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Keith Urban Collects International Award

Keith Urban at the ACM Honors on September 20, 2010. Getty Images/Courtesy of the Academy of Country Music.

He hails from Australia and New Zealand, he conquered America and he’s found an audience in Europe. Keith Urban’s global assault was hailed Monday as the Academy of Country Music handed him its Jim Reeves International Award during the fourth annual ACM Honors at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.

The award wasn’t just a nicety. While country music was born and bred in the U.S.A., it’s had a bit of a rocky road in building audiences beyond American borders. Keith’s made a point of taking his music to other territories, leading host Lee Ann Womack to hail “the world domination of Keith Urban.”

“This music is global,” Keith said, explaining his passion for exporting country. “We speak about the human condition. It’s why this music transcends all boundaries.”

Not that it’s always been that way. Keith gave an effective, condensed history of the genre’s global outreach, using his homeland as an example. He recalled that his very first concert was a Johnny Cash show when he was a mere five years old, a concert that was, Keith said, “very impactful and left a huge impression on me.”

Keith’s next concert was a Tom T. Hall performance, and he remembered numerous acts in that era — including Charley Pride and Glen Campbell — played Australia regularly.

In the 1980s and ‘90s, as Keith recalled, fewer country stars went overseas. But Keith — introduced by Kix Brooks as “the wonder from Down Under” — ran down a list of some of the performers who’ve made a point of visiting Australia in the last few years, including Dierks Bentley, Tim McGraw, Miranda Lambert, Sugarland, Taylor Swift and Brooks & Dunn.

B&D, he laughed, are “going back, I hope, on their big reunion tour.”

Kix and Ronnie Dunn, of course, just wrapped up their final concerts as a duet, and there are no plans for a reunion. So no more Australian jaunts for them. Nevertheless, despite the difficult task of putting together a schedule, transporting musicians and equipment across the ocean and taking a smaller paycheck for the inconvenience, country artists have begun once again to understand the importance of playing for the world.

Keith, for one, intends to make sure people get exposed to the genre all over the globe, just as he was exposed to country in that Johnny Cash concert when Keith was five.

“I’ll keep carrying this message,” Keith said, “everywhere I possibly can.”

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