Dierks Bentley Plays Inaugural Concert at U.S. Military Academy at West Point

The War Stories His Father Told Him Inspired This Show

When Dierks Bentley called me earlier this week, he was on his way to studio in Nashville with two dogs in the car. But he wasn’t calling to talk about new music.

Bentley was calling to talk about how honored he was to put on the very first concert at West Point.

On Oct. 18, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point hosted their inaugural show, starring Bentley and Dustin Lynch. And from Bentley’s perspective, it was well received by the Corps of Cadets, the faculty, the staff and everyone else who crowded into Michie Stadium — the official home of Army football — for the special event.

And it all started back in 2005, when Bentley played a military base in Baumholder, Germany. It was there that he became friends with the Army’s Jay Larsen and his wife Liz, who hosted him and his band for dinner at their home the night before the show. Bentley, who was just two albums into his career at that point, made an impression on the Larsens, and they’ve stayed in touch ever since.

So when Larsen texted Bentley about the West Point gig, Bentley told me that his first thought was an enthusiastic yes. “My dad’s no longer here, but I knew he’d think this was cool,” he said of his father Leon Bentley, who was a First Lieutenant in World War II, and served from 1943-1946 in the Philippines, Japan and Italy. He never knew his grandfather Richard, who was also in the military, but the stories his father told him will always be in his heart. “My dad was from a small town in Missouri, so I think he enjoyed his time in the military, being in Europe, and even visiting Harry’s Bar in Italy. He lost friends,” Bentley said, “he but made it through unscathed. He only had good stories to tell. I’d always look at his medals and his uniform, and I was always so curious and had a lot of respect for it. It was a big part of my life,” he said. “And it still is.”

Which meant that of course Bentley’s West Point set included songs about his heritage — “My Last Name,” “I Hold On,” and more — but he also played all the songs that make his fans sing along, military or otherwise. Songs that, he told me, set the mood for the party. Bentley and opener Dustin Lynch even did a George Strait cover of “The Fireman.”

“Everyone was so nice, and you could just feel a lot of pride in the whole place. The cadets down in front were going crazy. They were stoked we were there. And we were to stoked to give them kind of a reprieve from all they do,” he said. “It was the first time anyone has every come to play the stadium, and the first time anyone has ever sold beer at the stadium. I felt pretty good about that.”

Because Bentley was obsessed — his words, not mine — with music early on in high school, he never considered following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps. “Once music kicked in for me, then I was never moving towards that life. The music really just took over,” he said.

To celebrate all of our troops and our veterans, Bentley is releasing an exclusive Veteran’s Day shirt through his collaboration with Flag & Anthem. And all the proceeds will go to Folds of Honor. Major Dan Rooney, the fighter pilot who founded the charity that’s raised over $100 million and awarded over 13,000 scholarships to the family members of KIA or disabled soldiers, is a hero in Bentley’s mind. “He started this thing in his garage, and now it’s huge,” Bentley explained. “If you’re a soldier, that’s all you worry about. You want your family to taken care of. An education is the greatest gift you can give a military family.”

You can order the Camo Riser t-shirt here.

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.
@alisonbonaguro