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Published: Thursday, 3/1/2007

Dierks Bentley's career is on fast track

BY BRIAN DUGGER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Dierks Bentley will perform tonight in the SeaGate Convention
Centre   minus his famous and much-loved curls.
Dierks Bentley will perform tonight in the SeaGate Convention Centre minus his famous and much-loved curls.
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It's a good indicator that a country music singer's career is headed in the right direction when he becomes the topic of conversation among NASCAR's best-known drivers.

For Dierks Bentley, he was the talk of Daytona International Speedway before performing at the Bud Shootout, a pre-Daytona 500 race. While at the track, he hung out in the pit area with Dale Earnhardt, Jr,, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, and several other drivers.

"Dale said to me, 'The only reason my girlfriend dates me is because she says I look like you.' I said, 'Yeah, right. It could be because you're Dale, Jr.'•" Bentley says, chuckling as he talks by phone from his home in Nashville. "And Tony Stewart pointed to a woman he was with and said, 'Man, she complained for 30 minutes when she found out you cut your hair.'•"

Oh yes, many country music fans have been consumed with talk of Bentley's hair. For most people, getting a hair cut wouldn't be a big deal. But for Bentley, those curly locks were one of the ways he was identified when he burst onto the country music scene with "What Was I Thinkin'?" in 2003. Women would walk up to him in stores and finger those locks. But they are no more. Clippers took care of the curls when he was filming a video for his current single, "Long Trip Alone."

"I was going to cut it the last day of my tour in Vegas, just cut it on stage. But I actually decided to do it during the video. I used the video as an excuse to get it cut," he says.

Bentley's now had eight singles on the radio, including big hits "What Was I Thinkin'?," "Every Mile a Memory," "Come a Little Closer," "Long Trip Alone," "Settle for a Slowdown," and "Lot of Leavin' Left to Do." He honed his high-energy stage show during countless bar gigs before landing his Capitol Records deal almost five years ago. But he was able to swell the ranks of his fanatical fan base during high-profile tours with George Strait and Kenny Chesney. This year, for the first time, he's headlining just about every show on his schedule. He'll be in Toledo, along with Keith Anderson, at the SeaGate Convention Centre tonight at 7:30.

"It's fun to call the shots, pick the opening acts, the lights, the sound, all the shots," he says. "I love looking out there and knowing this is how many people came out to see us. I love that pressure, knowing that Kenny Chesney isn't going to ride out on a white horse, you've gotta get it done yourself."

As the featured act, Bentley, 31, isn't limited to 30 minutes on stage, so he's able to play some of that bluegrass he used to play at the Station Inn in Nashville and sing some covers from Waylon and Hank Williams along with a growing stockpile of his own hits.

"You get that many people together singing songs you wrote, it makes it almost a spiritual feeling. It's an amazing feeling," he said.

Few artists have enjoyed the early success that Bentley has. Each of his three albums has gone platinum for sales of more than 1 million copies, including the most recent disc, "Long Trip Alone."

He has worked hard to achieve that success. He's involved in all aspects of his career. He's got a diehard fan club that spreads news about his career, and he usually carries a BlackBerry so he can answer e-mails from fans. For years, he was on the road as many as 300 days a year, building that fan base and developing as a performer. He sold his first house in Nashville because he was never home.

Now, however, he's settling into his fame. In December, 2005, he married his high school sweetheart, Cassidy, and he's bought another Nashville-area home they share with his beloved dogs, Jake and George.

"I have to force myself to relax sometimes. You can't live or die with every song. It's real easy to get hung up on that, but you've just got to say it's all good and don't get caught up in all the details," he says. "We've had a lot of success and built up a good fan base. It's OK to rest knowing that and appreciating that and not living and dying by the chart every week. I feel really lucky, really blessed."

Dierks Bentley and special guest Keith Anderson will perform at 7:30 tonight in the SeaGate Convention Centre. Tickets, $29.75, are available from the SeaGate box office, www.ticketmaster.com, or by phone at 419-474-1333. Read a review of the concert only online at www.toledoblade.com tomorrow.

Contact Brian Dugger at:bdugger@theblade.com.



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