Phoenix-born and -raised country star Dierks Bentley already won a prestigious Horizon Award from the Country Music Association in 2005 — given to the most promising country newcomer — and if his Dodge Theatre show Thursday night is any indication, Bentley will soon win a CMA Entertainer of the Year award as well.
“He’s not Nashville country,” said Ted Babbitt, 26, who drove down from Flagstaff to see Bentley’s show. “He’s real country.”
The hometown boy, dressed down in a black button-down shirt and his trademark wallet chain hanging from his blue jeans, kicked off the show to a raucous crowd — a nearly full house of 6,000 fans — with his latest No. 1 country smash, “Every Mile a Memory,” followed by the rocking “Can’t Live It Down” from Bentley’s 2006 No. 1 disc, “Long Trip Alone.”
At ease in front of the hometown crowd, Bentley said, “Thanks for inviting us to your hometown — my hometown!” and burst into his hit “Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do” as the crowd jumped to its feet, singing along with the lyrics. Bentley then played one of his few non-hits of the evening with “Cab of My Truck” before getting things going again with the smash hit “How Am I Doin’ ” and the neo-honky-tonk “Domestic Light and Cold.”
Unlike the last couple of times he came through town — as a supporting act for George Strait and Kenny Chesney, both of whom have taken home Entertainer of the Year Awards — Bentley dispensed with the rhythm guitar duties for most of his set, opting instead to take hold of the mike and run along the stage slapping hands with his fans, who were more than willing to give Dierks high fives.
With three top-selling albums, Bentley has plenty of hit material to choose from, and one of the highlights of the set was when the singer blended the Hank Williams classic “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” with his own No. 1 hit, “Settle for a Slowdown,” drawing the crowd to its feet.
Bentley finished with a rush of new tunes, including “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)” and “That Don’t Make It Easy Loving Me,” before busting out another No. 1 single in “Come a Little Closer” and following with his breakthrough hit, “What Was I Thinkin.’ ”
“I love Dierks,” said Anthony Martinez, 23, of Tempe. “It’s country, but it’s modern country — country and a little rock ’n’ roll.”
Opening act Miranda Lambert finished behind Buddy Jewell in the inaugural season of “Nashville Star” — the country equivalent of “American Idol” — but the singer proved herself a major talent by tearing through “Me and Charlie Talking,” “Bring Me Down” and an incendiary version of her hit, “Kerosene,” which had the first rows headbanging as if they were at a Metallica show.
Hand-picked by Bentley to open the show, Texas’ Randy Rogers Band whipped the crowd into a lather by performing “Just a Matter of Time” and their new single, “Kiss Me in the Dark,” the video of which is now being shown on CMT.