• Review

REVIEW: Dierks Bentley at Riverbend Music Center

Photo Cred: Michael Gabbard Photography

It’s late Saturday afternoon, I'm in my car rushing to make it there on time. I have a pretty girl in my passenger seat with the windows down driving through the backroads of Brown and Clermont county before getting on the highway. Coming out of the speakers is “What Was I Thinking” a rocket ship of a country song that took over the radio stations sung by Dierks Bentley. The year could be something like 2005/2006 as I am headed to a football game or a secret house party, but instead it's 2024 and I have my wife next to me just after we dropped our son off for the night. I am trying to be a responsible driver but the tempo is shoving the needle clockwise and passing the 55/65 that is recommended.

As we were walking into a buzzing Riverbend, a younger but confident voice was singing out to the Cincinnati crowd doing his one and only job for the night, getting everyone warmed up and acclimated to this night of music ahead of them. His name is Graham Barham, a Nashville country artist from Louisiana. You can note that with his excellent choice of football jersey on stage. An LSU #9 Joe Burrow white jersey. Each song played by his band, a 4-piece outfit made up of drums, bass, electric guitar, and acoustic guitar, is a rowdy contemporary country tune that feels like it could be featured on the next Spotify premiere playlist for the genre or be in a head-to-head battle on the radio stations of the early 2000s that I was used to before streaming stole the show.

With a wireless mic in hand, Graham worked the crowd from one end of the stage to the other singing his songs "Bayou Boy," "Beer By My Bed," and "Lights On Nobody Home." He stops before he starts his next song to thank the people who came out to the show because of hearing him on TikTok and that he and his band would not be doing what they are doing today without the social media push he has had over the last year. That segues him into saying that he released a song a week ago, "Whiskey Whiskey," that got a million and a half streams in 5 days. The crowd cheers and they kick into the radio-ready tune. The band was a well-rehearsed unit and handled the 30-minute opener set with ease.

As they started into their last song, Graham took the opportunity to give advice to the young folks in the crowd that can fall victim to the doom-scroll pressure of social media and and the search for validation. Graham contrasted that you will not find validation in social media but in the love of God and Jesus. As the crowd cheered his band kicked into the last song of the set, “Break It In A Bar”. The band was super tight and Graham was holding nothing back and determined to leave it all on the stage. The band trash canned the ending and Graham shouted a big thank you. He signed a couple of things from the front of the stage and then headed off the stage. The band worked hard to clear their instruments and gear to make room for the next band.

Lee Brice was the direct support for Dierks Bentley on this tour stop, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Brice, a Nashville staple for 14 years, has released hit after hit including 8 Number One songs over the last decade and a half. Along with being an artist, he is known as an elite songwriter penning the songs he releases and others that were huge hits for other artists, which includes “More Than A Memory” released by Garth Brooks in 2007. He really needs no introduction to a country music fan and he didn’t wasn’t any time firing off hit after hit in his set with songs like “Parking Lot Party,” “Crazy,” “Hope You're Happy Now,” and “Drinking Buddies.”

He wore a black T-shirt, ball cap, and sunglasses while bouncing around from a Telecaster Deluxe model, a tobacco burst Takamine acoustic, and a red Strat that was relic’d with a paw print in the body. He chugged rhythm with the electric to start the set, pounded out some percussion on his acoustic guitar, and stepped with a solo on a Gibson 335 that would make most guitar players blush with how good of a solo it was. I never knew him to be as proficient of a guitar player, but man, was I impressed.

What drew me to Lee Brice a long time ago was he was one of the only artists in the late 2000s and early 2010s that you could see believed in the songs that he was singing. His emotive spirit was always on display, whether an up-tempo rocker or a love-focused ballad. He made me want to sing like that. He displayed that as well as his proficiency on keys during the ballad “I Don’t Dance” that he dedicated to his wife as his band exited the stage for that song.

Joining him back on stage after that was a country band with basic drums, bass, and electric guitar, but included an organ with a Leslie cabinet and a percussion section with congas, bongos, timbale, shakers, and wind chimes. They were a great band that knew their way around the songs and supported Lee very well. The harmonies were great.

Brice took a minute in between songs to talk about how gracious Dierks had been over the years and how Lee was driving a van and opening for Dierks a long time ago. Lee got the crowd into the show by drawing a tattoo for a fan with a sign requesting an artistic offering from Brice. They wrapped up their set with a couple of big and more recent hits “Rumor” and “One of Them Girls.” Brice shined once again on the electric guitar playing the opening riffs and soloing back and forth with the lead player as they jammed through the extended versions of the chartting singles. He gave a big wave to the crowd and walked off as the band played on to finish the set in a big trash can ending. The crowd cheered and then shuffled out to get their drinks topped off and get ready for Dierks.

