DIERKS BENTLEY’S RISER TOUR REACHES NEW HEIGHTS IN BALTIMORE
November 28, 2014CONCERT REVIEWS
Riser Air made its final U.S. tour stop in Baltimore Saturday night, and what a night it was in Maryland! Having previously written about Dierks’ Congress, I’d been told plenty about what to expect from his live shows and how moving that experience would be. The chairwoman of his fan group, Ronna Clark, just attended her 60th show in Huntington, WV, two nights before I saw this one. It was my first Dierks concert and expectations were higher than Riser Air’s cruising altitude. Shows are often over-hyped and over-promoted to the point where they can’t possibly live up to the billing. In this case, Dierks’ Riser Tour truly rocked liked a G6 and left us all so high we may never come down. This flying adventure begins with the pre-boarding that took place the day before….
No one expects snow in November to jeopardize your travel plans, least of all, six to seven feet of it!! Dear friends from Buffalo, Patti and Bill McClintic, were set to make the six hour drive from New York to West Virginia on Friday to join me for this show in Baltimore on Saturday. Mother Nature, however, had different plans. Over several days, the area received record breaking amounts of snow, burying their house and resulting in a travel ban for the entire area, with all major roads out of Buffalo shut down. When the ban was lifted Friday morning, they began the harrowing drive, via back roads, to get to an open interstate that would bring them to Riser Air’s destination. When you’re being passed by snowmobiles on a freeway, it might be time to book a flight on Riser Air.
If you’ve never been backstage, or on stage, for a concert event, it’s an eye opening experience. Our day with the Riser Tour started mid-afternoon, with an incredible look at what goes on before the arena fills up with fans. Randy Houser’s inimitable drummer, Kevin Murphy, invited me up to sit behind his drum kit while it was sitting idly, waiting to be moved. It’s quite a view from up there, and if you’ve ever thought that there’s nothing to hitting some things with sticks for a couple of hours, try it some time.
The size of this particular kit, whose name is Thunderdome, is massive, and intimidating to say the least. There was constant activity happening all around us with crew members and band members all going about their usual pre-show routines. There are a lot of people involved in the set up of a concert stage and a lot that has to happen to make that show go off without a hitch. Both Randy Houser’s and Dierks Bentley’s staff members who were responsible for our meet and greet experiences, were organized and professional. Dierks spent what little time he had before his set with the group of us who’d gathered for the meet and greet. He played a little acoustically and set the tone for the engaging show we were about to see. Meeting him is like meeting a friend who’s genuinely happy to see you and cares what you have to say. I’d say Dierks set the bar pretty high for meet and greet experiences with this one.
Being that this was the last night of the Riser Tour in the U.S. and there was a good chance we were going to end up “Drunk On A Plane,” a particular beer vendor at the Royal Farms Arena did his part to induce that outcome. Shouting as if speaking to his congregation, he proclaimed to have the remedy for any of us who might be “suffering from the ravages of sobriety.” The coldest beer in the city of Baltimore was in his cooler and those of us lucky enough to be there should fork over the $8 and consider it our health care deductible for the night.
One of the down sides of meet and greets that happen just prior to show time is missing all or part of another artist’s set. I’d wanted to see Eric Paslay for awhile, but the schedule for this night had me standing in line backstage instead of in my seat watching him. I did, however, have the good fortune of being just off to the right of the stage where I could at least hear what he was singing most of the time. Not many opening acts would tempt me to give up my place in line to go out and hear their set instead, but if I were to do that, I’d go watch Eric Paslay. His voice was absolutely flawless – smooth and pitch perfect. Just listening to him without being able to see him made me feel like I was at a blind audition on The Voice. It was a test of a singer’s voice being able to move you without anything other than the song and their delivery of it. His band members, Jake Campbell on lead guitar, Matt Iceman on drums, and Tommy Lee on bass, were equally in tune with the incredible vocal performance Eric was giving. When flying, the passengers can’t see what’s happening in the cockpit. We sit patiently, with out seat belts fastened, hoping for a smooth landing. For this portion of our Riser Air flight, Eric Paslay gave us the smoothest landing possible. Ladies and gentleman, welcome to Baltimore. Your Riser Tour is about to begin!
For the next leg of our Riser Air flight, fasten your seat belts. Randy Houser is about to break the sound barrier! I’d seen Randy Houser just two months ago at an outdoor venue in Virginia. This time, he was at an indoor arena in Maryland. He could not have generated more thrust from a performance if he’d landed a 777 inside that arena. Randy Houser and his band don’t just take the stage, they explode from it. When Kevin Murphy picks up those drums sticks, don’t fight it – just ride it. And what a ride it was!! Randy’s stage set up is very different from most others in country music. Kevin’s drum set sits HIGH above the stage and there are risers to his left and right that hold other band members. There are lights and smoke that seem to be entirely generated by the heat coming off this band. The set list is a perfect showcase of everything these guys can do. From Randy’s radio favorites like “Runnin’ Outta Moonlight” and “Goodnight Kiss” to his latest hit single, “Like A Cowboy,” he slays a vocal like no one else. He’s able to finesse the power in his voice to suit the song appropriately and leaves you feeling like you wrote it. The intensity coming from the crowd as a direct result of his and the band’s performance was rocket launch powerful. Besides Randy’s ability to shatter glass with his vocals, he brings a band to the stage that you won’t find anywhere else in country music. Their purpose is to create music so powerful the audience will have no choice but to react and Randy facilitates that exchange. The always fashionable, Ward Williams, plays pedal steel and guitar; Justin Butler is on lead guitar; Tripper Ryder plays bass; and John Henry Trinko plays piano/organ. They are phenomenal to say the least and Randy is the catalyst for their monstrous contribution to the stage show. When this set ended, I checked my arm to see if there was an RH tattoo on it. That is how impressive Randy Houser was. Undeniably!
