Bentley and friends showed up Somewhere on a Beach last night…Jones Beach, that is!
The breeze was right. The sun comfortable on a beautiful Summer day. And at 7:00 pm, the Burning Man Tour started with “up and coming” country band the Hot Country Knights. At once demonstrating great musical talent and comedy prowess, the Knights’ performance can be best described as a redneck version of the “Wayne’s World” sketches from SNL. But it was still fantastic, and a great Easter Egg for those that arrived early. No spoilers, but let’s just say those unknowns playing as you find your seat may just be more known than you think.
At around 7:30, Canadian rising star Tenille Townes took the stage for a respectable, yet disappointingly monotone, 25 minute set. Hers is a voice rich in uniqueness and steeped in an attention-getting nasal. Think Jewel, but without any of the wispy, dream-like quality. That is to say, Townes’ voice lacks the depth necessary to convey a range of emotions. Townes’ songwriting skills are top-notch, however. Her song, “Jersey on the Wall (I’m Just Asking),” about all the big questions one can have for God, was the best of her set.
As the sun began to set over the water at Jones Beach, Jon Pardi ramped up the energy, picking up the crowd with his rocking neo-traditionalist style of country music. For those that don’t know, ‘neo-traditionalist’ is someone who pairs a 90’s country music style, and loops.
OK, I might be a bit facetious with that description, but I truly believe people in Pardi’s class are the next evolution of country music. It is the natural middle ground for the Millennials just now gaining their fame. Neo-traditionalism sits somewhere between reverence for Brooks & Dunn, and respecting what Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan have brought to the genre. (Another example, Luke Combs, is also considered by many to be a neo-traditionalist).
But on this night, it’s Pardi’s time to party. (Yes, I’ve been waiting to write that line since last night.) Rocking a 12 song setlist, Pardi balanced between his original hits (“Dirt on my Boots.”) And new music expected on an album later this summer (“Me and Jack”).
Last night (a more than slightly inebriated?) Pardi provided an example of what an artist’s career is like before, as Dierks called in a Billboard interview, “blasting off.” Pardi has just enough hits to earn his middling spot, but does not yet have a Combs-esque collection of ubiquitous songs to launch his own headliner spot.
That is all about to change, hopefully, with the release of his third album on September 27th, Heartache Medication. Pardi also announced — from the stage at Jones Beach — a Hammerstein Ballroom show in NYC on the album’s release date, to be streamed by Amazon. Given his display of talent and humility, while somehow proving he’s just what country music needs right now, I hope he does indeed “blasts off.”
Finally, at 9:30, it was time for the main event: Dierks Bentley bounded onstage to a rousing rendition “Burning Man,” his 2018 duet with Brothers Osbourne, sung solo. The crowd hardly noticed (Sorry, Brothers!)
Next, after teasing “The Mountain,” Bentley launched into “Somewhere on a Beach,” pointing out its appropriateness for a venue situated literally on a beach.
Throughout the night, Bentley seemed genuinely in awe of the Northwell Health amphitheater. “If Madison Square Garden is the greatest indoor venue,” he shouted, “Then Jones Beach is the greatest outdoor venue!” If it was a platitude, it sure didn’t come off like one.
And so it was all night long, Bentley projecting an easy relatability that betrayed his own success. The song, “I Hold On” epitomizes this: for all of Dierks’ fame, he has never lost sight of what’s important in life. And his gratitude for that life was on full display at the concert.
The setlist was one of the best-constructed of any concert I have ever seen. Each song flowed into the next, sometimes without a button on the previous number. “Women, Amen” faded beautifully into “Black” (the latter being Dierks’ artsiest song of the night, with him performing the last verse with his back turned to the audience for a spotlight effect). Another example of such playlist expertise, “5-1-5-0” restored the party after the aforementioned emotional “I Hold On.”
Dierks’ class of country stars often gets flack for their treatment of women in their songs. Think of all the stereotypes lampooned in Maddie & Tae’s “Girl in a Country Song.” But, Bentley never fell into that trap. Quite the opposite, in fact, was on display at Jones Beach. “Woman, Amen” and “Different for Girls,” the latter sung with a returning Tenille Townes, were among the best moments in the show.
Speaking of returning openers, Jon Pardi joined Dierks and crew for a rousing rendition of Pardi’s hit, “Missin’ You Crazy.” “I’m not as drunk as last night,” he muttered as he took the stage again. Here, the obvious influence Brad Paisley has had on Pardi was in full view. Never mind that during his own set, Pardi switched guitars for nearly every one of his tongue-in-cheek songs (a Paisley trademark). Now, Pardi was fully parodying his own work, substituting the last line of his song as, “Missin’ Dierks Bentley.” They both cracked up.
“I’ll be your bartender,” Bentley said halfway through the set while introducing his band. And true to that, he was. On a B stage set up atop one of the lower bowl sections, “Say You Do” served as the romantic song on behalf of all the guys in the house.
Interestingly, Bentley’s band was comprised up of musicians from both Pardi and Towne’s set. It’s obvious that this tour is a true family affair. Even the DJ, AyDamn, was invited back to perform (really jump around) on the main-set-closing, “Sideways.” Bentley returned for a two-song encore; monster hit “Drunk on a Plane” and throwback favorite, “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go.)”
Dierks Bentley’s ability to entertain using a genuinely down-to-earth nature is nothing new in country music. But few pull it off so effortlessly as he does; if it needs “pulling off” at all. For certain, that Dierks does not seem to be contriving a stage presence is at the very core of why even his silliest rockers don’t come off with the stupid arrogance of FGL-“Cruise”-esque-bro-y-ness: Everything Dierks sings, he believes in. His music is not computer-composed hits for the Spotify era. They are a mix of serious and silly, all wrapped up in an earnestness too disarming to be falsified. Just like Dierks himself.