Bill Vincent for The Boot
Dierks Bentley's phone never stops ringing the whole time he's settled in behind a desk in a small studio at the GAC network during our Day In The Life video shoot, and you wonder how the in-demand artist ever sleeps. "Can you hear it buzzing?," he asks, staring in dismay as it vibrates its way frantically across the desk, nearly landing on the floor. "I'll just put in on airplane mode," he says, defiantly tossing it behind him. "Hear that? It's really mad now," he says, incredulously, trying to shift his focus to the rather large task at hand.
Fresh from a late night playing with his longtime hockey team, Dierks is a bit groggy as he plows his way through six hours' worth of scripts for his popular radio show, 'The Thread,' which airs Monday afternoons on Nashville's historic WSM-AM radio station. The program covers a wide range of material from country music history, and Dierks' vast knowledge of the subject makes him the perfect candidate to host the eclectic show, which is obviously near and dear to his heart.
"'The Thread' came about when the program director sent me a text asking if it was something I'd be interested in, and I jumped at the opportunity," Dierks tells The Boot. "It's just great to get an hour of airtime, to get to play whatever I want to play, and have my voice and the songs I pick on there. To be a DJ on 650 WSM is a huge honor, and I love the radio station so much I couldn't pass up that chance. I really do love country music, the heritage of it and the tradition. I know a little bit about it and I hang out with guys who know a lot about it. Compared to them, I don't know as much but I guess compared to most, I do know a good bit about it."
Wrapping the last of the six shows, Dierks thanks Shannon and slips down the hall into the network's green room for makeup and hair preparation for the TV cameras. Then he grabs a quick bite of lunch, with Jake and George at his heels.
As Dierks returns to the lobby a few minutes later, Jake and George release a little energy, racing around biting each other and showing it's not all work and no play for these canine companions. GAC host Suzanne Alexander bumps into Dierks as she walks into the lobby and immediately reaches right for the dogs. "People always go straight for them, don't they?" she says as she pets Jake, his tail wagging furiously. "They're my camouflage," Dierks admits. "People see them and I just slip by!"
Parking the dogs in the green room, Dierks heads down the hall into the TV studio to film GAC's Top 20 Country Countdown with Nan Kelley. The two chat while waiting for the go-ahead from the master control room, discussing the damage to their respective homes from the flood. "My house still smells a little funky from all the water," says Dierks. "I don't know if it's mildew or what. We've been airing it out so hopefully that will help." "Try a dehumidifier," offers Nan, "they're not that big so they don't take up a lot of room but they definitely help."
During the 30-minute show, Dierks discusses his latest labor of love, his album 'Up on the Ridge,' which is receiving rave reviews and has earned him coveted appearances on national TV shows. When a teleprompter momentarily acts up during the taping, Dierks has a flashback to his recent appearance on 'Jimmy Kimmel Live,' when the power was knocked out, leaving he and his band to play acoustically at Jimmy's desk as the host taped the show with his laptop computer.
"There's something about me and TV shows that have caused them to shut down recently," Dierks says, laughing. "We were just downstairs goofing around and they came down and said they lost their power. I've done a few shows where it really wasn't a problem by the time it was time to do the show. But they just had no power and their backup generator wasn't working, so he really did tape the entire show on his laptop. Which is funny for us, because of all the bands that could have happened to, we had mandolin, banjo, Dobro, guitars, we really didn't need to plug in anyway. My mom always asks, 'How come you don't get couch time?' Because she wants us to walk over and get to sit on the couch. And I'm like, 'Mom, country artists don't get couch time, it's just not gonna happen.' The next thing you know, I'm standing right there, practically standing on his desk, so it worked out pretty good!"
Turning to his family for a moment, the expectant father proudly beams when he reveals that daughter Evie (who will be two in October) is a huge fan of the 'Ridge' record. "Oh she loves it," he says. "Whenever she hears it, she says, 'Da-da da-da,' and she really likes the fast ones, like [the album's title track]. If she were old enough to buy it, it'd be platinum!"
"And you'd be broke," adds Nan, laughing.
Bill Vincent for The Boot
Once the cameras are off, true to form, George quickly retreats to the green room while rock star Jake hangs around looking to score a bit more camera time.
