Dierks Bentley Crafts a Perfect Awards Show Moment

When regarding the 2021 ACM Awards, which transpired Sunday evening (4-19), there’s really nothing to rave about when it comes to who won, and who lost. The awards themselves were a who’s who of the Maren Morris’s, Dan + Shay’s, and Old Dominion’s of the world who aren’t country, and aren’t even particularly great as pop acts either. Chris Stapleton’s Starting Over winning for Album of the Year was about the only bright spot, and even that feels like just a ho-hum, predictable pick.

But there were some really stellar performances on the evening, in between quite a few subpar ones as well. Really, Carrie Underwood stole the show, being afforded an extended 7-minute slot, and making the most of it with Gospel material from her recent album My Savior, and joined by CeCe Winans. Alan Jackson also made his first appearance on an awards show in some five years, singing “Drive,” as well as “You Will Always Be My Baby” from his upcoming album Where Have You Gone.

It was cool to see Miranda Lambert bring Jack Ingram and Jon Randall up on stage with her for what ended up being one of three performances from her on the night. She also started the show off with Elle King, which resulted in additional face time for another cool artist, even if that performance felt a little overwrought. Mickey Guyton both hosted, and turned in a quality performance of her own, and the only thing that went wrong for Eric Church’s performance is he had to follow Carrie Underwood.

But on a night when the headlines will gravitate to Maren Morris’s big wins for Female Artist and Song of the Year, Carrie Underwood’s soaring Gospel performances, and the ridiculous pick of Luke Bryan for Entertainer of the Year, it’s the performance Dierks Bentley composed that deserves to be selected out of the crowd of moments, and shined a spotlight on.

Billed as a collaboration with the soul/Americana duo The War & Treaty, it was certainly that, but it was so much more. Along with Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Blount of the duo, sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell and other members of the band Larkin Poe comprised the instrument section for Dierks, who decided to perform from The Station Inn in Nashville, not from the stage, but removing all of the venue’s tables and playing from the audience section.

It’s easy these days for awards shows and the like to try too hard to address race in their presentations, and come across as performative and pithy in a way that feels forced, with subtlety and sensibilities loosely considered. Dierks Bentley performing “Pride (In The Name of Love)” originally composed by U2 about the Martin Luther King assassination in a bluegrass style could have been one of those moments.

But some may forget that Dierks Bentley originally covered the song on his 2010 bluegrass-inspired album Up on the Ridge. Some may also forget that Dierks Bentley started primarily in bluegrass, and performing at The Station Inn in Nashville, which just suffered a tragedy in the death of their long-time owner JT Gray in March.

It wasn’t just the arrangement, the cool special guests, the poignant setting, and the timing of it all, it’s how it all conspired to create a special moment and a rather spectacular performance that in the throes of the otherwise mediocre ACM Awards really shined out as something sincere and heartfelt.

Dierks Bentley can get easily lost in the mainstream set because he’s not an ostentatious character, either with his music, or his public persona. He lets the work speak for itself. His recent side project Hot Country Knights was hilarious and super cool. But it sort of slid under-the-radar—sort of like Up on the Ridge did—or maybe was just bad timing to be launched during a pandemic.

But in a lack for new material to perform, Dierks selected the perfect song, with the perfect set of collaborators, from the perfect place, and turned in a darn near perfect performance. There was even a bell toll at the end of it, which rang from the big cowbell that hangs over The Station Inn’s bar, and only rings out whenever someone turns in a special performance. And the Dierks & Co. performance was certainly special.

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