This is how bad it used to be for Dierks Bentley.
When he was playing Nashville bars in the late ’90s, the room would often be empty.
He said so in a tweet on Friday (May 20). “I used to play for just the bartender, and she’d walk outside sometimes to make a call. And there would be NO ONE,” he wrote after his show, with a video of that concert’s massive capacity crowd.
i use to play for just the bartender, and she'd walk outside sometimes to make a call. and there would be NO ONE! pic.twitter.com/0GX40UIbhZ
— Dierks Bentley (@DierksBentley) May 21, 2016
And on Saturday, before 20,000 fans showed up to see him, I had the chance to talk to him about those empty rooms.
“There’s a bar in Nashville called the Springwater Lounge and Supper Club,” Bentley said. “But there was no supper, and there was no lounge. It was such a dive that if it rained, the stage leaked.”
But come on.
Was it really ever empty?
Oh yes, Bentley assured me. So empty, that he’d turn around and play for his own band.
“Swear to God. I’d turn and face the guys and sing Merle Haggards ‘No One to Sing For (But the Band),'” Bentley told me of the deep cut off Haggard’s 1980 The Way I Am album.
“But at the time I didn’t care if anyone was there or not,” he added. “Because I was getting free Natural Light beer, and I was just glad back then to have a stage and a microphone.”
Since honing his craft on those stages when no one was looking, to filling an amphitheater all the way up to the top, Bentley has learned more than just how to entertain. He’s learned how to appreciate everything in front of him.
“I don’t take any of this for granted,” he said. “I think the key to a lot of stuff in life — and certainly kids make you realize this — is to live in awe as much as you possibly can. I am in constant awe when I look out at crowds like this.”
It’s never like, ‘Oh well, another show in Chicago.’ This is unbelievable, every single night,” he said. “It blows me away.”
Bentley’s next show is in New York at the Highline Ballroom on Wednesday (May 25).