ROME, Ga. — Known as one of Nashville’s hardest-working artists, Dierks Bentley got his record deal and then spent 300 days touring during his first year. Four years later, it doesn’t look like he’s settling for a slowdown anytime soon.
Bentley’s Throttle Wide Open tour debuted Thursday night (Oct. 4) at the Forum Civic Center in Rome — Rome, Ga., that is.
Texas singer-songwriter Jack Ingram is opening the shows, and he comes from a place where honesty in lyrics and the ability to play will earn you respect much faster than having good hair and a great pair of jeans. However, his recent success in mainstream country indicates that he’s managed to conquer both worlds.
Straight off the Brad Paisley tour, Ingram explained how he and Bentley hooked up.
“It was late at a bar one night and … I was drunk,” he jokes. “Dierks has been showing his face in Texas for a long time just as a guy from Nashville who took an interest in what was going in Texas. So I’ve always respected him and liked his music and have known that he was aware of what we were doing down there. So we started hanging, and every time, I’d say, ’Hey man, we need to tour together.’ He took out Randy Rogers, Miranda Lambert, Cross Canadian Ragweed.” Ingram laughed, adding, “I think I was just next on his list.”
Accompanied by his Beat Up Ford Band and a fog machine, Ingram’s 30-minute set highlighted his hits, including “Wherever You Are,” “Love You,” “Lips of an Angel” and “Measure of a Man.”
After successfully charging up the crowd, Ingram exited to allow the road crew to transform the stage for the headliner. Bentley’s production for the new tour consists of a large main stage and two side stages connected by ramps. There’s also a small stage that extends into the middle of the crowd.
Bentley is putting his club-playing experience to good use, taking that interactive feel and applying it to his shows. A plain backdrop replaces fancy video screens, his incessant running from one end of the stage to the other takes the place of pyrotechnics, and the only dancing girls you’ll see are the ones in the audience.
On his Throttle Wide Open tour, Bentley continues to find ways to connect with his audience by literally getting into the crowd, holding hands, hugging and bringing people on stage. He even signed autographs after the lights came up at the end of the concert and the roadies began breaking down the equipment.
The show got off to a phenomenally energized start, with Bentley popping up on the right stage and darting marathon-runner style to the left while singing his latest hit, “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go).”
“Every Mile a Memory,” “Settle for a Slowdown” and “How Am I Doin'” all followed, as did a few album cuts, including “Trying to Stop Your Leaving.” Telling the crowd that “Long Trip Alone” is the favorite one he’s written, he said, “It started as a love song and became spiritual.”
After singing “Domestic Light and Cold,” the crowd responded by raising their beer bottles in the air. Bentley then opened a refrigerator disguised as a massive speaker to reveal his own supply of the beverage supplied by his tour sponsor. Popping the top and taking a swig, he paid homage to Hank Williams with a few lines from “There’s a Tear in My Beer.”
Demonstrating his skills as a bluegrass musician, Bentley and his band, complete with the upright bass, took the stage in the center of the venue for two songs, including “Prodigal Son’s Prayer,” which he co-wrote with the award-winning bluegrass group, the Grascals. Moments later, it was just Bentley and his guitarist onstage for an acoustic performance of “My Last Name.”
“I wrote this song about my dad,” Bentley said. “He fought in World War II, and all he took with him when he went was his last name on his uniform. I wrote this for him, and I dedicate it to those serving.”
Closing the show with “A Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do,” Bentley returned minutes later for an encore. Using the house lights as a tool throughout the show to create a feeling of closeness with the audience, the lights stayed up as he turned Waylon Jennings’ “Are You Sure Hank Done This Way” into a duet with Ingram.
Bentley’s Throttle Wide Open continues this weekend with shows Friday (Oct. 5) in Tallahassee, Fla., and Saturday (Oct. 6) in Perry, Ga.