Red-hot country performer – and one-time liquid waste pumper – Dierks Bentley will rock the house in Louisville


How’s this for the hottest ticket in town: The Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo International and Dierks Bentley.

The can’t miss trade show for environmental services professionals collides with the can’t miss country music performer of the past year. When Bentley takes the stage at Louisville’s Freedom Hall March 5 to entertain Expo attendees, he will have just learned the fate of his three nominations from the 2010 Grammy Awards.

Bentley has had numerous No.1 hits on the country charts since his 2003 debut album, but last year’s bluegrass-influenced record, Up On The Ridge, catapulted his career to a new level. Recording with an ensemble of the hottest new stars – Punch Brothers, Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson – Bentley produced the contemporary country music that built his career, but using the acoustic instrumentation that fueled his love of country music in the first place.

“I had a blast making this record. It was the most fun I’ve really ever had making a record. Bluegrass music is what really first got me turned on to country,” Bentley said in an interview with Gas, Oil & Mining Contractor. “I don’t think I’m a traditionalist. I love country music and putting my own stamp on it. And using (acoustic) instruments is a big part of the formula; I want to push the boundaries of what you can do with them.”

A PUMPING PAST

While Bentley’s music is sure to be a big hit at the Saturday Evening Jam, there’s another reason Expo attendees will enjoy the down-to-earth, 35-year-old performer: He’s worked in environmental services as a liquid waste pumper. One of the many jobs Bentley had before landing a contract in Music City was pumping out holding tanks on houseboats at Lake Powell in his home state of Arizona.

“I loved the lake and I loved being up there,” Bentley explained. “In the mornings, I’d go down and show the customers how to drive the boats, 35- to 60-foot houseboats. When the boats came back, we’d clean them from top to bottom, scrub the roofs, the decks, pump out the tanks, and get them ready to go the next morning.”

Boats typically had 250-gallon holding tanks, and that waste was pumped through a pipe system installed at the marina, Bentley recalled. Careful evacuation of the tanks and constant cleaning on the boats is vital because Lake Powell provides a freshwater supply for an expansive desert territory in the Southwest.

Bentley says he’s always enjoyed physical labor (he also built decks for a time and retrieved golf balls at a driving range) and has an appreciation for hard work. The jobs he didn’t like were in Nashville offices while he paid his dues in the music business.

“I poured coffee all over this town and worked in every building in Nashville before I got a publishing deal,” he recalled. “I like physical labor, but emotionally being in Nashville and working day jobs while trying to get a record deal was the toughest.”

QUIT THE DAY JOB

Bentley doesn’t have to work day jobs anymore. In 2003, his first single, “What Was I Thinkin’” topped the country chart. His 2005 album, Modern Day Drifter, went platinum, and that year he became the youngest member of the Grand Ole Opry and received the Country Music Association’s Horizon Award. He followed with the 2009 album, Feel That Fire, which included two No.1 hits, the title track and “Sideways.”

Then Bentley had a thought. What if he returned to the bluegrass music he fell in love with when he arrived in Nashville years ago? So he called his friends in the band Nickel Creek and started planning Up On The Ridge.

“I’ve always been a big fan of Nickel Creek and I knew (mandolin player and singer) Chris Thile from bounding around in the bluegrass circles. They were really out there with the progressive acoustic music and I really enjoyed what they did,” Bentley said. “I had moved here to do country music, and I walked into a bar and they were singing country songs using acoustic instruments to do it. I really fell in love with that sound, and it gave me a foundation to start from.”

Thile’s new critically acclaimed band, Punch Brothers, recorded a number of tunes with Bentley, including a daring cover of the U2 hit, “Pride (In The Name Of Love).”

Besides the Punch Brothers, the song features the high lonesome sound of bluegrass legend Del McCoury. At first, Bentley said friends didn’t understand his choice to cover the legendary rock band, but “Pride” became one of several hits from the record, which also features “Bad Angel” with Lambert and Johnson, and the title track. Both “Pride” and “Bad Angel” were nominated for Grammy Awards, and Up On The Ridge was nominated for Best Country Album Grammy.

“It’s a tough song to cover, but you know if you’re going to cover a song by a group like that, pick a big one,” Bentley says of choosing a U2 song. “It was a little daunting. They’re one of my favorite bands, and you knew going into that song that it’s going to go one way or the other. Either it’s going to get a Grammy nomination or it’s going to be a disaster. We’re lucky it went in (The Grammy nomination) direction.”

ELECTRIC & LOUD

For the Pumper & Cleaner show, Bentley will perform an acoustic set from Up On The Ridge, but mostly he and his five bandmates will be plugged in and rowdy at Freedom Hall, a venue he’s enjoyed playing numerous times.

“The shows tend to be electric and loud. We like to have a good party atmosphere going,” he said. “But we’ll break it down and get the upright bass and banjo out and do some things from this record.

“It’s important for us to have a high-energy show and a lot of fun. If it’s a good night for us, everyone else will have a good time,” he said. “This is one of the first shows we’ll have for the year and everybody will be extra excited to be out there playing.”

It might be hard for Bentley to pry himself away from his family in Nashville to start touring again. He, wife Cassidy and daughter Evie, welcomed the birth of their second daughter, Jordan Catherine, a month ago on Christmas morning. But he’s looking forward to meeting Expo fans and said he might bring some photos from his pumping past to share.

“These are the folks I hang out with at shows,” he said. “The hardworking people.”


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