If it sounds like Dierks Bentley has two last names — it's because he does. He was given a family name as a first name. But that's not the only unconventional thing about this country music superstar.
Bentley, who at 32 is the youngest member of the Grand Ole Opry, is grounded in tradition. But he's also an ambassador for country music, reaching out to hipsters and hippies alike. Like Dwight Yoakam and Travis Tritt in the '80s and '90s, he brings a rock swagger to country radio with hits like "What Was I Thinkin"' and "Every Mile a Memory."
"This guy is a staunch traditionalist, and he can debate you forever about traditional country music," remarked Mike Dungan, president and CEO of Bentley's label, Capitol Records Nashville. "But he grew up in a time when he was exposed to rock music and he loves U2 and Coldplay and bands like that. I think that combination comes through."
Bently will bring that eclectic mix to Utah on his "Throttle Wide Open Tour," which comes to the E Center Saturday night. Also appearing will be special guests Bucky Covington and Lee Brice.
Growing up in Phoenix, Bentley heard lots of country music from his father. But at 13 he learned to play electric guitar and got into the heavy metal "hair" bands of the day. Things changed after a friend turned him on to Hank Williams Jr. when he was 17. He immediately connected to Williams' rebellious swagger and redneck bravado.
"From 17 to 26, I listened to nothing but country and bluegrass," he said. "I was really hardcore about it."
Bentley loosened up as he got older and, oddly enough, found a niche playing in rock clubs. He even recorded a concert DVD at Denver's Fillmore Auditorium, a well-known hall patterned after the historic Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco.
"I liked it because people there really paid attention to the music. They got a beer and sat down and faced the band. They wanted to hear the music, and not just as background music," he said.
A road warrior (Bentley logged more than 300 days away from home last year), he's gained a following on college campuses and in the rootsy Texas music scene. He's played or recorded with bluegrass stars McCoury, Alison Krauss and the Grascals and written songs with Americana singer-songwriter Buddy Miller.
"I'm a Nashville-based band and a country act, but we do things differently than most mainstream acts," he said. "We're trying to take this music to new places."
If you go
What: Dierks Bently Throttle Wide Open Tour
Where: The E Center
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
How much: $27.50-$35
Web: www.smithtix.com or www.dierks.com