Dierks Bentley: Three Days That Changed My Life (2009)
originally published April 13, 2009
It’s a happy Dierks Bentley who enters his house a few short blocks from Nashville’s famed Music Row, puts down his guitar and greets his “boys”—aka dogs Jake and George. He immediately begins to play with them on the living room floor of the comfortable three-story home he shares with wife Cassidy and their six-month-old daughter, Evie (rhymes with Chevy).
But why shouldn’t Dierks be happy?
He’s about to do a photo shoot for his first-ever solo CW cover story (he shared the cover with George Strait in ’95). The title cut and first single off Dierks’ acclaimed new Feel That Fire CD went No. 1 on the charts the same week the CD debuted at the top of the country album charts. His latest single, “Sideways,” is getting great reviews. He’s having a blast touring with Brad Paisley. And he’s head-over-heels in love with his wife and child.
Plus, Dierks and Cassidy love where they live, although they jokingly call the house “OST”—operation sore thumb—because it does indeed stand out among the older, more traditional Southern homes in the area.
“It’s a slice of pie,” smiles Cassidy of the house’s tall, triangular shape. “It’s a pie in the sky, with a juvenile detention center motif,” chuckles Dierks. But he’s definitely being too hard on the place, which has an open floor plan and a warm modern vibe with excellent light on the main floor—thanks to a wall of floor-to-ceiling folding glass doors that open onto a fenced patio and its remote-controlled fire pit.
A personal touch in the form of two holes in the patio’s steel gate might appear to be an artistic statement, but they are in fact intentionally cut at the perfect heights—one taller than the other—for Jake and vertically challenged George to look out through the door.
“I tell you what’s the key to this whole house, and why I’ve always loved it,” explains Dierks. “It’s the quality of life. I can walk to my management company from here. I can walk to the studios where I do most of my work.
“And when I’m gone, Cass can walk across the street to [a coffee and sandwich shop]. She can take Evie to the post office, they can go to the dry cleaners. She’s got friends nearby and she’s able to be around spontaneous happenings, as opposed to being stuck out in the middle of nowhere. I’m right here in the middle of my career, but I can walk in this door and escape it. It’s home.”
As he’s talking, Cassidy brings a sleepy Evie down from upstairs. A little uncomfortable because she got her first shots earlier in the day, Evie flashes a heartbreaking grin as her daddy sings her favorite song—and it’s not one of his. It’s “All I Want to Do”, by Sugarland!
Watching Cass and Evie, Dierks readily admits that coming home off the road now is nothing like it was before he had a family. “Before I was married, the bus would pull in and all the other guys who had wives would be sitting basically next to the bus driver. As soon as we’d stop, they’d bounce out the door. I’d be like, ‘Guys, don’t leave yet! We can play one more game of John Madden football! Let’s hang out!’
“But now, it’s like I’ve got somethin’ I gotta get back to. By the time I get home, I can’t wait to walk through this door. Even though our house isn’t some crazy, big thing, it feels like home. I walk through this door and it’s like, ‘Wow, I’m home with my two boys and two girls.’ They’re right here.”
And when Dierks is home, life really is very simple. He and Cassidy may go out for a movie or have friends over to play Monopoly—they’re both very competitive—or, if it’s just the two of them, they like nothing better than putting on some nice music around 6 p.m., opening a bottle of wine and just talking.
“And Cassidy’s a great cook,” declares Dierks.
“I’m not great, but I’m the one who does it!” she laughs. “I cook a lot of salmon. I like to marinate it. But he’s good to cook for because I do it rarely enough that I get lots of good feedback! [like] ‘This could be in a restaurant!’
“Now that we have a baby,” adds Cassidy, “breakfast is gonna be my thing. I don’t know if dinner is realistic with his lifestyle [In addition to his recording and touring, Dierks plays nights on an amateur hockey team called the Ice Holes when he’s in town!]. But I want to get good at breakfast.”
As Dierks reflects on how truly happy he is these days, he doesn’t even pretend that the credit should go to anyone but Cassidy. Their love story began in Phoenix when they were 13 years old. On a recent trip back there, they retrieved from his parents’ house an Ingleside Middle School 8th grade class picture featuring both of them, plus a box of Dierks’ old letters, including several from a young Cassidy Black.
“My favorite, which I have on the bus, is so funny,” chuckles Dierks. “It’s like, ‘All the girls find you to be cute or something.’ ” “You forget how dramatic you are at 13 years old,” chimes in a smiling Cassidy, before Dierks continues, “‘All the girls think you’re cute. I don’t know. I don’t love you. But if I did, I certainly wouldn’t tell you. But I don’t. Just so you know. I’m glad I cleared that up.’ I’ve found three or four of those, and I haven’t even gone through the whole pile yet.”
From that awkward teen beginning to where Dierks and Cassidy are now is, as he describes it, “a pretty amazing story” that he hasn’t talked much about publicly until now.
