Dierks Bentley’s career in country music could be taught in music business classes because of its rare balance of commercial success and artistic breadth. Most young Nashville newcomers who gravitate to the Station Inn and the city’s bluegrass heritage are not the ones who wind up on arena stages. The city’s not programmed that way, even if it should be. But Dierks made some savvy choices, soaking up sound and wisdom on Tuesday night bluegrass shows and on Wednesday nights on Lower Broadway with the twanging, electrifying Jamie Hartford Band. In those same days, his day job at The Nashville Network’s tape vault gave him access to a library of classic country music performances, which he soaked up like a sponge.
Under these many influences, he wrote and recorded songs that honored the past and the heritage while saying something fresh. Early songs like “I Wish It Would Break” and “Bartenders, Barstools and Barmaids” suggested this was a writer/artist who could add something to the country tradition while speaking a contemporary language. That promise was fulfilled upon teaming up with Capitol with the shocking No. 1 debut “What Was I Thinkin’?” It continued with indelible hits, including “Settle For A Slowdown” and “Every Mile A Memory.”
The tone for Dierks’s career was truly set in 2005. He won the CMA’s Horizon Award for most exceptional emerging artist. And his passion for and stewardship of classic country music earned him membership in the Grand Ole Opry, where he was the third youngest artist ever to be inducted. The first Grammy Award nominations came in 2007 and they quickly became routine. Through the critically acclaimed Up On The Ridge album, he’s earned ten Grammy nods. And throughout, Dierks has pursued a broad-based strategy on the road, juggling arena dates supporting George Strait with club and college shows and now balancing headliner status in country music settings with gritty, jammy tours of rock venues.
“I walk a different path,” Dierks says. “Because of my love of acoustic music, I have opportunities to do different musical things. It’s not just one type of show, which I really think would be a lot easier!” Reflecting on a career that’s sent him from the bars of Lower Broadway to the top of country music, Dierks is a mix of amazement, gratitude and determination. “I don’t know what the next ten years holds but I think I’ve put myself in a position where I can satisfy all of the different things that I love about music.”
Throughout this journey (and critical to it), Dierks has sought out and made use of technologies that could help erase the distance between himself and his fans. The website that went up before the release of Home is perhaps the most audacious expression of that yet. The album’s cover is rendered as a mosaic of miniscule images farmed form Dierks’s nearly 200,000 Twitter followers. Drag over it, and the faces pop out in a magnifier. Click on any tile, and up pops what they’ve been saying – to Dierks and each other. It’s like a microcosm of everything Dierks has cultivated in his fan base: connectivity and immediacy.
He’s done things his own way, satisfied his own muses and done all he can do to bring all kinds of fans along with him. There’s every reason to think they’ll follow him Home too.