Keith Urban Preps for Graffiti U Tour: All the Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Ahead of the Graffiti U tour kickoff, Keith Urban and his band recently underwent production rehearsals at an "extremely hot" Vanderbilt University basketball court for 10 days — and PEOPLE has your backstage pass.
Urban gets the setlist in shape ahead of the tour's opening show Friday night in St. Louis.
"I'm always looking for new ways to connect with the audience, new things to put in the set list and in the show — not just songs, but moments that we haven't done before," Urban explained to PEOPLE.
Urban soaks in a solo moment on stage. The guitarist will have a total of 33 of the instruments on the road with him this summer, leaving him plenty to choose from.
Urban confers with his bandmates during rehearsal. The group will be joined by guitar maven Lindsay Ell for the Canadian stops of the tour, and Kelsea Ballerini for the U.S. dates.
"There were a mix of people that were interested and available, but musical compatibility was one thing,” Urban told PEOPLE about choosing Ballerini as his opening act.
"I knew the kind of record I was making wasn't pure country down the line, and Kelsea's records [aren't either]. They're a fusion of things and I felt that she would be compatible."
"I can hear how some of the songs will translate live already, which really makes putting on a new show so exhilarating," Urban said.
Urban takes a (stocking-footed) break with his band and crew. The basketball court where they rehearsed was so hot, the group went through 4,000 bottles of water in the 10 days they were there.
An addition to the setlist will be new single "Coming Home." "Hearing that rolling Haggard guitar lick sparked memories of my childhood — and my dream to come to America," the Australian native said.
"I knew right then the story [of the song] was about the struggles of being in a city where your dreams have brought you, but far from your home — wherever, whomever and whatever that is for each of us."
"I've been wanting to [incorporate] a moment in the show where I talk about my dad," Urban revealed to PEOPLE.
"He passed away a couple years ago, but I've realized just how much of a huge influence he's been on me— in my life and music, and I've never talked about that. So now feels like the right time."