Janis Fontaine

New dad (for the second time)
Dierks Bentley says

touring is better than ever

By Janis Fontaine
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

When Dierks Bentley hit the road on his 30-city Jagermeister Country Tour in March, he left behind a wife and two baby girls. Bentley's second daughter, Jordan, joined Evie, 2, on Christmas Day.

People might assume that Bentley's mind couldn't possibly be focused on touring, and that his show would suffer.

Bentley, calling from his bus on the way to play in Dallas, disagrees.

"It's made the shows better than they've ever been because when you're away from your family you want to make that day as worthwhile as you can," he says. "It has to count, otherwise people are back home missing you, and there's no reason for it. So we're out there every night, and we give it all we've got. We leave blood, sweat and tears on that stage every night."

Bentley's tour, which stops at Sunset Cove Amphitheater Saturday, will certainly feature a bit of bluegrass from his recent album, Up on the Ridge. But you'll also hear his country hits and some hard-driving rock 'n' roll.

"It is a little bit of a stew of country, rock and bluegrass," he says. "We mix it up, and our main goal is to leave everybody thinking they had the best night of their lives. Hear some real incredible songs that were written by the guy that's singing them."

Although Bentley has sold more than 5 million albums, Up on the Ridge barely blipped on country radio.

"When I made that record I had no expectations of country airplay or awards show appearances. Bluegrass really hasn't been legalized yet," he jokes. "But some people took a chance. I can understand why others didn't. The point of the record is bluegrass is more than a five-string banjo going a hundred miles an hour. It's the original country music."

Bentley drew on his relationships in the bluegrass community to recruit the best players he could, including Chris Thile of the Punch Brothers and Del McCoury. Miranda Lambert, Jamey Johnson and Kris Kristofferson added vocal support. "We really picked the right people. The experience was magical and the way it came together wasn't contrived by any means."

Bentley has a thought or two on that subject.

"Something I discovered when I got to Nashville: Right away I found there were a lot of people that wore cowboy hats and all the right clothing but they didn't write any of their own music and they really couldn't play their guitars. I moved to Nashville to try to discover something about myself; I didn't go there to say, 'Hey, here I am. I'm a star.' I went on a crusade to find the source of this music that I love so much and it definitely wasn't on Music Row. I luckily stumbled into this bar and found these guys playing their instruments, and they knew more about country music than anyone that was wearing a cowboy hat. They loved the music, and they took me in under their wing. I started listening to Flatt and Scruggs and Jimmy Martin and all the great bluegrass players."

Those musicians shaped Bentley, and you'll find those influences in all of his music, including his upcoming album, Diamonds. The first single, Am I the Only One, is a party anthem, with the lyric, "Is there anybody out there wants to have a cold beer? Kick it 'til the morning light? Am I the only who wants to have fun tonight?" It's vintage Bentley and a perfect fit for his Jagermeister Tour.

"Maybe (the album) should be called Coming Down Off of the Ridge," Bentley jokes, "because it's definitely not a bluegrass-inspired record. It's a heavy country album, a lot of up-tempo stuff and some songs I'm really proud of. I wrote about 60 songs, I listened to about 2,000 outside songs, I narrowed that down to 20 and went in the studio and cut 15. We'll get that down to 12 or 13 for the album.

"I don't want it to sound like it's a lot of songs thrown together," Bentley says. "I want there to be a center and on this record it's Diamonds, because it all revolves around girls: going to a party to meet a girl, trying to find a girl, losing a girl, getting the girl, and putting a ring on her hand. And what comes after you put the diamond on her hand."

Certainly Bentley's looking at girls a little differently these days, with two daughters to think about.

"My heart changed. Your heart gets so much bigger when you have a kid. It stretches to new boundaries you didn't know existed. I feel really lucky to have success in both worlds. I don't take either one for granted," Bentley said.

His fans have always felt that connection. From wheeling a keg of beer onstage, to towing his Jeep behind the bus so he can ride around a venue and visit with the tail-gaters, Bentley is approachable.

"I try to embody the spirit of country music of being open and friendly. Like Roy Acuff always left his dressing room door open at the Grand Ol' Opry so anyone who wanted to come in and meet him could do that. I don't ever try to retreat from my fans. One thing I always go back to is country fans, especially the ones that dig my music, have allowed me to do what I want to do, and that's what I'm so grateful for."

Tomorrow, Bentley's asking fans to do one thing: "Forget about your problems a little bit and rock out with us."