I’d heard a lot about Dierks Bentley’s live show from people who’ve seen him numerous times over the years. Turns out, everything they said was true…and then some! When Riser Air landed on the stage in the form of Dierks Bentley and his incredible band, Dierks the man, the entertainer, and the fan showed up. This was not a headliner who needed a grand entrance. He is as unassuming as any I’ve seen. He genuinely seems surprised when he enters the arena and sees thousands of people standing and applauding, as if he’s waiting for something to happen that’s bigger than himself. It was a celebratory evening being Riser Air’s final landing in the states and Dierks was ready to toast every mile that became a memory from the Riser Tour. He kicked off the party with “5-1-5-0,” followed by his other party favorites including, “Tip It On Back.” Thank you! Don’t mind if we do! The crowd was clearly ready to celebrate with Dierks and he embraced us like family with the heartfelt emotion he poured into every song. One of the standout moments of the evening was the song, “Up on the Ridge.” He stood with his band members on a high riser in the middle of the stage, video board as a backdrop. As beautiful outdoor scenes flashed by on the screen, the band’s euphoric interpretation of this song touched the soul. It seemed like a musical metaphor for the heights the Riser Tour has reached this year and the bond the band has with each other. Dierks held the middle spot between Brian Layson on lead guitar, Cassady Feasby on bass, Dan Hochhalter on fiddle, Tim Sergent on steel guitar, and Steve Misamore on drums. The level of musicianship here is as high as Riser Air can fly. Outstanding in their field indeed!
Dierks’ personality is the anchor of this show, and it shows up especially in the middle section of his set. He takes the time to tell stories of his music career and his life that make him just another guy who happens to play music for a living. He doesn’t ask for adoration from the fans, he gives it in every song and every story he relates. Heading to the back of the arena, he pays tribute to the fans in the cheap seats – where he once was. The story of his first concert with Bon Jovi is a crowd favorite, and his cover of “Living On A Prayer” is welcome music nostalgia. When bass player, Cassady Feasby, let fly his AMAZING line, “Livin’ On A Prayer,” the crowd went wild! Who knew Bon Jovi was in the house and masquerading as Dierks’ bass player? Give that man a microphone, because he can sing! Dierks finishes up in the back with “Say You Do” and a big dose of how close he is to the guys in his band.
The end of Dierks’ set on this night was emotional for him and the audience. “I Hold On” was preceded by the story of his white truck and his well used guitar. Everyone was cheering him on through this one, bringing their own emotion to the lyrics. He talked about how much this tour meant to him and how humbled he was to have Eric Paslay and Randy Houser as part of it. Dierks is a fan as much as he is a headliner and it showed in the exuberant way he expressed his gratitude towards them. The encore began with the song everyone had been waiting for, “Drunk On A Plane.”
He started singing this one and just let the audience have it. The look on his face was priceless as he leaned into the mike and then backed away to listen to the group effort this song had become. “Sideways” was a crowd pleasing anthem where Eric and Randy came out to join Dierks in singing and say good-bye to a tour they all clearly enjoyed. The final song of the evening brought a group of Navy Seals to the stage who got a big thank you from Dierks and the entire arena. “Home” was like ending with the National Anthem, Dierks style. He ended the night on his knees, thankful for the life he has and the job he gets to do. This show of humility and respect for the fans who make that possible isn’t lost on anyone, and it’s one of the reasons he’s a fan favorite. What stands out at a Dierks Bentley concert is his total presence in the moment. For the couple of hours that he was on that stage, he was happy to be in Baltimore, Maryland, and not wishing he was somewhere else. Fans have a choice when making their concert travel plans, and because of nights like this, we’ll always choose to fly Riser Air.
Note: If you find yourself in downtown Baltimore, after a killer concert on a Saturday night (past 11pm) in search of food and drink, you may encounter a myriad of problems. Most places close at either 10 or 11pm. The ones that are open at Power Plant Live won’t allow you to bring in a professional camera out of fear you may want to take pictures of the unknown guitar player in the corner. The only restaurant that was open and did allow the camera in was The Cheesecake Factory at the Inner Harbor. They couldn’t have been more gracious and our waiter, Steffan, ROCKED! There was just this small little problem when we tried to leave around 1:30am and they directed us to exit through a locked mall. Fascinating window shopping, and no crowds, but also no way out. For future reference, simply return to The Cheesecake Factory and they will let you out the front door. Ladies and gentleman, we are clear for take off.
From WAY NORTH of NASHVILLE…Bev Miskus
Covering our #countrymusicnation.
All of the photographs in this article are courtesy of Bill McClintic of 90 East Photography. Please visit his website to see more of his outstanding work and for professional inquiries: www.90eastphotography.com/home.html