Dierks Bentley brings the party to Budweiser Gardens
I fell for country music the same way I fell for my husband: unexpectedly, hard, and completely. Since then, I’ve had a lot of fun getting to know the movers and shakers of the genre. One thing I’ve learned about country music concerts: you can go into one having had the worst day of your life, and you’ll come out feeling almost euphoric. So, when I heard about the “What The Hell” tour, I could barely believe the list of performers. Dierks Bentley and Cole Swindell and Jon Pardi?! A jackpot line-up like that doesn’t come around often - which is why I was thrilled when Budweiser Gardens announced I was going to review the show for them in London, ON! Thrilled may be an understatement - I hopped around my condo so much I actually rolled my left ankle. Whoops.
Jon Pardi’s first single, “Head Over Boots,” was almost inescapable on the radio at the end of 2015. It also quickly became a song that was blasted in my car whenever it came on - much to the chagrin of pedestrians, I’m sure. I’d seen Jon once before, when he opened for Kip Moore in October, and he blew me away. This time, at BG, Jon seemed more comfortable and in command of the stage. It was apparent he was thrilled at how well-received California Sunrise has been here in Canada. He had a huge smile on his face the entire time, and he interacted well with the audience. His band was spot-on - something I had been hoping to hear, as the actual music he sings with is layered and rich. His dedication to having a sound that was more old-school was at the forefront, and the crowd lapped it up. People were bobbing their heads and tapping their feet from the first note to the last. He set a great tone for the evening.
After a quick intermission and set change, Cole Swindell came on. He, too, bantered with the crowd and got everyone fired up for his set, especially those who were lucky enough to be standing right up at the stage. Cole made use of the extended walkway often throughout his set, and because he was wearing a black hoodie and baseball hat, I often had to rely on the screens to find him! But that means he was making sure to interact with the crowd, which made people in every section of the arena feel included in the magic. I learned something last night that surprised me: Cole Swindell isn’t a guitar player - although with a smooth voice and energetic stage presence like his, he already puts on a hell of a show. His vocal versatility was especially noticeable when he changed gears, going from songs like “Middle Of A Memory” to “Brought To You By Beer.” One minute he’s pouring his heart out, and the next he’s yelling “Let’s get weird! Yeah!” This was my first time seeing him, and Cole definitely left a great first-impression on me.
Another intermission and set change - and out came Dierks Bentley. Now, I’ve seen Dierks perform a number of times, so I knew what to expect, but that doesn’t mean his performance had lost any of its magic. You can tell he has a real passion for guitar-playing; he really gives ‘er on that six-string! The acoustics of the Gardens did his strong, clear voice justice on delicate songs like “Black” and “Different For Girls,” and also on the hard rockin’ tracks like “5-1-5-0” and “What Was I Thinking.” It was easy to see that he and his tour mates have a real rapport and are enjoying every minute of this tour. Some of the best moments were between Dierks and Jon and Cole. The camaraderie and sheer joy of performing was evident; these men are living out their childhood dreams, and I think everyone in that crowded, boisterous arena - performers and spectators alike - knew how lucky they were to be there.
Ears ringing, my husband and I and nine thousand other people spilled out onto the streets of downtown London. Like most other out-of-towners (we live in Toronto), we headed straight back to our hotel. Slightly more hard-of-hearing, definitely less wealthy, but with memories to last a lifetime. Thank you, Budweiser Gardens, Jon Pardi, Cole Swindell, and Dierks Bentley, for an incredible night!