As usual, Dierks Bentley provided a highlight for fans at PNC Music Pavilion on Sunday night when he pulled his favorite stunt, hoisting a burly dude up onto the stage from out of the pit and challenging him to a beer-drinking contest. (The singer won, by the way, and boasted that he’s still undefeated at live shows in 2017.)
But Bentley would top that moment later in the show by doing something much less aggressive with a beer: He cried in one.
After high-fiving his way from the main stage to a “B” stage near the back of the pavilion and the front of the lawn two-thirds of the way through his 96-minute set, the country star mentioned how he’d spent his afternoon in Charlotte.
“Earlier today, we got a chance to go by the Levine Children’s Hospital,” Bentley said, as photos of him visiting young patients at LCH’s Seacrest Studios flashed on the screens adorning the main stage. “It always blows my mind, man. You think you’re grateful, and you think you’re strong – you think you’re a riser – and you go meet those families, you meet these kids, and you see what they’re going through, and it makes you about this big. ...
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“All the staff, everyone that works in that hospital, man ... every morning, they gotta get up and do their job, ’cause they got these kids and these families counting on them to be ready every day. Those people are risers, and this song goes out to them.”
Then he sang an aching acoustic version of the title track from his 2014 album, “Riser” – strongly and clearly for most of the way, before his voice broke as he grimaced away tears during the final chorus.
“That’s why you have beer,” Bentley said after regaining his composure, and then exhaling sharply. “I didn’t think I was gonna make it through that one. I met so many amazing families (today), so many courageous kids; and that’s the thing about country music – you got the party songs, and you got the good times, but everybody here is going through something. ... That’s what country music does to you: It kind of helps you know you’re not alone on that journey. So, here’s to country music.”
On the whole, though, his throat was filled way more often with beer than with lumps.
Wearing ripped blue jeans, black boots, a white T-shirt and (briefly) a red and black flannel shirt, Bentley hit many of the same party-friendly notes he nailed during the “Somewhere on a Beach Tour” he brought to PNC last July: snatching phones from fans’ hands to shoot selfies; fielding bras, hats and sunglasses from fans; begging, borrowing and stealing beers from fans – including one that came cloaked in a “Carefree Boat Club/Lake Norman” koozie.
He tossed cans of Bud Light into the pit. He spun a giddy venue usher ’round and ’round in an impromptu partner dance on his return trek to the main stage. He fawned over Charlotte and once again shouted-out Coyote Joe’s, the big country-music club on Wilkinson Boulevard. He displayed Photoshopped pics of opener Jon Pardi “hanging” at Romare Bearden Park, on the Fury 325 roller coaster at Carowinds, and amid a group of smiling Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium after a victory.
Oh, and Bentley shotgunned that beer with that fan, pulling the boozy stunt that’s become his calling card.
There was a little twist here and there: At the show’s midway point, for example, the 42-year-old married father of two daughters launched into his powerfully empathetic 2016 hit “Different for Girls,” joined by surprise guest Elle King in the form of one of the most convincing holographic images I’ve ever seen. (It legit took me a few minutes after her image faded to black to realize that the “Ex’s and Oh’s” singer hadn’t flown all the way down from New York solely for a single verse and two choruses.)
Otherwise, this all looked an awful lot like last July’s “Somewhere on a Beach Tour” show. Fourteen of the 19 songs were the same, and the last four – “Somewhere on a Beach,” “What Was I Thinkin’,” “Sideways” and “Drunk on a Plane” – were the same last four as before, in the same order.
Not that that’s a bad thing, of course. I mean, he brought his “A” game last summer, and he brought it again Sunday night.
Why should Dierks mess with what works?
Dierks Bentley’s set list
1. “What The Hell Did I Say”
3. “Am I the Only One”
4. “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)”
5. “Say You Do”
6. “Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do”
7. “Write This Down” (George Strait cover) (with Jon Pardi)
8. “Every Mile a Memory”
9. “Up on the Ridge”
10. “Different for Girls” (with Elle King)
12. “I Hold On”
13. “Riser” (B-Stage)
14. “Home” (B-Stage)
15. “Flatliner” (with Cole Swindell)
16. “Somewhere on a Beach”
17. “What Was I Thinkin’ ”
19. “Drunk on a Plane”