Dierks Bentley – What The Hell Tour 2017
Jan 25, FirstOntario Centre
Donning a nautical captain’s hat and shades saying “Ladies and Gentlemen this is your captain speaking…”, radio personality Toff from Kx94.7 was the first to greet the crowd and get everyone pumped for the show, priming us for the great night that lay ahead.
First up was Jon Pardi who kicked off the night with his song “Paycheck”, asking it to take his blues away. The stage design was simple, with a wooden fencing motif giving the show an authentic redneck Country vibe as Pardi’s 6-piece band jammed. After his next tune “Heartache on the Dance Floor” Jon shouted in his thick southern accent “What’s up everybody?” to a roaring reply. When a fan offered him a beer, he uttered “I can’t take a beer, but I bet Dierks might… but I CAN sing a song about drinkin’” to which he sang another great number “What I Can’t Put Down”. Before the next song he took a moment to tune his guitar, citing G-string issues, and exclaimed there are “always G-string issues at a concert right?”. Once tuned up, he performed “Night Shift” followed by the title track from his album “California Sunrise” and my toes were involuntarily tapping after the first chorus. His smash hit “Head Over Boots” was a very popular tune that everyone was anticipating, and Jon and his band delivered. “Up All Night” was next, and Jon closed the set with his hit single “Dirt on my Boots” to a crazed stadium full of fans. He threw his guitar pic into the crowd and strutted off stage, and the lights went down.
After a brief intermission, the room filled with thunderous booming and lots of flashing and rolling lights as Cole Swindell started his set at the top of a huge platform that spanned the length of the stage, while singing his hit “Lonely Tonight”. Wearing his signature ball hat and a leather jacket, he was brought down by an elevator at center stage. Cole showcased his prowess as a lyricist with his self-penned tunes “You’ve Got My Number” and “Brought To You By Beer”. During his number 1 hit “Chillin’ It” a female fan tossed a red bra to him from the front of the stage, and he asked “That’s how you chill it in Canada?”, eliciting a cacophony of screaming fans responding affirmatively. While he performed I was struck by how his voice was the same live as it is on his recordings, and his polished stage presence made it easy to like him as he was all smiles and constantly high-fiving every fan within reach. He shared how he moved to Nashville nine years ago because he was tired of performing other people’s songs, and it was his songwriting skills that impressed me most as he did a medley of songs he has written for other artists, including Thomas Rhett’s “Get Me Some Of That”, Luke Bryan’s “Roller Coaster”, and Florida Georgia Line’s “This is How We Roll”. His next song “Kiss” was a fan favorite, but when he started “Middle of a Memory” the room erupted with fanfare. Cole told us there were five songs off his “You Should Be Here” album that he didn’t write, and his favorite was a clever song called “Remember Boys”. Then he hit us with his chart topping songs “Ain’t Worth The Whiskey” and “You Should Be Here”, and EVERYONE sang along. Cole told us of another song he wrote that sounds like it’s from 1994 (a fact of which he takes pride) called “Raise Em up high”, exclaimed he loves that we call Hamilton “The Hammer”, and warned everyone that “we might get a little redneck” and asked us to let him lay it all on the table. During his last song “Let Me See Ya Girl” he introduced his band members referring to them as his family, returned to the top of the stage where he made his entrance, and was doing an overhead arm wave as he descended back down the elevator, leaving everyone feeling that Cole Swindell is not just an incredible hit singer/songwriter, but also a fantastic showman and genuine human being as the stadium went dark for the second intermission.
