Letters From Leton: Dierks Bentley Takes a Back Seat

During my years serving and working with the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance (BCMA), I have had a chance to meet many interesting folks. I count Dierks Bentley among them.

Dierks has been a noted performer for a long time. He was (and is) an admirer of a Public Radio Show called “Mountain Stage” (MT) that broadcasts out of Charleston, WV each week (locally on WETS FM 89.5). He likes the show’s focus on the songwriters who write songs for performers like him, so he sent word to the show that he wanted to play for them sometime.

On July 23, 2008, Dierks Bentley arrived in Bristol to perform at the Paramount Theater for a Mountain Stage show sponsored by the BCMA and my former Bank. Naturally, we hung around backstage during the afternoon up until show time.

Another musician playing in the show was Vieux Farka Toure, a blues player from Mali (West Africa), and the son of legendary blues player Ali Farka Touré (think the Bob Dylan of Africa). Vieux spoke very little English, and his songs were in French (Mali had been a French Colony). My friend, Fred, had previously met Ali at the 2003 Smithsonian Folklife Festival at which the BCMA had participated in and provided support. Fred helped Mountain Stage line up the entertainment and had suggested Vieux for this show with Dierks.

Vieux seemed to be a pleasant and happy young man, and I had tried to make some conversation with my limited French skills. It was mostly nods and smiles.

By 7:00 PM the Paramount was full with a tremendous buzz. I suspected the buzz was for Dierks. We took our seats in the back.

Vieux played before Dierks, and I could tell the crowd was thinking, “Who is this guy?”

Then it happened.

The crowd rose to their feet for a standing ovation after nearly every song. They called Vieux back out for an encore. The closest experience to something like this I have ever had prior was at a Bruce Springsteen concert.

Following, Dierks came out and played a great set, but the crowd was somewhat spent having exerted so much energy during Vieux’s performance.

At the end of the show, Mountain Stage has a tradition of bringing all the musicians back on stage for one final song. Dierks and Vieux were center stage, and they ripped into the final song. Then, something wonderful happened. Dierks pushed Vieux up front and allowed him to take out the show. Dierks was taking a backseat to this fellow whose music he was also unfamiliar with!

I thought that Dierks and Vieux had made a connection, and that was confirmed later when we went backstage as they hung out together the rest of the evening, even retreating into Dierks dressing room to play a few more licks. Later on, Dierks brought Vieux to Nashville to meet some folks, and I think they even recorded together.

I can’t tell you that I am a Dierks Bentley music fan. Outside of that night, I don’t know if I have really heard much of his music. But I can tell you I am a Dierks Bentley “man” fan, as I saw that night the character of a person sharing and caring for another musician.

Sometimes in our lives, at work, or in our communities, we let our egos get in the way. Our experience. Our title. Our knowledge. We forget the most important thing is getting the job done – whatever is in front us – wherever it may be – and sometimes, that requires stepping aside to let someone else fix the problem or tackle the challenge, who may do it better than we can.

I often wonder if I had Dierks Bentley’s talent and acclaim, would I have played second fiddle to an unknown (at that time) blues musician from Mali during that show? Would you?

– Leton

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“Letters From Leton” is a blog series comprised of the weekly updates that Leton Harding – President, Chairman, and CEO of Powell Valley National Bank, shares with the Bank’s team members. These newsletters are full of uplifting anecdotes and intriguing insights that are applicable beyond the Bank, so we want to share them with you.