Dierks Bentley Dierks Bentley had his set list all ready to go for his headlining show at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium over the weekend. That is, until Mom called.

"You are going to do number 10?," Cathy Bentley asked her son when she called to tell him the surprise news that she was flying in for the show. The number 10 she was referring to was the tenth cut on Dierks' upcoming 'Up on the Ridge' album, a Kris Kristofferson song called 'Bottle to the Bottom.' What could Dierks say? "Yes, Mom," he told her. Thus the change about a quarter of the way into the set list Saturday.

Dierks didn't seem to mind making the change, and the musicians backing him had no problem making the adjustment. Those musicians included special guests Jon Randall (who produced Dierks' new album), the Punch Brothers featuring Chris Thile, and Del McCoury, all of whom helped him sing a few new tunes, along with stripped-down versions of his familiar hits.

"I thought for the final night, coming back and ending this experiment of combining bluegrass and country music at the Ryman would be the coolest thing," the singer told the audience after the Traveling McCourys launched the show with a rousing version of 'Foggy Mountain Breakdown.' They followed with the first song of the evening from the new CD, 'Fiddlin' Around,' followed by Dierks' hit 'Feel That Fire.'

Fans didn't seem to mind that the instrumentation was bluegrass -- with fiddle, steel guitar, banjo and mandolin, and that the hit songs sounded a little different. They screamed and clapped or sang along to the tunes they knew and reacted positively to the new music that was liberally sprinkled throughout the two-hour set.

"It means a lot to me knowing you came out to be here with us, with that big show just down the street," Dierks said at one point, referring to the Carole King/James Taylor concert at Bridgestone Arena not even a block away. He needn't have worried; his tour sold out the Ryman to a combination of hardcore Dierks fans and bluegrass aficionados who came out to hear how the singer approached combining country and bluegrass and to see the McCoury crew and the Punch Brothers. The Traveling McCoury's are the Del McCoury Band minus its namesake -- Del's sons Rob and Ronnie McCoury on banjo and mandolin, respectively; Jason Carter on fiddle and Alan Bartram on bass. The band was rounded out with drummer Steve Brewster.

In introducing the title cut from the new album, Dierks explained that it came out of his desire to build a cabin on some land he owns outside of Nashville so that he could have a place to go and get away from everything. "On this acoustic tour, I decided we'd do the same thing ... bring along a little moonshine, some great musicians and a dog named Jake. We've been playing small venues, because I love that vibe. We've been real low key with lots of banjo, fiddle and mandolin."

The singer paused a moment, then added, "You know I wasn't going to bring along a drummer because it is an acoustic tour, but Steve and I have played together since my days at Marketplace Brewery. He begged me to come along, even when I told him bluegrassers don't like drums. But I had to bring him along."

While most of the set was upbeat and kept the crowd clapping along, Dierks introduced another tune from his new album that featured twin fiddles, a slow mournful dirge titled 'Down in the Mine,' which he could have plucked from an early 1900's Appalachian front porch concert. Instead, he and Jon co-wrote it for the album.

"This song took on new meaning after the recent events in West Virginia," he said, referring to the Massey Energy mine disaster in April which resulted in 29 deaths, the worst mining disaster in the history of mining in the U.S. since 1970.

Dierks brought out special guests the Punch Brothers, explaining that they were very much an inspiration for the new album. During their time onstage, the band performed 'Rovin' Gambler,' 'Senor' and a song from their upcoming album, 'Rye Whiskey.' Dierks sat the latter out, watching Chris and band members from the sidelines as they performed the lively tune.

Being in Nashville has its advantages, one being that it's a sure bet Del McCoury is going to be there to watch his band perform. Dierks took advantage of that to bring the bluegrass master onstage to the delight of the audience, which rose to its collective feet when Del came out. Dierks and Del introduced a classic U2 tune, 'Pride (In the Name of Love)," which they performed with the Punch Brothers. Del remained as his band returned to the stage, and performed 'A Good Man Like Me,' which he penned and Dierks recorded on his second album.

Dierks didn't disappoint fans who wanted to hear his hits, as he scattered 'Settle for a Slow Down,' 'Sideways,' 'Come a Little Closer' and 'How Am I Doin'?' throughout the show. The latter featured a detour in the middle, as opening act Hayes Carll returned to the stage to join in on the George Strait hit, 'All My Ex's Live in Texas,' before Dierks finished out his tune.

Dierks encored with a Pearl Jam tune, 'Just Breathe,' with Rob McCoury accompanying him on banjo. "When I was younger all I knew about the banjo was what I saw on 'Hee Haw,' and I thought it was just a funny instrument. I didn't get it until I came to Nashville and heard Rob pay at the Station Inn. It was beautiful, and we're gonna apply that to this song, which I'm sending out to my wife, Cassidy."

He called the band back out for 'What Was I Thinkin'?' and the Jerry Reed classic 'East Bound and Down,' which also took a detour with the Bill Monroe instrumental 'Wheel Hoss' incorporated into it, featuring all the musicians coming onstage to show off their picking skills one more time before the 'Smokey and the Bandit' theme song took Dierks and friends to the end of the line for the evening and the tour. Dierks spent some time shaking hands and signing autographs after a long standing ovation from the appreciative audience.

Hayes Carll had been opening the Up on the Ridge tour since it hit the road in April. He brought his dry wit and country roots tunes to the mix of acoustic music. "I'm excited and it's such an honor to be performing at the Ryman tonight," he said. "I can't think of a better way to wrap up this tour than here."

Dierks' 'Up on the Ridge' album will be released June 8.

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