Dierks Bentley Dedicates a Day to CMA

Dierks Bentley Dedicates a Day to CMA

By Bob Doerschuk

© 2012 CMA Close Up® News Service
/ Country Music Association®, Inc.

Through the CMA Songwriters Series,
fans around the United States and abroad continue to experience first-hand the
creativity of those behind-the-scenes Nashville pros who write hits for the stars.
At most of these shows, they benefit as well from hearing one participant who
straddles both sides of the line between writing and performing.

That honor
went to Dierks Bentley when he performed in a Songwriters Series show Sept. 6
at New York’s Joe’s Pub.  But he also devoted that morning to a visit
to PS 103, the Hector Fontanez School, in the Bronx, where a CMA donation of $20,000
enabled the school to open a music program for students for the first time. To
commemorate this first outreach beyond the Nashville area of CMA’s Keep the
Music Playing program, the artist shared his thoughts with an assembly of fourth-graders
about the value of learning about music – and was delighted when they started
singing along as he performed “5-1-5-0,” which they had rehearsed prior to his arrival.

“It’s a great honor to be a part of this, to get a bunch of musical instruments
to the classroom so teachers for the first time can have music as an option for
their curriculum,” he reflected while on his way out from Manhattan for this
event. “I’m really excited to see how all the money that’s been raised through CMA is being used here.”

Hours after receiving his surprise serenade, Bentley was back in Manhattan to
participate in that evening’s CMA Songwriters Series show at Joe’s Pub, along
with Jim Beavers, Jaren Johnston and host Bob DiPiero. The atmosphere there was
a bit different than at PS 103. Certainly the audience was older. But both of
these CMA initiatives are about bringing music to people in ways they might not yet have experienced.

“The big goal tonight is just to represent Country Music and CMA, to show
all the work that goes into Country Music and provide a wide spectrum of what
it is,” Bentley said. “What makes Country Music great, what comes out of these
writers’ nights, is the song. We pass along, hopefully, some great songs to
people, whether they’re Country fans or not. If they weren’t Country fans
before, hopefully they’ll walk out as new ones.”

Most who take part
in the Songwriters Series work behind the scenes, writing words and music that
singers might turn into hits. Usually, at least one participant is a high-profile
performer too. For them, these shows provide an interesting contrast to their usual onstage presentations.

“It’s totally different,” Bentley acknowledged. “Before my live shows,
I’ll be listening to the Foo Fighters or Van Halen at the loudest possible volume,
jumping up and down, going crazy. You have to get ready to go out and fight. Tonight,
it’ll be a laid-back hang with the guys. We’ll have some beers, laugh and
catch up. Then we’ll go out onstage with that same vibe, sit down on our stools,
tell some stories and have fun with the crowd.”

Some preparation is involved,
but spontaneity characterizes most of what happens in the CMA Songwriters Series.
“There are definitely no set lists,” Bentley said. “You keep some songs
in the back of your head and pick what you’re going to do by feeding off the
guy before you and setting up the guy after you. If the two songs before you are
about whiskey or something depressing, you want to pick it up — or vice versa.
That’s completely different from what I do every other day.”

A key
goal is to introduce the unsung heroes of Music Row and spotlight their songs
as examples of modern Country craftsmanship. But there are performance elements
in this setting too, just as on an arena stage. “This is really Bob DiPiero’s
thing,” Bentley said. “He’s the top — the Kenny Chesney of writers’
rounds. He can hold the audience in the palm of his hand. Guys like Bob and Rivers
Rutherford, they just smoke me every time in these writers’ nights.”

played his share of writer nights at the Bluebird Cafe, Douglas Corner Cafe and
elsewhere as a newcomer to Nashville in the mid ‘90s, Bentley more than holds
his own in any live situation — including a roomful of young fans at PS 103.
That experience stirred memories of his experiences with music education, at Phoenix Country Day School in Arizona.

“They didn’t have electric guitars in the school band,” he remembered.
“So I wanted to play bass guitar, but a guy named Ryan Fox had already lined
that up. So I had to go with the saxophone, which was definitely not my instrument
of choice. But it ended up being great. I learned to read music and to play along
with other people. It definitely planted a seed and showed me that music could
be played rather than just listened to.”

Bentley thought for a second
and then laughed. “I should have brought that saxophone along and donated it
today. It might have had more use than it’s getting now.”

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