“I always really liked Cassidy,” he admits. “Even in 8th grade, I was dating her best friend, but I kinda had a crush on her. It was sometime in high school—we were probably 15 or 16—the first time we kissed. Then we tried to date one summer—we went to different schools—and it lasted for a little bit.
“But I was just way too immature for her. I was into shooting things with BB guns. And at 17, I was gettin’ in trouble runnin’ with a pretty fast crowd. I just wasn’t ready, wasn’t mature enough.
“Then about 10 years ago I was workin’ at TNN [researching old footage of country performances] in Nashville and we’d started writing letters back and forth. I convinced her to come out from San Francisco and visit me in Nashville. She came, but it just didn’t last. I was just getting so busy.
“We always kept in touch, and she came out and visited me a few times on the road. But once I jumped on that career circus, your world becomes very small.”
“So it was February of 2005 and I was getting ready to go on the road with George Strait. And she said, ‘I really want to come out and see the show and see you one more time.’ She was datin’ someone at the time.
“I said, ‘Yeah, come out.’ My whole thing was I just wanted her to be happy. I knew I couldn’t make her happy because I was just too busy. But she deserved to be happy.
“So, we’re playin’ with George Strait in Las Vegas. The gig was February 5th and she came out on February 4th. I was in the back of the bus with my bass player, Robbie, watchin’ Old School with Will Ferrell.
“I remember seeing her walk on the bus, and I just knew”—he snaps his fingers—“I just knew, ‘I’ve gotta make this work. I don’t care how busy I am. This is the one I want to be with.’
“That was February 4th. We still kinda celebrate that as our most important anniversary. We ended up getting married that same year, December 15. Just the two of us eloped to Mexico—no one else involved. We got married in a tiny chapel with three aisles of seats, that’s it. Then we stayed a few more days and made a collection of pictures to give to our parents, but it was just the two of us. It was pretty special.
“They say it has to be all three things together—the right person, right place, right time. And that moment when she walked on the bus was as clear to me as the moment I first heard Hank Jr. sing ‘Man to Man’ when I was 17.” [he snaps his fingers again] “I knew then ‘That’s what I want to do—country music. That’s it.’”
So, two of the biggest pieces in Dierks’ life fell into place when he least expected them to, and he’s definitely making the most of those pivotal moments. With the birth of Evie last year on Oct. 4, a third major life-changing component was added. And it’s changed Dierks forever. “You just can’t help but be happy every day,” he exclaims. “It’s been amazing. [Fatherhood] is the coolest thing ever.”
But, even though his family is healthy and happy and Dierks can now can stand on his third-story balcony and look out on Music Row knowing he truly belongs, there was a time he wondered if anything would work out for him.
“I moved here and that truck probably had about 2,000 miles on it,” he says of Big White, the pickup he brought from Arizona to Nashville in 1994. “Now it’s got 186,000 on it. All those miles were spent burnin’ it around this town. There’s times I’d drive around I-440 and I’d see downtown and just think, ‘Screw you, Nashville.’ We battled against each other for so long.
“I remember all the crappy times down on lower Broadway and all the many moments of doubt that one has along the way of trying to chase some sort of dream like this. I never forget about ’em.
“And I’m reminded about it by my buddies that are still down there that I still go down there and see and hang out with when I get a chance. Those memories are always fresh. There’s plenty of times when I doubted this would be possible. But I just kept playing music anyway. I never forget those moments. There were a lot of ’em and they were pretty dark and discouraging at times. But perseverance and determination and a lot of luck turned it around.”
Dierks truly doesn’t take his personal and professional successes for granted. And, while it would be easy to get on a star trip as his career continues to explode, he knows he’s the same guy he’s always been . . . just blessed.
“Basically, every time I look on CMT or GAC or look at the charts,” he confides, “I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m a player in this game. I’m one of the guys. That’s amazing.’ There’s a lot of people tryin’ to chase this dream, and I’m one of ’em [succeeding].
“You can achieve personal goals, but a certain level of that is just luck. But when you find that right person . . . my biggest blessing is Cassidy for sure. Everything else blossoms out of that.”
THESE OLD BOOTS
These old boots still got a lot of ground they ain’t covered yet, may be the first line from Dierks’ hit “Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do.” But if you look at the boots Dierks has worn onstage for the past few years—and 700 shows!—it doesn’t look like there’s much ground they haven’t covered yet!
In fact, the soles have been changed so many times—about 8—Dierks has no clue what brand these boots started as.
“They came with these nice leather buckles that went all the way around,” he explains, holding up the limp boots and pointing to the former location of the buckles. “Once those buckles started to wear off, that’s when I started usin’ the duct tape.” Yep, duct tape. “Before a show, I really tape ’em up nice and tight, so I can run around the stage. They’re really comfortable. But it’s time for a new pair.”