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Top 10 Moments of 2017 - #8: Keith Urban Lights Up Stage

Editor's Note: This is the third of a series of 10 vignettes in which IMS Senior Communications Manager Paul Kelly picks his top 10 moments of 2017 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been known worldwide for great motorsports competition for 108 years. But the Racing Capital of the World also has welcomed some of the top musical artists in a variety of genres for live concerts over the last two decades.

This year was no different. The lineup of musical acts performing on event weekends at IMS included rock stars Steve Miller Band and Barenaked Ladies, EDM standouts The Chainsmokers, Major Lazer, Zedd and Marshmello, country hit-makers Brantley Gilbert, Dustin Lynch and Clayton Anderson, and more.

All of the performances were great. But none blew me away quite like the headline act by country superstar Keith Urban during the Firestone Legends Day concert May 26 on Indianapolis 500 Race Weekend.

Let’s make one thing clear: I’m not a big country music fan. I’m an aging devotee of rock-and-roll who also dabbles with jazz, pop and EDM.

So when Urban took the stage on the in-house TV monitor near my work area on the fourth floor of the Media Center, I took a quick glance. I knew Urban has won nearly every award possible in country. I knew he is a guitar player of some renown, even outside of Nashville. I knew he is married to Nicole Kidman. I know he’s from Australia yet sings with a Southern twang.

And that was about it.

So I returned to work, head down at my laptop to prepare for the busiest day of the year the following day, Race Day for the Indianapolis 500. But something rare and memorable happened over the next 45 minutes or so.

Urban’s smooth singing, tight band and INCREDIBLE guitar playing gradually distracted my attention from my work. I found myself staring up at the TV more than my laptop screen for a few minutes, especially when Urban brought a young boy out of the crowd and gave him his guitar.

Trust me, this doesn’t happen often. When I’m grinding at work during an IMS event, very little distracts me. I’m one of those guys who gets locked in and puts on the blinders like Secretariat hurtling alone down the stretch at the Belmont in 1973.

But Urban grabbed me.

The man is a phenomenal guitar player and singer and an even better entertainer. He walked the tightrope between genuine connection with fans and schmaltz more deftly than any artist I’ve seen in years at IMS. Urban had the entire crowd eating out of his hand by the midway point of the show. And he gave the love right back. It was real, palpable.

It was a fantastic performance, the capper for me of a great year of music at IMS. I started Saturday, May 26 not knowing much of Keith Urban’s music. I finished the day as a Keith Urban fan – something I never would have predicted.

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