I’m just doing it this way.’ But it sort of seems like you don’t know what you’re doing or how to do it. That was a strange challenge for me.”
The current challenge is more immediate: getting the new album completed before he hits the road. Preferably, Urban would at least like to get the single decided and be able to perform it on Idol before the season comes to an end. But that little promotional benefit is secondary to simply getting it done.
“With or without [that exposure], I just would love to have new music out,” he says. “It’s time.”
See Urban’s tour dates below:
April 16: Nashville, TN (Bridgestone Arena)
July 18: Cincinnati, OH (Riverbend Music Center)
July 19: Twin Lakes, WI (Country Thunder)
July 20: Monticello, IA (Great Jones County Fair)
July 25: Charlotte, NC (Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre Charlotte)
July 26: Raleigh, NC (Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion at Walnut Creek)
July 27: Alpharetta, GA (Verizon Wireless Amphitheater at Encore Park)
August 2: Detroit Lakes, MN (WE Fest)
August 4: Detroit, MI (DTE Energy Music Theater)
August 8: Columbia, MD (Merriweather Post Pavilion)
August 9: Canandaigua, NY (CMAC)
August 10: Mansfield, MA (Comcast Center)
August 15: Austin, TX (Austin360 Amphitheater)
August 16: Houston, TX (Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion)
August 17: Dallas, TX (Gexa Energy Pavilion)
August 22: Birmingham, AL (Oak Mountain Amphitheatre)
August 23: St. Louis, MO (Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre – St. Louis)
August 24: Indianapolis, IN (Klipsch Music Center)
August 28: Albuquerque, NM (Sandia Casino Amphitheater)
August 30: Denver, CO (Red Rocks Amphitheatre)
August 31: Snowmass Village, CO (Jazz Aspen Snowmass Village)
September 12: Cleveland, OH (Blossom Music Center)
September 13: Pittsburgh, PA (First Niagara Pavilion)
September 14: Camden, NJ (Susquehanna Bank Center)
September 21: Mountain View, CA (Shoreline Amphitheatre)
September 22: Sacramento, CA (Sleeptrain Amphitheatre)
September 27: Los Angeles, CA (Hollywood Bowl)
September 28: San Diego, CA (Sleep Train Amphitheatre)
September 29: Phoenix, AZ (Desert Sky Pavilion)
October 4: Tampa, FLA (Live Nation Amphitheater)
October 5: West Palm Beach, FL (Cruzan Amphitheatre)
October 18: Omaha, NE (CenturyLink Center)
October 19: Oklahoma City, OK (Chesapeake Energy Arena)
October 20: Springfield, MO (JQH Arena at Missouri State)
October 25: Tulsa, OK (BOK Center)
October 26: Bossier City, LA (CenturyLink Center)
October 27: Lafayette, LA (Cajundome)
November 8: Kansas City, MO (Sprint Center)
November 9: Des Moines, IA (Wells Fargo Arena)
November 10: Peoria, IL (Peoria Civic Center)
November 14: Manchester, NH (Verizon Wireless Arena)
November 15: Uncasville, CT (Mohegan Sun)
November 16: Uncasville, CT (Mohegan Sun)
November 22: State College, PA (Bryce Jordan Center)
November 24: Toledo, OH (Huffington Center)
December 6: Greenville, SC (Bi Lo Center)
December 7: Charleston, WV (Charleston Civic Center Coliseum)
December 8: Louisville, KY (KFC Yum! Center)