Dierks Bentley is a modern-day troubadour playing 200 shows a year. Given travel time, that’s 300 bus days on the road.
But just try to slow him down.
He recalls his struggling days along a Nashville street lined by honky-tonk bars where guitar players and singers mostly work for tips. Or for nothing.
A rare few – like Bentley – get discovered.
Bentley, whose 2003 self-titled debut sold more than 1 million copies, has been spending the summer – where else? – on tour, supporting his latest release, “Modern Day Drifter.”
Q. Before this tour, you opened for George Strait and Kenny Chesney. Was it tough playing second banana?
A. You know that you’re going there to do your job, get people loosened up, maybe liquored up a bit, ready to start really partying when the guy who’s nice enough to take you out on the road and give you this opportunity comes on the stage. You try to tweak some people’s interest, make some new fans, so they’ll come out and watch you play your own show.
Q. So are these guys mentors?
A. I always feel like my band and I are just one step beyond a van and a trailer (for instruments). We do have a bus and a trailer and that’s it. Chesney has, like, 14 semi-tractors and trailers. He really shows you how big it can be.
Also, you see how hard he’s worked to get where he is and how involved he is with all aspects of his career. The same with Strait. You learn a lot from those guys about what it takes to get to that level and how to do it when you get there.
Q. You’re known for signing autographs until the last fan goes home. Does that get old?
A. There are many nights you don’t feel like signing. You’re out there for two hours; you’re really drained. The last thing you want to do is go back inside the bar, but I got a sign in the bus that says, ‘We sign every night’ taped to the front of the bus where I unfortunately can’t miss it.
You see people (who’ve) been waiting since like 2 o’clock to get into a 10 o’clock show. … You get back out there and start signing for them, it just makes you feel lucky to be signing.
Q. Don’t you look forward to a day to just kick back?
A. If I’m on the road for 10 days, I want to play music for 10 days in a row. If it’s a Sunday, go find a club, make some new fans. Sittin’ on the road someplace, not playing a gig, it’s no fun.
Q. Any preferences?
A. I’d rather go play at a place that’s set up like a rock bar – people come in and stand in a pit facing the stage, not doing a whole lot of dancing – more just listening and drinking beer and having a good time. I think it’s way cooler than playing your standard kind of meat-market country kind of place where nobody’s paying attention to the band. Ya know, all the guys are trying to find the girls and you’re just background music. You’re just wallpaper. I want all their attention.
Q. Like the girls in the little white tank tops from (the line in his hit song) “What Was I Thinkin’ “?
A. There’s always a lot of white tank tops in the crowd. Some of them land on the stage. Maybe that’s why the guys are coming out. Maybe that’s why I come out.
Q. Any downers to being on the road all the time?
A. We don’t get to play a lot of places where there are fancy things like dressing rooms all the time and bathrooms, which is nice to find. It really (stinks) when you pull up to a fair and say, “Is there a bathroom anywhere here?” and they say, “Well, there’s a (portable outhouse) over there.”
I got fans all around the bus, and I can’t just walk off the bus and say, “How y’all doing? I’m just going to step into the potty right here.” Then you come out and they say, “Hey – you got some toilet paper stuck to your shoe there, big star.”
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