The enthusiastic reaction to Dierks Bentley’s Nashville show last Wednesday (Feb. 25) should surprise no one.
He took the stage at the Stage as the frontman for his ‘90s cover band, Hot Country Knights. And from the videos I’ve seen, the stories I’ve heard and the tweets I’ve read, everybody loved that set of country hits from 20 years ago.
I think there’s a universal agreement, even if no one speaks of it, that the ‘90s were a really, really good time for the genre. Not necessarily better that the country music we have now but just a different kind of country.
I know this because one of my very favorite bands has been doing exactly what Bentley did at the Stage for about 10 years.
Their song list reads like a list of country No. 1 hits from the entire decade. And when this band -- Ryan Ideus & the Feudin’ Hillbillys -- comes through Chicago, I never miss them. They may not wear high-rise jeans and bolo ties and mullets, but the music is the same stuff Bentley covered.
Songs like Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee,” Trace Adkins’ “Every Light in the House Is On,” David Lee Murphy’s “Dust on the Bottle,” Tim McGraw’s “Down on the Farm,” Mark Chesnutt’s “Going Through the Big D,” John Michael Montgomery’s “Be My Baby Tonight,” Sawyer Brown’s “Some Girls Do" and more.
And while I wasn’t there for the Hot Country Knights show, I bet I know exactly how the crowd responded the minute the band started playing one of those hits. They went nuts because that’s exactly the kind of zealous feedback this Illinois band gets at every show.
How can one decade of music have such massive appeal, even now, some 20 years later? Why does a Toby Keith song from 1993 inspire a crowd singalong that a current song does not? And what makes ‘90s country the kind that gets people two-stepping in their seats?
I have my theories. But I’d love to hear yours.