The headline band walked onto the stage and started playing as the video wall displayed “Dierks Bentley Gravel and Gold” on it. The center of the wall opened up and Dierks came walking out to a big cheer from the crowd. He ran down the middle ramp of the stage to the wireless mic and took off. They rocked through the song “Feels Like Gold” as Bentley worked the stage back and forth. In the bridge, he called out to the crowd to test out how well they sounded by some call and response of “Feels Like Gold.” The crowd was up for the challenge and sang back to declare they were ready for the show!

Dierks Bentley has been a household name for the standard country music fan for 23 years and there was no doubt the fans showed up because almost every song was sung back to him the whole night. Kept the set moving with “Lot of Leavin’ Left To Do,” “Hold On,” “Am I The Only One,” “Living” and “Burning Man.” Each song had a custom backdrop on the big video wall playing off the themes of the tunes. Bourbon Barrels stacked up on “Am I The Only One,” a mountain and a blue setting sky for “Living,” and a pole barn on fire for “Burning Man.” Along with the consistent change of the video board, three of the band members rotated instruments with each new song. Three utility players played acoustic and electric guitars and mandolin, fiddles, and banjos, lap steels dobros and pedal steels. One of those utility players was the special Charlie Worsham, a phenomenal artist and songwriter in his own right, but an in-demand musician as well.

They kicked into the familiar yet different sound of “American Girl” the Tom Petty chart-topper that is Dierks Bentley’s new single on the radio. It was a folky take on the rock classic which called for mandolin and fiddle solos before the electric guitar closed the song out. The band was a stand-out cast of players including Dan Hochhalter on fiddle and guitar, Ben Hensen on Lead Guitar, the previously mentioned Charlie Worsham as utility focusing on guitar and mandolin, Tim Sergent as the other utility player with a focus on pedal steel, lap steel, dobro, and 5-string banjo. The band was given a really long introduction by Bentley with a video on the wall to highlight the antics that happen on the road. You can tell it is a brotherhood and a fun ride with those guys. He also gave a big shout-out to the “Dude Crew” which was his roadie crew, thanking them and letting everyone know the show wouldn’t be there without them.

The antics didn’t stop there as the band pushed Deirks to the back when Charlie Worsham stole his mic and the band kicked into “Calling Batton Rouge” the Garth Brooks standard. The whole time, Bentley fought to regain his position in the spotlight, although unsuccessful until the end of the song.

The band played four more radio singles from Dierks and finished with “What Was I Thinking” to the roar of the crowd. All the players in the band had moments to step out and have a moment showcasing their talents. Guitar solos were harmonizing and trading back and forth by the end of the song. Deirks declared that he loved coming to Cincinnati and “It isn’t summer until we have played Riverbend. Thank you for getting our summer started!” The band finished and they all walked off waving. The house lights go black and the expected encore starts with the song “Drunk On a Plane” playing. The video board is a passenger jet cockpit view at night and Bentley comes out with a Pilot jacket and Hat. He stands on an elevated platform in the center of the video board and sings the first verse and chorus before coming down to interact with the party crowd in the front row, passing out beers and beads.

They finish and the band walks off stage waving again, with the crowd starting to file out, but the house lights still aren’t on. Suddenly a video comes over the video board and it is the band getting to the tour bus with the legendary Jim Lauderdale driving the bus. Deirks requests that he take them “Back to the 90s” and Lauderdale punches in a year and gets the bus moving. The montage resembles “Back to the Future” and then HOT COUNTRY KNIGHTS gets displayed in radical 90’s font on the video board as a cartoon Astro Van pulls up on screen and the door opens as the band, now dressed in over-the-top 90s gear and wigs came bouncing out. This is Bentley’s alter ego band from the 90’s called The Hot Country Knights. They rip through classic 90s country hits like Travis Tritt’s “T R O U B L E” with the bass player singing, “I Like It, I Love It” by Tim McGraw with the electric player singing. Along with their clothes, their instruments were swapped out for ridiculous 80s and 90s axes. Pointy guitars, ovation acoustics, Keytars, and headless basses were instruments of choice for the band.

A medley of “Meet in the Middle”, “Without You Baby I’m Not Me,” “Heads Carolina,” and “Ackey Breaky Heart.” They finish with “Friends in Low Places” and the band jumps back into the cartoon van on the screen, except they didn’t wait for the drummer to get in. He gets left behind but owns the stage by getting the crowd to cheer and stop at his gestures. Finally, a crew member comes out to get him off stage and a “Scooby Doo” chase around the stage takes place until he is finally caught and carried off the stage. The house lights kicked on and that was that.

It was a fun and humble ending to a tour stop that showed how much fun the band has and how much Deirks Bentley chooses to entertain and have fun instead of taking himself too seriously, which I assume could be hard to do when there are multiple semi-trailers with you name rolling into the next town within 12 hours.

Dierks Bentley

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