Music News & Reviews

Dierks Bentley bringing his ‘in-your-face country music’ to Hartman Arena

The title of Dierks Bentley’s latest CD is “Home,” but it’s the road he loves. His tour stops in Wichita on Friday for a show at Hartman Arena, with Clearwater native Logan Mize opening the show.

“All I wanted to do is get on a bus and play music,” Bentley said in a telephone interview this week from Los Angeles, where he’d briefly left the tour to film a TV show with Garth Brooks and Carrie Underwood. “I love it.”

On the phone, Bentley is ultra-polite, apologizing twice for sleeping through a scheduled early-morning interview.

Neither Bentley nor his journey to country music stardom seem entirely typical.

Bentley said he was a teenager growing up in Phoenix when he started to play rock music on an electric guitar and “got into a lot of trouble.”

“My mom thought it best to ship me to school out East,” Bentley said. “I sort of left home at 14 and never went back.”

An elite boarding school isn’t the usual background for a country music performer, but Bentley had his conversion experience a few years later.

“At 17, I heard a Hank (Williams) Jr. song, and it just totally changed my life. I thought, ‘Wow, this is exactly what I want to do.’ ”

Bentley put in one year at the University of Vermont, then made his way to Vanderbilt University and Nashville. There, he did an internship at the Nashville Network, played for beer and hit every singer-songwriter night in sight before busting onto the scene in 2003 with a platinum-selling self-titled CD and the No. 1 hit “What Was I Thinking?”

The debut proved no fluke. His second CD, “Modern Day Drifter,” produced two more No. 1 hits, helping win him a Best New Artist Award from the Country Music Association and membership in the Grand Ole Opry as its third youngest member ever (behind Carrie Underwood and Josh Turner). Bentley’s subsequent albums produced three more No. 1 hits before he took a step back in terms of commercial success with the 2010 release “Up on the Ridge,” which landed no singles in the top 20.

However, Bentley said the heavily bluegrass-influenced album was just what he needed.

“Bluegrass music is really important to me,” Bentley said, adding that he knew the record wouldn’t get much radio airplay.

“I slipped off to make a record that was creatively important to me,” he said. “I don’t have an island to fly down to. For me, that was like taking a little bit of a mental vacation from the game.”

“Home,” on the other hand, has produced three No. 1 singles since its release in February, and Bentley is enjoying that success.

“Three No. 1s in a row — we’re stoked,” he said. “It’s been a wild year.”

Bentley describes his music as “pretty aggressive, in-your-face country music,” fueled by plenty of electric guitar and drums. Two of his latest hits, the jocular “Am I the Only One” and “5-1-5-0” certainly fill the bill. But Bentley co-wrote the serious-minded title cut four days after the shooting of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, intending it as patriotic song that recognizes the country’s problems. He performed it for President Obama at the White House and also discussed it on National Public Radio.

“I love our country and support whoever’s in office — the commander in chief. I got a chance to play there this year with the president a few yards away from me.”

As far as politics, he said, he doesn’t get involved.

Another song on the CD, “Thinking of You,” suggests that Bentley is away from his wife — whom he met in junior high — and their two small children more than he’d like. But you won’t guess that from his show, which Bentley starts each night with a prayer-pep talk among his bandmates.

“I’m going to tell you I love this group of guys,” he said. “We really are best friends up there. It doesn’t get old. It’s really been the most fun in music I’ve had since we started doing it.”