“My faith, your love, our freedom” are three of the most important things to Dierks Bentley. His “What the Hell Tour” brought all three tenants to the stage during his June 4th stop at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey. The crooner brought his full energy to the stormy Sunday night show, all the while showing gratitude for his fans, his family, and the people out there defending our freedoms, including some Jersey City firefighters who presented him with an honorary t-shirt as a gift. Opening acts Jon Pardi and Cole Swindell echoed the same appreciation to the nearly 17,000 audience members, completing the sense of camaraderie on the mostly dry lawn during the 4-hour show.
The Virginia-born Pardi began the show by tipping his white cowboy hat to the crowd before launching into songs from his 2016 release, California Sunrise. This hat came up in a tongue-in-cheek ode to the lady wearing only the hat, Aptly titled “Cowboy Hat.” The songs were largely a mix of sweet mid-tempo ballads like “Night Shift and “Up All Night.” His most popular song “Head Over Boots” was solely responsible for getting all of the couples in the audience swaying and slow dancing. The stage was decked out with a wood fence and strings of patio lights, setting a vibe perfect for swaying along with your friends around a backyard campfire. Pardi’s 10-song set included his newest single, “Heartache on the Dance Floor,” which could follow in the steps of his brazen rock-inspired number one single, “Dirt on My Boots.”
Nashville Songwriter Cole Swindell brought out the audience’s party side. He performed his drinking singles including “Brought to You by Beer” and “Ain’t Worth the Whiskey” complete with red solo cup toasts. Swindell’s other kiss-off anthem “Hope You Get Lonely” was the set opener. The crowd cheered loudly when Swindell playfully declared his ex-girlfriend could hear us singing to her. As a practicing artist, Swindell has toured with some of the biggest names in country in the last 5+ years, most recently with Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean. Swindell has also made a name for himself writing his tour mates, including Bentley. During the show, Swindell performed a medley of three of his biggest credits, including Thomas Rhett’s “It Goes Like This”, Bryan’s “Rollercoaster” and Bryan and Florida Georgia Line’s collaboration, “This is How We Roll.” In showing his sensitive side, Swindell slowed it down for the dance floor breakup tune “Middle of a Memory” and “You Should Be Here”, a song dedicated to his deceased father. In true country fashion, he brought the 10+ song set to a close with “Let Me See Ya Girl”, a country song highlighting tailgates and dancing on truck beds.
In the darkness, Bentley brought electricity to the stage during his 20-song set. Fireworks were projecting in the screens while he launched into the tour’s namesake, “What the Hell Did I Say.” It’s a catchy morning hangover reflection of the promises he might have made to his girlfriend the night before, from flying to Vegas to be married by Elvis to a shopping spree at Louis Vuitton. Bentley brought plenty of drinking anthems to the set, including 2012’s “Tip it On Back” and 2011’s “Am I the Only One,” but mid mid-set showed a deeper emotional theme. Bentley honored the audience by coming back to the lawn and performing part of the set. As a lawn-dweller for this show, it was greatly appreciated. After running laps and shaking hands with the pavilion audience, he was handed a guitar. With an intimate band accompanying him, Bentley launched into inspirational songs like “Home” and Riser.” During these songs, Bentley thanked the armed forces, the firefighters, and anyone that might just be going through a tough time, for continuing to persevere.
Bentley is a devoted husband, but can sing a love song like it’s his business. He remarked to Swindell during their duet, “Flatliner”, that Swindell should sing one of Bentley’s songs if he wanted to get a girl. Pop singer Elle King joined Bentley on the opposite side of the stage for their post-breakup venture, “Different for Girls.” His other heartbreak songs like “Pickup” and “Say You Do” brought tears to the audience as we belted the pleading lyrics. On a lighter and lovelier note, Bentley and Pardi pulled off a flawless duet of the George Strait classic, “Check Yes or No.” Bentley also performed one of his most recent singles, “Black,” a tribute to his wife Katie, whose maiden name was the same as the color.
The show concluded with Bentley’s biggest hit to date, “Drunk on a Plane.” It’s a breakup anthem about a jilted groom that goes on his honeymoon alone and befriends the entire flight. The drum kit sat on a 15+ foot platform for the whole show, and as the lights came on, the platform split open and the front of a plane crashed through. One camera stayed on the plane and one showed the inside of the cockpit, with Bentley dressed as a pilot, sipping on a solo cup. As he stumbled out the plane and sang about his heartbreak, Bentley was joined by two additional victims for the last chorus, Pardi and Swindell.