Next, in the blackness of FirstOntario Centre, the music started with just a banjo and fiddle as spotlights revealed just those players at opposite sides of the stage. The kick drum started as another overhead spotlight shone on the drum kit. Then the stage lit up to show five players close to center stage – Dierks Bently was the center musician, holding his acoustic guitar up high as he strummed along with the band and they kicked into “Up On The Ridge”, followed by “Free and Easy”, to which the crowd would sing the tag line from the chorus for him as he held the microphone up high. “Tip it on Back” was his next tune, and he yelled “Wednesday night Come ON!!” as the fans screamed in emphatic reply. Dierks commented on how he had never seen so many fan-made signs, and there were plenty, most requested to “Shotgun a beer with me” or “Cold One? Shotgun Let’s Git er done”. He asked “Is this Boots and Hearts or what?” and proceeded to pull four fans from the crowd onto the stage to share a beer shotgun..!! Wow!! Next he started his hit “Am I the only One” during which he was running all over the stage, sometimes flailing airplane arms as he did, bringing the crowd energy through the roof. “5150” was next, followed by his ballad “Say You Do” during which he encouraged everyone to “get your cellphones up” filling the stadium with flashlight apps illuminating his performance while he dedicated the song to his band and crew. Dierks expressed gratitude for such a huge crowd on a Wednesday night and commented that it felt more like a Saturday night crowd. He then asked both the guys and then the girls to scream separately. The girls were louder, which pleased him since he said he likes it when there are more girls in the audience as it allows him to showcase his sensitive side, leading into to his smash hit duet “Different for Girls” in which he sang both parts while every female in the room sang along. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a letter from a girl in Bracebridge Ontario, and mentioned the co-writer of “What was I thinking” Derek Ruttan who is also from Bracebridge, and promised to do that song a little later in the set. He told us how he likes hanging on to old things; he still drives a 1994 truck, and still plays a beat up guitar… a perfect introduction to his single “I Hold On”, after which he threw his guitar pic into the crowd. “Every Mile a Memory” started after some seamless guitar changes by the band, and footage of previous Dierks concerts and his personal home videos (including his late dog Jake) played in the background. During the songs outro he turned and watched the video clips, sipping his drink in quiet reflection. After a quick shout out to Cole Swindell, Dierks called Jon Pardi back out to sing a George Strait song with him, explaining they will be doing a different George Strait tune each night of the tour. Tonight’s song was “Amarillo By Morning” featuring his fiddle player, CMA award winner Dan Hochhalter. Fans loved his new single “Black” and the familiar “Feel That Fire” during which a fan handed him a cutout of his head on a stick! In full party mode, while singing Dierks grabbed a video camera from the film crew and took some video of his own. Then he walked INTO the crowd, his location place marked by the spotlight that followed him all the way to the back of the stadium. Giving high fives to everyone along the way, at the other side of the stadium he stepped up on an entirely different stage placed there for him to perform for the people in the back!! Talking to the crowd like they were all his friends, he sipped an American beer and said it tasted like water. As I was turned around in my spot to watch him perform from afar, I was reminded why live concerts are so compelling– the ENTIRE audience was turned away from the main stage to watch him “live” on the smaller stage across the room, despite his image being displayed larger than life on the video screens directly behind them. This was proof of people’s preference for a “live” experience… which Dierks was giving in abundance. He was handed a guitar, and started “Riser” acoustically; after the first chorus the rest of his band (except drums and steel) joined him on the “alternate” stage as the fans sang along. The band members were all handed replacement instruments by the stage hands while Dierks told everyone they like to get drunk and go curling, appealing to this Canadian audience. They performed “Home” and Dierks thanked Hamilton for “making us feel at home everytime we come”. Giving the “other side” of the room a close up show exemplified how much he gives to his fans. He walked back to main stage (taking his time, high fiving fans the entire way) and then called Cole Swindell to join him on stage! Dierks announced that Cole is still single, and asked if there are any single nurses? Cole said he wished Dierks’ his band had learned his song “Flatliner” and when Dierks said they did Cole’s mouth dropped open as the band cut into the tune which both artists sang together. Dierks and Cole grabbed a fan’s GoPro camera on a tripod and did selfies together… it was one big party..!! After Cole left the stage, Dierks pulled a pair of shades from his back pocket and put them on to sing “Drunk On a Beach”, and he grabbed an audience members beer and took a drink. Uttering “Who’s beer is this?” a stagehand brought him a fresh beer which he gave BACK to the fan, saying “Trade ya, that one’s too warm”, tossing away the empty can, giving a cold beer back. A class act all the way. The anticipated performance of his huge hit “What was I thinking” was next, and during the solo Dierks ran to the top of the drum riser and sat on the edge with legs dangling over the steep drop. During his next hit “Sideways” a fan handed him a sign that read “Worked all week it’s time to play”, and Dierks introduced each of his band members, thanked everyone for coming, and walked off stage to a frenzied crowd of fans.
During the next 2 minutes of darkness the crowd went into an uproar that would not be silenced. They had not had enough yet… The stage lights started to come back on, and there was a rumble of thunder. The energy in the stadium went into overdrive as the drum riser split open in the middle and a full-sized airplane cockpit slowly came out, with Dierks at the helm in full pilot costume: a navy suit jacket with 4 silver stripes on the cuffs, shirt and tie, even a pilot captain’s hat and sunglasses. The band started playing his fan favorite hit “Drunk on a plane” and as Dierks started singing the audience lost their minds. To our surprise this excitement was further heightened as Jon Pardi and Cole Swindell exited the plane holding drinks. Dierks ripped off his pilot costume pants by grabbing the thighs and pulling forward like a male stripper (his jeans were on underneath). He even brought a little cowboy from the crowd onto the stage, switched hats with him and posed for selfies with him and Cole and Jon, then high fived the lucky young fan! After the song ended it was like a major party on stage, with band members and crew alike enjoying the high from the evening. Dierks and his drummer were having a conversation, and you could tell the drummer was concerned about throwing his sticks into the crowd and injuring someone – so he handed them to Dierks to throw instead. Dierks gently tossed a drum stick to a fan that was close so no one would get hurt. An amazing performer who supports his fellow artists and obviously cares about his fans, Dierks Bentley gave one hell of a show and is a class act all the way.