It was Dierks Bentley’s party, but it was Katie Couric who attracted all the gawkers. The scene of the rubbernecking was Nashville’s Hair of the Dog saloon, where friends and associates gathered Wednesday afternoon (April 7) to celebrate the platinum certification of Bentley’s self-titled debut album.
It was also the same day that Couric and her crew were in town preparing for their Thursday morning broadcast of NBC-TV’s Today show, which would feature a segment on Bentley and a performance by Kenny Chesney.
Organizers at Capitol Records, Bentley’s label, selected the Hair of the Dog site, at least in part, to salute the singer’s well-publicized canine sidekick, Jake, who circulated comfortably through the crowd while soaking up the communal affection.
While guests filtered in, musicians from Bentley’s band conducted a final soundcheck on the small, cluttered stage at the far end of the room. Prominent in the crowd was award-winning songwriter Harley Allen, who co-wrote Bentley’s recent hit, “My Last Name,” and sang with him on the Grammy-winning album, Livin’, Lovin’, Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers.
About an hour into the party, Capitol chief Mike Dungan called the celebration to order and brought Bentley to the stage. “Welcome to the first of many, many platinum parties for Dierks Bentley,” he roared. (Platinum certification means that at least 1 million copies of an album have been shipped to record stores. Bentley’s album was released in August 2003.)
Hank Locklin Jr., from the Country Music Association where Bentley used to work, presented the singer a certificate of achievement, noting, “Your music resonates positive good times. … We really, really think the world of you at the CMA.”
Pat Rolfe and Dan Keen of ASCAP, Bentley’s performance rights society, gave him a painting of Jake, at which point he called the dog forward and lifted him up to pose for photos.
“You’ll soon see how brilliant [Bentley’s] second record is,” Dungan told the crowd, alluding to Modern Day Drifter, which is due out May 10. “This guy is genuinely smart,” Dungan continued. “He makes great decisions.”
Clearly delighted by all the fuss, Bentley moved to the microphone and exclaimed, “It’s going to take me about six shows to pay for all the platinum records I want to send to everybody.” He singled out his co-producers, Brett Beavers and Luke Wooten, and Sony Music’s Arthur Buenahora for particular praise in helping him launch his career.
After all the awards were handed out, Bentley, sipping a Busch Light, readied himself to perform songs from the new album with his four-piece band. But he kept looking into the crowd as if waiting for someone. “I don’t want to play until my date arrives — a special date,” he teased.
Word had already circulated that Couric might show up, and she did, just as Bentley kicked off “Cab of My Truck.” Wearing blue jeans and a tailored jacket, she moved discreetly through the audience to stand about 12 feet in front of the stage, just outside the glare of lights.
When he finished his song, Bentley explained that he and Couric had been driving around Nashville in his truck earlier in the day, with the diminutive TV personality at the wheel. Then he eased into his second song, the suggestive “Come a Little Closer,” which incited a chorus of carnal yelps from several women in the audience. Joking that his association with Couric “is going to make me bigger,” he announced that he would be performing May 16 on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.
Bentley then left the stage to present Couric a platinum-album plaque, a move that brought out every photographer and camera owner in the room. After this blitz, he rejoined the band and wrapped up his three-song set with his current hit, “Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do.” Couric stayed on, signing autographs and grinning ritually for pictures.