By Vernell Hackett
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - Keith Urban hits the road this summer on his "Get Closer" tour with a carnival stage set befitting a country music star, but he still has memories of paying for his own props at a hardware store.
"I was putting on a show at a club in Nashville and I had no money, so I went to a hardware store and bought a couple sections of this fake white picket fence and wire to hang them from the ceiling at these odd angles," Urban said.
The 43-year-old performer, who was born in New Zealand and came to the United States from Australia in 1992, has come a long way since his three-member band "The Ranch" released their lone U.S. album in 1997. He has developed a huge following thanks to hits such as "Memories of Us," "You Look Good in My Shirt" and "Start A Band" with Brad Paisley.
Urban's 2010 Grammy-winning hit song "'Til Summer Comes Around" inspired the carnival theme of the upcoming 70-stop tour, which features a Ferris wheel equipped with a video screen and a roller coaster used to hang stage lights.
To try to make audiences feel they are in an intimate club and not a giant arena, Urban installs satellite stages and ambles through the audience to sing and give away a guitar.
"I just love getting out among everybody, even though sometimes it's chaotic. A few times I have thought, 'What am I doing out here?' There's something about the adrenaline and the electricity and being on edge and the unpredictability of it that I really love," he said.
"Part of the problem (is) when you get to this level of a show everything is so thought out, there's not much spontaneity left. Everything is predictable and you can feel it. I'm just trying to keep some moments in the show when who knows what will happen?" he said.
As Urban's current single, "Without You," climbed to the top of the country music charts, he took a break from rehearsals in Nashville to speak with Reuters.
After performing for two weeks in Australia, Urban's North American tour kicks off on Thursday in Biloxi, Mississippi, heads to Canada for 10 concerts in September, and finishes up October 15 in Minneapolis.
Jake Owen opens for Urban at the U.S. dates and The Band Perry will open in Canada.
"Jake and The Band Perry have a good spirit and they carry a good message. I like Jake's music and his vibe," Urban said. "The Band Perry is the real thing. So often today we see acts that are so packaged and formulated."
Urban never knows beforehand who will get his guitar.
"One night I was out there and there was this little boy who was fast asleep. We were loud and everyone was screaming around us and he just kept on sleeping. Then toward the end of the song his dad kinda shook him and he opens his eyes and there I am looking at him, and the look in his eyes was priceless. I had to give it to him," Urban said.
For Urban, being onstage feels as if he is both in the present and lost in the moment.
"It's a seemingly contradictory place, but that is kind of where we are as people isn't it? We are sort of participants and observers simultaneously," he said.
The irony of the tour's title is not lost on Urban, given that it will take time away from his Oscar-winning actress wife Nicole Kidman and their two daughters.
"When I put this tour together I structured it so I'm only gone two to four days maximum, then I go home for two or three days. The only time that changed was when I was in Australia for two weeks. When I go to Canada for three weeks, I'll bring the girls up for some of that run," he said.
Urban said he is not alone balancing career and family.
"I just try to grow as person, and find that balance between a home life and work life. There are so many people dealing with that right now.
"You try to figure out how to make it happen, and I don't want to have any regrets. I believe that balance is never achieved, it's just maintained. Hopefully I can keep maintaining it."
(Editing by Andrew Stern)