Dierks Bentley’s next CD, Up On The Ridge, is due out next week on Capitol Records. It has garnered a great deal of music media attention, and not primarily because he has multiple #1 hits on country radio and two platinum albums.
What has everybody paying particular attention this time around is the fact that this project is a self-described tribute to the bluegrass and acoustic Americana music that transformed his artistic vision when he first encountered it live. There are quest appearances by such luminaries as Del McCoury, Sam Bush, Alison Krauss, Chris Thile, Rob Ickes, Stuart Duncan and more.
Whenever we post news about more mainstream artists taking a bluegrass turn, we get email from disgruntled grassers who object to outsiders jumping on the bluegrass bandwagon. I have sometimes had sympathy with this complaint, but after speaking at some length with Bentley not long ago, I can assure you that he is a true-blue grasser, a serious student of the music, and someone who has used his industry clout to help further the careers of his bluegrass buddies when the opportunities arose.
The bluegrass bug first bit when Dierks made the move to Music City in 1994…
“I first moved to Nashville when I was 19 years old. I was hanging out on Music Row, looking for a way to get into the business. Garth Brooks had left a big wake in Nashville, and I felt kind of lost in a big town.
I happened to find The Sidemen at The Station Inn, and it was a moment of discovery for me. I thought ‘this is the coolest music I have ever heard!’ Until then, bluegrass to me was Roy Clark and Hee-Haw, and I was at the Station every Tuesday night for quite some time.”
Bentley started attending the IBMA conventions, held at the time in Louisville, KY. He met up with a young Chris Thile and they became friends and pickin’ pals. Ditto Terry Eldridge (now with The Grascals) and Jason Carter who was working with Del McCoury.
“I became a bluegrass geek… went to all the Ryman grass shows and started hanging out with Terry.
I had the chance to meet Peter Rowan and talk with him, and he told me to spend as much time with my heroes. Terry gave me an education about bluegrass and The Osborne Brothers, and I started doing writers nights, and hung with Jason Carter.
Shoot… I bought lawnmowers off Gene Wooten!”
Dierks has just concluded a month-long tour to promote Up On The Ridge, where he performed with The Travelin’ McCourys as his road band, along with his regular drummer and steel player. He said that his country fans really enjoyed the shows, which started with a rip-roatring version of Train 45, followed by Free And Easy (Down The Road I Go), one of his #1s.
He summed up the attitude he has taken with the new album and the tour succintly:
“The whole point is to get away from the grind and have some artistic freedom.”
We’ll have more from the Dierks Bentley interview, plus an audio sample from the CD next week.