When Dierks Bentley first appeared onstage at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Sunday night, many fans were still filtering into the amphitheater on a muggy night, unaware that the country star sometimes opens his own shows in costume.
As the Bolo Boys, who took the stage at 7 p.m., Bentley and members of his regular band – disguised in hats and denim overalls – performed a rowdy bluegrass set that ended with the musicians lying collapsed on the stage after devolving into the Isley Brothers’ “Shout.”
Two hours later, after DJ AYDAMN warmed up the crowd with snippets of current and retro pop hits – everything from Cardi B to Run-DMC – Bentley and his five-piece band were back, this time for a more mainstream production that thrilled the packed crowd, which skewed younger.
With roots in bluegrass, Bentley’s music floats between modern and traditional country, with rockers in the setlist alongside ballads. It’s an appealing mix, one that avoids some of the clichés of pop country. He’s a little deeper than some of the country dudes who sing about pickups and partying.
Dressed in a faded flannel shirt, his ruddy complexion looking sun kissed, like he’d been out in the rays all day, Bentley had a down-home charm and an organic, outdoorsy vibe. He praised SPAC as a venue, his first appearance there, and mentioned using his fly fishing rod in Geyser Creek, which flows outside the amphitheater.
His 90-minute set opened with the Arizona-born singer shrouded in darkness as he sang “The Mountain,” the twangy, subdued title track from his latest album, his ninth. As the lights came up, Bentley went right into the uplifting ballad “I Hold On,” as the crowd stood and sang along.
“Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)” was a crowd sing-along that found Bentley racing up the side of the amphitheater as black-clad security members ran to keep up, followed by “Somewhere on a Beach,” a hedonistic kiss-off to a former lover.
His set was peppered with new songs, including “Burning Man,” featuring the Osborne siblings from Brothers Osborne, and “Women, Amen,” a tribute to strong women. Among older songs, “Up on the Ridge” had a noir-ish bluegrass flavor, while “5-1-5-0” was the centerpiece of the set – a super high-energy tune that draw huge applause.
He left the stage to spend several songs singing at the top of the amphitheater to people on the lawn, including “Am I the Only One,” “Tip It on Back,” and the ballad “Say You Do” – a mini set that found Bentley shot-gunning a beer with a fan – before closing out the night with the saccharine “Living,” the rocker “What Was I Thinkin’” and encore “Drunk on a Plane.”
Two youthful bands who merged country with rock opened. LANCO were equal parts arena rock and country, led by amped-up frontman Brandon Lancaster, who exhorted the crowd to live it up for “Sunday Funday.” Riding the release earlier this year of their first album, which hit the top of the country charts, they warmed up the crowd with “Pick You Up,” “Born to Love You,” “Trouble Maker” and “Singin’ at the Stars.”
Brothers Osbourne, led by brothers T.J. Osborne and John Osborne, had a heavier, roots-based feel, thanks in part to the intense shredding of guitarist John Osborne. They got a rousing reception for tunes like “Rum,” “Greener Pastures,” “Weed, Whiskey and Willie” and “21 Summer.”