Party With Dierks

Red-hot country performer – and one-time pumper – Dierks Bentley will rock the house in Louisville
Party With Dierks

How’s this for the hottest ticket in town: The Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo and Dierks Bentley.

The can’t miss trade show for environmental services professionals collides with the can’t miss country music performer of the past year. When Bentley takes the stage at Louisville’s Freedom Hall March 5, he will have just learned the fate of his three nominations from the 2010 Grammy Awards.

Bentley, 35, has had numerous No.1 country hits since his 2003 debut album, but last year’s bluegrass-influenced Up On The Ridge took him to a new level. Recording with an ensemble of the hottest new stars – Punch Brothers, Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson – Bentley produced the contemporary country music that built his career, but used the acoustic sound that instilled his love of country music in the first place.

“I had a blast making this record,” Bentley said in an interview. “It was the most fun I’ve really ever had making a record. Bluegrass music is what really first got me turned on to country. I don’t think I’m a traditionalist. I love country music and putting my own stamp on it. And using acoustic instruments is a big part of the formula; I want to push the boundaries of what you can do with them.”

A pumping past

Beyond music, there’s another reason the Expo crowd will enjoy this down-to-earth performer: He’s been a pumper. One of the many jobs he had before landing a contract in Music City was pumping out holding tanks on houseboats at Lake Powell in his home state of Arizona.

“I loved the lake and I loved being up there,” Bentley explains. “In the mornings, I’d go down and show the customers how to drive the boats – 35- to 60-foot houseboats. When the boats came back, we’d clean them from top to bottom, scrub the roofs and decks, pump out the tanks, and get them ready to go the next morning.”

Boats typically had 250-gallon holding tanks, and that waste was pumped through a pipe system installed at the marina. Careful evacuation of the tanks and constant cleaning is vital because Lake Powell provides a freshwater supply for an expansive desert territory in the Southwest.

Bentley always enjoyed physical labor (he built decks for a time and retrieved golf balls at a driving range) and appreciates hard work. The jobs he didn’t like were in Nashville offices while he paid his dues in the music business.

“I poured coffee all over this town and worked in every building in Nashville before I got a publishing deal,” he recalls. “I like physical labor, but emotionally being in Nashville and working day jobs while trying to get a record deal was the toughest.”

Quit the day job

In 2003, Bentley’s first single, “What Was I Thinkin’” topped the country chart. His 2005 album, Modern Day Drifter, went platinum. That year he became the youngest member of the Grand Ole Opry and received the Country Music Association’s Horizon Award. He followed with the 2009 album, Feel That Fire, which included two No.1 hits, the title track and “Sideways.”

Then Bentley had a thought. What if he returned to the bluegrass music he fell in love with when he arrived in Nashville years ago? So he called his friends in the band Nickel Creek and started planning Up On The Ridge.

“I’ve always been a big fan of Nickel Creek, and I knew (mandolin player and singer) Chris Thile from bounding around in the bluegrass circles,” he says. “They were really out there with the progressive acoustic music and I really enjoyed what they did. I had moved here to do country music, and I walked into a bar and they were singing country songs using acoustic instruments. I really fell in love with that sound, and it gave me a foundation to start from.”

Thile’s new critically acclaimed band, Punch Brothers, recorded a number of tunes with Bentley, including a daring cover of the U2 hit, “Pride (In The Name Of Love).” Besides the Punch Brothers, the song features the high lonesome sound of bluegrass legend Del McCoury.

At first, friends didn’t understand Bentley’s choice to cover a rock band like U2, but “Pride” became one of several hits from the record, which also features “Bad Angel” with Lambert and Johnson, and the title track. “Pride” and “Bad Angel” were nominated for Grammys, and Up On The Ridge for Best Country Album Grammy.

“It’s a tough song to cover, but you know if you’re going to cover a song by a group like that, pick a big one,” Bentley says. “It was a little daunting. They’re one of my favorite bands, and you knew going into that song that it’s going to go one way or the other. Either it’s going to get a Grammy nomination or it’s going to be a disaster.”

Electric and loud

For the Expo, Bentley will perform an acoustic set from Up On The Ridge, but mostly he and his five bandmates will be plugged in and rowdy for Freedom Hall, where he has played numerous times. “The shows tend to be electric and loud,” he says. “We like to have a good party atmosphere going. But we’ll break it down and get the upright bass and banjo out and do some things from this record.

“It’s important for us to have a high-energy show and a lot of fun. If it’s a good night for us, everyone else will have a good time. This is one of the first shows we’ll have for the year and everybody will be extra excited to be out there playing.”

It might be hard for Bentley to pry himself away from his family in Nashville to start touring again. He, wife Cassidy and daughter Evie, welcomed the birth of their second daughter, Jordan Catherine, a month ago on Christmas morning. But he’s looking forward to meeting Expo fans and might bring some photos from his pumping past to share. “These are the folks I hang out with at shows,” he says. “The hardworking people.”

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