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Dierks Bentley Is the Mainstream Country Artist Everyone Can Like

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If country superstar Dierks Bentley had a résumé, he'd get whatever job he wanted — two certified platinum albums, eight certified gold singles and another two singles that went platinum. He's not even two years removed from the release of "Drunk On A Plane," a massive hit with a now-iconic music video that spawned a trend of female fans dressing up as flight attendants at his shows. ("Stewardess is something sexy / leanin' pourin' coke and whiskey / told her about my condition / got little mile-high flight attention" goes the key line in the chorus.)

If you didn't know anything about Dierks Bentley, it'd be easy to stereotype the singer based on the information in the paragraph above. The past few years haven't been good ones for mainstream country music, and whatever you say about Bentley, you can't deny his popular appeal. 2014 began on the heels of this devastating video showing the bludgeoning repetition of country cliches — trucks, Chevys, blue jeans, riverbeds — prevalent in popular lyrics. 2014 ended with a mash-up of number one country hits showing that, essentially, every song to top the charts share the same beat, chord changes, and basic song structure. 

Bentley isn't immune to the four-chord song, but nor is his lyrical content absolutely inane, even in a song about trucks. "I Hold On," from his latest 2014 album, Riser, is about his beat-up pickup truck. But it doesn't take long for the verse to cut deep emotionally: "It's just an old beat up truck / Some say that I should trade up / Now that I got some jangle in my pocket / But what they don’t understand / Is it's the miles that make a man / I wouldn’t trade that thing in for a rocket / What they don’t know is my dad and me / We drove her out to Tennessee / And she’s still here and now he’s gone / So I hold on."

The thing is, Bentley — who grew up in Phoenix — just isn't cut from the same cloth as the dunces in Florida-Georgia Line or Big & Rich. "Drunk on a Plane" is far from the bro-country song it appears to be. It's a song about a heartbroken man whose fiancée left him before he could cancel their honeymoon, leaving him getting wasted on a plane flying solo to Cancun. There's both despair and resigned desperation in the tune, and siphoning those themes into a hit country song is just impressive.

The combination of golf and country music could make for an nauseating bro-country stew, but thankfully the Waste Management Phoenix Open organizers opted for Bentley to follow Rascal Flatts and precede Tïesto and Robin Thicke. Notably, Bentley's concert is the only one of the four nights of musical entertainment at the Open this year to sell out despite the $100 price tag. The vibe at the Coors Light Birds Nest was celebratory and rowdy, as people of all ages and stripes, often decked out in Titleist hats or Callaway t-shirts. It was a chilly February evening of about 40 degrees, but it was pretty warm standing shoulder-to-shoulder with 8,000 drunk country fans. 

Bentley owned the stage, drinking beer from a plastic cup and strutting confidently from one side to the other. He wasted no time plowing through his hits; before too long he was playing "I Hold On," which he followed with "Somewhere On a Beach." "Riser" wasn't too far behind. "On The Ridge" made an appearance, and the encore was "Drunk On a Plane." About eight women dressed in tight black flight attendant costumes joined the band on stage for the finale. Hilariously, none of them looked very comfortable dancing on stage.  Critic's Notebook

Last Night: Dierks Bentley at the Coors Light Birds Nest in Scottsdale, the musical entertainment at the Phoenix Open.

The Crowd: Lots of golf fans. The women run their hands along your lower back when they walk by, and the bros all seemed to have very short hair. Also saw a guy with gauged ears, which marked the first time I'd seen that at a country show. 

Personal Bias: I first saw Dierks Bentley in Boulder, Colorado, in 2010, when the multi-platinum artist played to a half-full 1,000-person venue. It was on the Up on the Ridge tour, and maybe the thought was that bluegrass-loving Boulderites would dig the songs from that album. But the town didn't really turn out, and most of the people at that show looked like they'd traveled into town from the Eastern Plains. I really dug the show, however, especially the title track. 

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