Editor’s note: See exclusive behind-the-scenes coverage of Dierks Bentley’s trip to Europe when the new episode of CMT Insider premieres Saturday (Jan. 28) at 1:30 p.m. ET/PT.
Dierks Bentley readily admits that he’s not a fan of overseas flights, but he could not resist a chance to take contemporary country music to Europe. Sponsored by the Country Music Association, Bentley and his band made their way through music clubs in Ireland, Scotland and England, establishing a curious fan base, meeting the international press and pausing just long enough for a pint (or two) of Guinness.
Prior to his London show, Bentley paused to talk to CMT Insider about how the British react to music, why he’s comfortable playing in small venues and the first thing he’ll tell people when he returns to the U.S.
CMT: Have the audiences been any different than you expected them to be?
Bentley: Yeah, the audiences are a little different than the way I expected them to be. We’re kind of spoiled in the States. We’ve got great fans and sold-out shows, and we get used to having sold-out shows and people going crazy, and you don’t have to work as hard. We’ve worked really hard to get to a place where you don’t have to work too hard to get them out of their chairs. Here, they’re a little more reserved, they really listen to the songs, which is really neat, too.
In Nashville, there is a place called the Bluebird Café, and it reminds me of bigger versions of the Bluebird Café. We played in Scotland the other night. They’re at the edge of their seat, and as soon as you get done, they’re going crazy. They’re clapping, they’re going crazy and then they get quiet again, listening. And so every time you have to get them going again for each song. But that’s just the way they like to listen to music. They just really listen to the words, the melodies, the lyrics. That doesn’t mean they’re not as excited as the U.S. fans. They just have a different way of doing it.
It’s really like starting over again, isn’t it?
Yeah. When you come here for the first time, it really is like starting over. We’ve built up a really good following in the U.S. We’ve toured for, like, three years, so we’ve got a really good fan base in the U.S. and one that has slowly developed, and I think we’re in a really great place in the States. But over here, you’re definitely starting off again. You’re playing some smaller places, which is kind of nice because when I get done playing, like when I got done playing the other night in Dublin, I’m able to go just sit on the edge of the stage and start signing autographs. There are only a couple hundred people, so you’re really able to hang out and hopefully meet the people who will be your first fans in that particular city for years to come because we definitely have plans to come back here and play as much as possible.
Do you have to check your ego and not have your pride hurt at these shows?
Yeah, I guess you kind of have to check your ego at the door. I don’t think I have much of an ego when it comes to music. I’ve spent so much time playing small bars and clubs. We’ve gotten the U.S. pretty slowly. For me, it looked pretty slowly … for someone else it might look pretty quick. I’ve played a lot more small bars than I’ve played big arenas. So it’s been a slow rise over there, as far as I’m concerned. So I come over here, I feel pretty at home when it comes to these venues. They’re small, and people don’t know who we are, but I’ve played that way for a long time when no one knew who I was. And I have a great bunch of guys that I share the stage with every night. … It’s a little bit of a challenge to play somewhere new where you don’t have any of the built-in fans, so to speak, and see if you can kind of win. I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job.
Was the Guinness factory priority for you?
I’m going to go back to the States and they’re going to be like, “What’s Europe like?” And I’ll say, “Well, I saw the Guinness Brewery. That’s about all I saw, but it’s pretty cool. I was over there for about 18 days, and I saw a beer factory.” No, but the Guinness thing, that was one thing that we really got a chance to get out and do because we all have been out here trying to make some new fans and whatnot. But that was definitely a highlight — just getting out to meet people from that city, seeing what people from Dublin are like and learning more about the history of Ireland. Certainly, I didn’t really get to do much in Scotland, and I didn’t get a chance to do much here in London. I’ll be back again. I’ll definitely be back and build up on the relationships we started with the fans and the music critics and everyone that we’ve met over here.
You may have to alter your lyrics to “Domestic, Light and Cold.”
Yeah. I was talking to someone here about Guinness. I’ve been drinking a couple of pints of Guinness, and everyone knows I like the domestic light cold beer — the cheap, free, watered-down American draft beer. I told someone, “Don’t tell anyone I’ve been over here drinking all this Guinness. I don’t want any of my people back over there to know I’ve been selling out.” The Guinness is good, but I look forward to getting back out there at the fairs and festivals and the Chesney tour, and we’ll stay true to our roots — the domestic light and cold. But actually, over here Guinness is the domestic, so that’s kind of the disclaimer I have.
What will be the first thing you tell someone about this trip when you get home?
When I get back to the States and see a lot of my friends I haven’t seen in a while and a lot of the people at the record label — and just fans, too — I’m sure they’re going to have a lot of questions about Europe. I’ll be the first to tell them I really didn’t want to come over here too much because I’m not a huge fan of overseas air travel. It takes a few domestic light colds on the plane to get settled in.
But once you get here, it’s wonderful. The people are great. They truly are music lovers. They love music over here. The food’s great, the pubs are awesome. … If you can afford it, and if you get the time and the money, and you can come over here, definitely make the trip. It’s worth it.
Terry Bumgarner is a producer for CMT Insider.