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Published: Friday, 8/13/2004

At home on the road: Dierks Bentley spends a lot of time on tour - that's the way he likes it

BY BRIAN DUGGER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Holbrook? Hermiston? Dierks Bentley's not sure where he is.

"Hey guys. Where are we at?" He yells to a member of his band from the bus.

He's in Hermiston, Ore.

"I get lost out here on the road," he says with a laugh. "We play so many fairs. I just see the ferris wheel when we first pull up. But then you start talking to the setup people, and each fair kind of takes on its own identity."

Next week the Academy of Country Music's Top New Artist will be in Henry County and Lenawee County for shows on Wednesday and Thursday.

Those will be two of the more than 210 shows he's doing this year. At the beginning of the year, he was touring with George Strait, then he hit the road with Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban. He's been on the road so much that he sold a new home he just bought in Nashville.

"I gave up the fight of trying to manage a home life and a road life. I stuffed all my things into a storage shed. I can't even get to my life anymore," he says, chuckling. "Now I spend about $175 a month to rent a houseboat. That's where I sleep when I'm in [Nashville]. Most of my life is on a bus, and I love it. The best part is I get to see a whole lot of the country. I've got my motorcycle with me, so I can get out there and see the country, taste it, meet people. I've seen some amazing views."

It's been an incredible ride for Bentley since signing a deal with Capitol Records more than two years ago after kicking around for a while in the Nashville clubs. His self-titled debut album has topped sales of 500,000, mostly on the strength of his smash single "What Was I Thinkin'?" That song shot to No. 1 and spawned a horde of white-tank-top-clad female fans because of the line in the song about the girl wearing a white tank top. He followed that up with "My Last Name," and his current single, "How Am I Doin," is inching toward the Top 20.

"The crowds are growing in size, and they're getting louder, and you see more people singing the words to my songs. And of course, there are more white tank tops," he says.

The challenge for any successful new artist is maintaining that momentum through a sophomore album. Most of that challenge comes in trying to find time to put together the album.

"I talk to a lot of new artists. They all seem to say they never have time to write for a second album. The last thing you want to do coming off the road is sit down and write," he says. "I try to make writing a priority. If I get a day off, I'll spend four or five hours writing. If I have down time at the airport or on a plane, I'll write."

That writing should pay off in the spring, when Bentley is expecting to release his second album. He'll be taking 10 days off next month to record, and the first single could be on radio later in the fall.

"It's going to be more of the same," he says. "It will be a lot of songs you can drink beer to. Some you can raise hell with, and some you can shed tears with."

At his shows next week, he'll be trying out a couple of songs he has in mind for the new project. Former Toledoan Michelle Poe will once again be by his side, playing the bass guitar. As has been the case since the beginning of the year, Bentley will allow her to sing a couple of her own songs. It's a high-energy show that feeds off the crowd's enthusiasm. Bentley's concerts have set several festival attendance records across the country this summer.

"We stand for country music and cutting loose. For a couple of hours, we're going to have fun."

Dierks Bentley will perform at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Henry County Fairgrounds, State Rt. 108 on the southern edge of Napoleon. The concert is free with gate admission. Information: 419-592-9096. On Thursday, Bentley and Trace Adkins will perform at 8 p.m. at the Lenawee County Fair, 602 North Dean St., Adrian, Mich. Tickets, $26, are available at Michigan Meijer stores, by calling 517-263-3007, or www.starticketsplus.com.

Contact Brian Dugger at: bdugger@theblade.com or 419-724-6183.



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