Music & Nightlife

Dierks Bentley digs a little deeper, comes a little closer at PNC

Dierks Bentley performed in Charlotte Friday at the PNC Music Pavillion
Dierks Bentley performed in Charlotte Friday at the PNC Music Pavillion Paige Ladisic

My mom is the greatest person in the world, and she would do anything for me. Except go to a country concert. Which is fine. I've come to terms with my mom's deep hatred of country music over the years.

But she would've changed her tune at Dierks Bentley's headliner at PNC Music Pavilion on Friday. At least for the night.

Mom says, "Country songs are only about trucks and beer."

I'd say that Bentley proved you wrong. Not that he didn't sing a few tunes about beer and trucks — he has, after all, been driving the same truck since 1994. But his latest album, "Riser," digs a lot deeper than that.

And Bentley digs a lot deeper with his audience and with himself. Or as he’d say, he likes to “Come A Little Closer” — the early hit he sang as he headed from the main stage to a smaller stage in the middle of the ampitheater. I know artists do the same things at every concert — give the audience a chance to sing along, throw a few guitar picks out, give a few handshakes. It never seems genuine.

But Bentley brought the happiest man alive on stage from the pit to shotgun a beer with him. He made fun of himself when he accidentally sang into his cup instead of microphone. He signed a man’s cowboy hat and subsequently fell into the crowd, quick to thank the group of fans who thought he was crowdsufing. He grabbed beers from fans and analyzed their temperature — "Life's too short for lukewarm beer, dude." And he sang “Back Porch” on the back stage that he renamed “the back porch.”

On Friday morning in an interview with the Observer, Bentley startled me by being as easygoing and natural as if he'd talked to me about his music hundreds of times. And on stage, I felt he was that same very real, very normal guy. Not many gimmicks — you have to have a few, of course — and not much show, just Bentley, his music and his audience.

He brought all of his opening acts — up-and-coming Canaan Smith, 19-year-olds Maddie and Tae and rough around the edges Kip Moore — on stage with him at one time or another, and those interactions went far deeper than I’ve seen before too. You know those young opening acts are having the times of their lives, touring with a major artist who’s been in the business for more than 10 years, but they were also touring with a great friend and mentor.

And when Bentley sang what he told me is his favorite song, "I Hold On," he reached up into the air for his late father. That's what's great about country music — the look on Bentley's face and the tear I saw forming in his eye went far deeper than trucks and beer. And judging by the hands in the air and the arms around waists around me, the audience was feeling the connection too.

I think Mom would've been impressed.