Dierks ducks out of the studio for a few minutes before taping a third GAC segment, 'On the Streets.' When he returns to the green room, Dierks finds that his eager companions have an entire GAC fan club of crew members who are tapping on the glass and filing into the waiting area to show the superstar pets some love. A few minutes later, discussing his recent 'Up on the Ridge' tour with Suzanne, Dierks reveals that though he loves playing small venues, he still has to keep the business going with larger mainstream country dates. "I'd love to do one tour a year like that ... but we have to cover the bills! But I do really enjoy playing the smaller clubs."
With a brief window of time before his Opry appearance later that evening, Dierks says his goodbyes and heads out for a quick visit home. Loading up the dogs in his beloved old pickup truck with the Station Inn sticker on the back window (memorializing the fabled Nashville bluegrass venue), Dierks shows us just how much he lives in the truck. A hockey skate, fake grass, and an old pizza box are just a few of the treasures he reveals from the passenger side before jumping in to head south and grab a few precious hours with his family before spending time with his other family, the Grand Ole Opry.
Bill Vincent for The Boot
During soundcheck, Dierks is joined by old friend/bluegrass legend Del McCoury, whose version of the U2 classic, 'Pride (in the Name of Love)' is a standout on the new album. Dierks has assembled some impressive players to join him for his Opry appearance, including Sam Bush, fiddle player Casey Driesen, and singer Sonya Isaacs, whom he flew in from South Dakota just to have her angelic harmonies on 'Draw Me a Map' and a few other tunes. When Marty Stuart and Casey both arrive a bit after soundcheck time, Dierks holds an impromptu rehearsal right in his tiny dressing room. The harmonies ringing from the room and floating down the hall draw more than a few onlookers who pass by the doorway, and while many artists would use the time to make small talk with fellow guests, Dierks aims his laser-focus right where he always does -- squarely on the music.
That focus is evident on the new album, which is an amalgam of country, bluegrass and acoustic sounds and a bit of a departure from Dierks' usual mainstream records. He finds himself explaining why this album at this point in his career quite a bit these days, but he also understands that it was risky to rock a boat that was sailing so smoothly.
"Sure, it was a bit of a risk making this album," he admits. "We had success on this last album, two No. 1s and a lot of success at radio, and you don't want to lose your momentum. But I think what's always made my music special, and hopefully what people like about it, is we take chances and try different things. I'm a songwriter, I'm not just recording other people's music and trying to build a brand. I'm trying to do different things and go for different things and have every album be its own unique thing. I've handled my career in a way where people expect me to do things they might not expect, whether it be shaving off all my hair or making a bluegrass album."
Dierks is confronted with some of those career progressions, literally, when he heads down the hall to do a meet-and-greet with some Opry contest winners who are lined up and armed with CD jackets and pictures for him to sign. "Wow, my life is passing before my eyes here," quips the singer as he signs a succession of CD covers from the past six years. "It's reminding me of old girlfriends, and bad times, and good times!"
After his stroll down memory lane, Dierks returns to his dressing room and closes the door for a quick moment of reflection and quiet before making the short trek down the hall to the Ryman Auditorium stage. Soon he's out in the footlights, facing a packed house and performing tunes like 'Fiddlin' Around,' and 'Up on the Ridge' as the audience claps along. "This is the first time we've played 'Down in the Mine' together with Sonya live," admits Dierks, after bringing her out on stage to add harmonies to the tune. For Dierks, being surrounded by the right people is something he takes seriously.
"It's really important to me, an Opry show like this, whether it's TV or not," he says of this Tuesday night performance. "This is a radio show ... it's not like a big, televised show, but I did want Sonya here, because it's important for me to have her here, and Marty Stuart, and Del McCoury and Sam Bush. I just want to make the radio show as big and powerful and meaningful for these fans who came out to see it as it possibly can be and represent these songs right."
Rolling effortlessly through tunes like 'Rovin' Gambler,' 'Roll On Buddy Roll On,' and hits like 'Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go),' Dierks' is all smiles as he wraps up his Opry segment with some of his best friends around him. For a few minutes, all of the hard work and investment is worth it, and the payoff is evident in the smiles and applause of the approving crowd. Then it's back to the dressing room, that old truck, and that buzzing phone full of texts, emails and voicemails reminding him that tomorrow, another jam-packed day full of commitments -- and music -- is just around the corner.
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