Dierks Bentley was due his own headlining tour. Last summer he stole the show with unbridled energy while touring with Miranda Lambert. Nearly nine months later he’s back at PNC Music Pavilion (formerly Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre) kicking off his Riser tour and first time headlining outdoor amphitheaters.
Bentley frontloaded the set with party-starters and drinking songs after emerging from beneath the curved floor-to-ceiling screen that made it look as if he and his five-piece band were performing at an old drive-in movie screen (which is actually a really cool idea). Bentley jump-started the show with the sing-along “5-1-5-0” (from 2012’s “Home”) followed by another No. 1 – 2007’s “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go).”
The up-tempo drinking songs kicked off with “Am I the Only One.” As it came to an end, Bentley signaled one of his stage techs for two cold ones and pulled a blonde woman on stage to shotgun a beer with him. “She almost beat me,” he said as she returned to the front row and he segued into “Tip It On Back.” He followed it with his current single “Drunk On A Plane.”
He finally took a breath and mentioned that he’d waited 10 years to headline, having played the amphitheater with Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, and Lambert. He seemed exhilarated.
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He strummed his acoustic guitar in the spotlight at the tip of a short catwalk beginning “Every Mile a Memory.” In a string of No. 1 songs, the 2006 hit was special eliciting an “ah yeah!” from the burly young men to my right. Road footage rolled, which included sweet videos of Bentley and his three small children.
Bentley pulled four tracks from the new album “Riser.” The darker “Bourbon in Kentucky” and the title track (reserved for the first encore) made the cut.
He referred to 2010’s bluegrass-centered album “Up On The Ridge” with the sole title cut, then ventured out into the crowd with the bulk of his band to perform songs like “Settle for a Slowdown” from a platform erected right behind the front-of-house soundboard. He shared a beer with a fan. And when he sent the players back to the stage he introduced them like athletes charging onto a football field before heading back to the main stage himself while singing “Come a Little Closer.”
As the show neared its end, Bentley mentioned the old pickup truck he drove from Arizona to Nashville years ago with his father, who died in 2012. It was similar to the introduction he gave last summer when he introduced a then brand-new song to the Charlotte audience.
But this time he chose to end his set on the slower, but powerful “I Hold On,” which I think speaks for the new material on “Riser.” I thought it was a great way to cap the show.
Of course no headliner is ever truly done. The lights barely went down before he and his band were back for “Riser,” “What Was I Thinking (Little White Tank Top),” and “Sideways.”
Opening acts Jon Pardi, Chase Rice, and Chris Young appeared each with a red Solo cup in hand to help out – somewhat comically – on the latter. Bentley returned once more for “Home,” even handing a red guitar (that his bandmate had been playing – not his own prized acoustic) to a birthday girl down front.
Young country artists Pardi and former “Survivor: Nicaragua” runner-up Rice kicked off the show with short sets. It was somewhat of a homecoming show for Rice, who is best known for co-writing Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise.” He worked at Hendrick Motorsports before heading off to Nashville.
The more experienced Young employed video screens and played a longer set as night fell. It kicked off with the title track to his latest album “A.M.” and 2009’s hit “Gettin’ You Home (The Black Dress Song).” He also covered the Doobie Brothers’ “China Grove” – just a short skip down the road from the locale that shares the song’s name.
By the time Pardi hit the stage, the rain had let up. And although sprinkles hit my windshield on the way home on Interstate 485, the rain stayed at bay for most of the show – making for a perfect night to open your first big-time summer headlining tour here.