After Dierks Bentley moved to Nashville in 1994, and before he released his debut single, “What Was I Thinkin,” in 2003, he spent nearly a decade performing in tiny honkytonks up and down Music City’s Lower Broadway, experimenting with his sound, fusing elements of country, rock and bluegrass into a mix all his own.
Last night (Jan. 21), aided by opening acts Jon Pardi and Cole Swindell, Bentley triumphantly returned to Broadway’s Bridgestone Arena for his first headlining show, turning the arena into perhaps the largest, rowdiest downtown honky tonk as they offered numerous hits laced with fiddle, steel guitar and banjos.
Flanked by an ace band and dressed in jeans, a pearl snap and cowboy hat, Pardi brought a neo-‘90s country feel. The California native moved to Nashville eight years ago, and opened the evening’s show with the easygoing confidence of an artist who has worked audiences for years.
With a muscular voice that at times recalled the vocal fervor of artists like Gary Allan and Garth Brooks, and a catalog of party-ready tunes, Pardi didn’t have to exert himself to keep the audience engaged and good-time ready. He stayed close to center stage for the majority of his set, before taking to the catwalk during “Up All Night.”
The audience was primed for some boot-stomping fun by the time he closed his set with his first No. 1 single, “Head Over Boots,” and its successor “Dirt On My Boots.”
“This guy is a star,” headliner Bentley would later tell the crowd.
Since launching his debut hit “Chillin’ It,” in 2013, Swindell has notched six No. 1 hits, and his tightly-choreographed set reminded the crowd of not only his own hits, but his role as a successful songwriter and his myriad of influences, with the addition of ‘90s style “No Can Left Behind” and a cover of The Chainsmokers’ “Closer.”
“Thank every one of you in this room that liked this song and gave me the chance to do what I love,” he said in introducing “Chillin’ It.”
Hits like “Hope You Get Lonely Tonight,” “Ain’t Worth The Whiskey,” “Middle Of A Memory,” and “Let Me See Ya Girl,” followed. He offered a medley of the tracks he’s written for others, including Thomas Rhett’s “Get Me Some of That,” Luke Bryan’s “Roller Coaster,” and Florida Georgia Line’s “This Is How We Roll.”
Earlier this month, the Nashville music community was stunned by the death of songwriter Andrew Dorff, who passed away at age 40. Swindell paid tribute to Dorff during his rendition of “Remember Boys,” a song Dorff co-wrote.
He took a moment during “Ain’t Worth The Whiskey” to tribute those protecting citizens in here in the United States. “Evil is not just overseas but it’s here in our country. before thanking police firefighters and everyone protecting citizens. I don’t know what your definition of country is but that’s a damn good start,” Swindell said.
“You Should Be Here” an intensely personal tribute to Swindell’s late father, served as the emotional pinnacle of his set. Swindell seemed equal parts grateful, exhilarated and wistful as the soft glow of numerous cell phone lights lit the arena, while he sang from center stage.
Dierks Bentley turned up the heat for his headlining set, literally, during the opening song “Up On The Ridge,” as barrels of fire blazed across the stage, illuminating Bentley and his tight-knit band center stage. Two songs into the set, Bentley was already letting the crowd sing along during “Free and Easy (Down The Road I Go),” and they proved more than capable.
“You have no idea what this night means for me and my family,” Bentley told the crowd. “I’ve been here for so many concerts and Predators games,” said Bentley, a hockey enthusiast. “This is my Stanley Cup Game 7!”
Bentley came armed with plenty of hits, including “Am I The Only One?,” “5-1-5-0,” “What Was I Thinking,” “Home,” “Feel That Fire,” and a smoldering rendition of his current single, “Black.”
Bentley displayed a charming, easygoing, spontaneous engagement with the audience whether he was borrowing sunshades from one fan or having another hold his beer, or crowd surfing during “Somewhere On A Beach.”
Halfway through the set, as he set up shop on a satellite stage in the back of the arena, Bentley further proved his reputation as one of country music’s hardest-working artists. He revealed to the crowd that he had received two steroid shots earlier in the day, in an attempt to shore up a vocal ailment. Even then, Bentley turned the situation into crafty banter with the audience.
“My doctor told me to drink plenty of fluids, so I am,” Bentley said at one point, revealing his onstage stash of whiskey, red bull vodka, and water.
From the satellite stage, Bentley dove into an acoustic rendition of the gorgeous, inspirational “Riser,” a song he said reminded him of his father when he first heard it. Later in the set, he would also dedicate “I Hold On” to his late father.
“We drove here in 1994 in a Chevy truck that was in his name. I still drive it,” Bentley said.
What is a Nashville show without a guest appearance? Bentley came armed with a few. Elle King joined him for their Grammy-nominated hit “Different For Girls.” He also welcomed his own superstar, bus driver Ken Lyons. Lyons began driving for Bentley in 2003, accumulating more than one million miles on the road. “He’s hanging up his spurs for a little while. As a bus driver, he never gets to see a show,” Bentley before leading the crowd in an ovation for Lyons.
He welcomed openers Pardi and Swindell back to the stage during his set, collaborating on Swindell’s latest single, “Flatliner,” and trading lines with Pardi on the George Strait classic “Carrying Your Love With Me.”
The Bridgestone concert came in for a raucous landing as the front half of an actual prop plane rolled onstage with a exultant and ecstatic Bentley, dressed in full pilot garb and commanding the cockpit. As the first strains of “Drunk On A Plane,” rolled through the arena, Bentley pulled a young fan on the stage and traded his pilot hat for the boy’s cowboy hat.
The evening ended in true Nashville style, as Kelsea Ballerini, Cassadee Pope, Chase Rice, Swindell, Pardi and King joined Bentley onstage as he closed out the show.
Bentley then spent his final moments soaking up this victorious moment, shaking hands with audience members and thanking the fans again for his career ascent.
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