In his multi-decade career, Keith Urban has played Atlanta’s amphitheaters, its arenas, the Fox Theatre and even Wild Adventures theme park in Valdosta (more than once).
But the country superstar with the lilting Australian accent, intoxicating grin and booming power chords has yet to experience the gleaming downtown sports palace that is Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
On Nov. 15, Urban will lead a lineup of marquee country names — Blake Shelton, Sam Hunt, Sugarland, Judah & the Lion and Cale Dodds round out the bill — at the venue for the first of the two-night ATLive series. On Nov. 17, Urban’s current duet partner (“We Were”), Eric Church, will top a musical parade that also offers Luke Combs, Brothers Osborne and Caylee Hammack.
Urban is eager to unfurl his inventory of chart-toppers (“Days Go By,” “Stupid Boy,” “Somewhere in My Car” and “Long Hot Summer” have been mainstays on recent setlists) at the 71,000-capacity building. But he’s also easily adaptable.
“I like any shows. They’ve all got a thing, you know? Whether it’s an acoustic radio show for seven people or a stadium for 70,000, they all create a different environment that I have to figure out how to connect with and try to turn the whole place into a club,” Urban said recently in a call from his Nashville home. “I don’t feel that much different when I’m in a small place than a large one other than I move a lot more. I know how to play to the nosebleeds. I’ve sat in them many times over the years. You just try to get the whole place involved.”
Tickets for the concerts have sold well, ensuring that Urban will have thousands of fans in the upper decks hoping to absorb his club vibe.
A portion of the proceeds from the shows will benefit the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund, which provides scholarships to veterans and military family members, and Quest Community Development Organization, whose mission is to develop affordable housing and provide community services to underserved individuals and families.
The series, which initially included a Nov. 16 pop/R&B-leaning show that never solidified, is being produced by Arthur Blank’s AMB Sports and Entertainment with support from the Arthur Blank Foundation, which has donated more than $400 million to charity.
Tim Zulawski, chief revenue officer for AMB Sports and Entertainment, said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this summer that the idea for ATLive began percolating about three years ago. The goal is to make the series an annual event.
“You have 365 days in a calendar year, and yes, we want to make the stadium full every day to make money, but also because it means you’re putting on great content,” Zulawski said. “There are only so many pieces of content that put 50,000 people in a building and [live music] is one of them.”
The ever-active Urban, who shared his recent 52nd birthday wishes from wife Nicole Kidman on social media, is an ideal ambassador for the inaugural ATLive. His affability is contagious and his humbleness admirable. And the reigning Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year also likes to make music.
He recently commented that the follow-up to 2018’s “Graffiti U” album might be a handful of songs on an EP, rather than a full-length album, and is already weighing the pros and cons.
“With something like an EP, you can live with four or five songs and get to know them intimately, rather than 18 songs, and there’s something positive about that,” he said. “But the downside is [that] if you’re going to put another one out four months after you just released (an EP), try getting people’s attention! To some degree, I’m just calling what I’m doing ‘new music.’ Whether it’s a song, two songs, five songs. People just want new music.”
Urban said he will “ease some new music” out next year. But fans can soon devour his upcoming Christmas song, “I’ll Be Your Santa Tonight,” written last year with ace Nashville songwriter/producer Shane McAnally.
To establish the appropriate mood when recording a holiday song in July — the usual timetable for winter releases — Urban said he decorated his downstairs home studio with a Christmas tree and lights, swiped the air conditioning down to chill level and turned the room “into this arctic cold winter wonderland.”
And then, “We realized my studio doesn’t have a piano. It’s in the living room. So we wound up writing the whole thing upstairs in July,” he said with a laugh.
Urban also recently notched a few shows at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas — longtime home to Celine Dion and Elton John, along with other country music showstoppers including Shania Twain and Reba McEntire with Brooks & Dunn.
In January, he’ll kick off a residency there that taps him for 12 dates sprinkled throughout the year. When asked if he’s pondered how he’ll frame his “Keith Urban Live – Las Vegas” shows, he chuckled.
“I thought we’d do a bunch of Elton and Shania songs.”
But in all seriousness, Urban is elated about playing the recently renovated venue and hinted that more dates might be added to his itinerary.
“After we did the two nights (in September), I fell in love with the room. I came away thinking, if you could tell an architect to build a room that feels like an arena, a theater and a club, you would come up with the Colosseum,” he said.
Of course, regardless of the venue, it’s who is on the stage that creates the magic, and Urban is regularly lauded for his deep connection with fans.
“At the end of the day, it’s really just giving a s***,” he said. “I really care. I really want every single person in that place to have the best time in the time I’ve got with them. It’s almost like a spell we can all get under if we do it right. There’s no me and them — it’s just us.”
5 p.m. Nov. 15 with Keith Urban, Blake Shelton, Sam Hunt, Sugarland, Judah & the Lion, Cale Dodds. $39-$700.
5 p.m. Nov. 17 with Eric Church, Luke Combs, Brothers Osborne and Caylee Hammack. $49-$411.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, 1414 Andrew Young International Blvd. NW, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.
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