When Keith Urban dives into his Ripcord World Tour later this year, he’ll be aiming to land straight on the hearts of his fans, with whom he hopes to make an emotional connection at his shows. He has the same mission in mind for his eighth album, also to be titled Ripcord, which he’s endeavoring to have finished by the tour’s June 2 launch date.
The tour, being announced on Monday, is scheduled to hit amphitheaters and arenas in 45 U.S. cities and one in Canada when it runs through June, July and August, then resumes in October and November. (See the full list of announced cities and venues at keithurban.net/events.) Brett Eldredge and buzzy newcomer Maren Morris will open all dates. Tickets go on sale for some markets Jan. 29.
Additional legs of the tour are expected to be added, and Urban says those will justify the “world tour” moniker. Speaking from a Nashville recording studio during a break from a Ripcord session, Urban tells Billboard, “Initially we’re just going to get to Canada and Australia, but I think hopefully we’ll be able to extend out. I’d love to get back to Europe. It’s been a little while since we played there.”
Undeterred by the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, Urban says he also hopes to play in France. “You have to be vigilant with various things in life and when you’re traveling to certain parts of the world,” he says, “but at the same time you have to be able to just live life because those things can happen anywhere, as we’ve seen. We’ve always had a sort of strong fan base in France for some reason. I even won a country award there many years ago [from] the French Association of Country Music. So I’ve been dying to get there to play for some time. I hope we get to do that.”
Stateside, the tour will makes stops in five cities where Urban has never played as a headliner, including Youngstown, Ohio; Lincoln, Neb.; and Myrtle Beach, S.C. He’ll also be making a return to several other cities he hasn’t toured in three years, including Tampa, Fla., and Kansas City, Mo.
Meanwhile, Urban is working hard to complete the album he says is “a long way from finished,” even thought two singles from the project have already been released to country radio. They include “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16,” a 2016 Grammy nominee for best country solo performance. “I’m not sure the record will be out in time for the tour,” he says at first, adding, “I think it’ll be pretty close. … But having said that, if we can stay on schedule and everything moves right, it should be done just before the tour.”
For that tour, Urban has enlisted the help of sought-after production designer Roy Bennett, who also created the look of the singer’s 2013-2014 Light the Fuse Tour. Their mission is to “try to find new ways to connect with the audience, to make it feel intimate in a big setting and to just visually give something that we’ve never done before,” Urban says. “I’m always fascinated with how we can do that. But every time I think there’s just nothing else that can be done we stumble upon things that we are willing to try.
“I’m always looking for new ways to play, perform, [and] make an emotional connection with the audience, which can be arrangements, song choice, visuals, production [or] where we actually perform,” Urban says. “There’s infinite things we can explore. I love touring for that reason.”
And while he says they’ve only just begun laying out plans, Urban says, “This tour feels really good. I feel really good about not only the production, [but] the new songs, [and] also the fact that we keep getting new people coming to see us play live, because of [previous album] Fuse and because of American Idol, so hopefully we can build upon that with this new record.” Urban is currently in his fourth year as a judge on Idol, which ends its 15-year run after this season.
He watched last week’s Idol season premiere with his wife, actress Nicole Kidman, and their two young daughters at their Nashville-area home and says his family became engrossed in the contestants, their stories and their performances, making him feel “really proud of that show. Nic was really into it, and our two girls were watching it and commenting on who they liked, and what songs they knew and didn’t know, and some of the back-stories. I just thought ‘Gosh, why is this show going away?’ It’s a very particular kind of show that has a human feel to it. It just feels very real.”
He takes on a slightly wistful tone talking about the show’s impending end. “I think there will be a void for that specific kind of thing when Idol finishes this year,” he says. “I’m definitely going to miss it.”
But the tour will leave little time for wistfulness, and his choice of tour mates is already energizing Urban. Eldredge, who previously was part of the Light the Fuse Tour, is returning to the road with Urban, who says of the young singer, “I just love touring with him. … And I just love Brett as a person. He’s probably one of the best singers in town. And he’s working so hard to be a great live act. I saw him really working it every night on the last tour, so for me it was a no brainer to take him back out again. I’m just glad he wanted to come with us.”
Urban discovered Morris last fall when his manager sent over her self-titled EP. He immediately tweeted about the singer, writing in November, “Watch these songs grab you instantly like and old friend. I’m in love with this record.”
He tells Billboard, “I have been a fan right from the minute I heard the music.” He had been considering a handful of different acts as potential touring partners, but after hearing Morris’ music, then seeking out footage of some of her live performances on YouTube, “I called back and said I really want her on the tour.” He describes Morris as “soulful and cool” with a “great, interesting blend of styles in her sound.”
“I love people who can deliver live,” Urban adds. “Anybody can go in now and do a lot of trickery on records and sing phenomenal and then you see them live and it ain’t so good. Both Brett and Maren are the real deal. They step out on stage and deliver.”
The same has often been said of Urban. Hard at work on the Ripcord album, he says fans can expect a mix of songs he wrote, co-wrote and found, some that resonate with him deeply and some “sing-along stuff” he chose to record for its “fun factor” and his belief those songs will be crowd pleasers on tour. Overall, he says, “I’m putting a collection of songs together that capture where I’m at now in my life and what I feel passionate about.” Expect his fans to line up to pull that cord.