Okay, first - true confession time: I've been a bad mom.
It's true. It was the ultimate betrayal. I went to see Dierks Bentley and I didn't tell Bud. I know - it's terrible. There's nothing you could say about me that I haven't already said about myself.
I'm trying to convince myself that I wasn't all bad, though. It was a long drive - two and a half hours - to a late-night show on a school night. It was loud and crowded and, now that I think about it, probably a 21-plus show. So I was exhibiting good judgment, right? Good, sound parenting practice.
But it's hard not to feel bad for Bud. Because, the show?
It. Was. Awesome.
Seriously. Beyond awesome. It's the fifth time I've seen Dierks live, but it was like nothing I've ever seen before. He's doing a limited tour in small venues with bluegrass giants The Travelin McCourys. The show features some of Dierks's greatest hits played with a bluegrass flair, interspersed with tracks from his upcoming bluegrass-inspired album, Up on the Ridge, with a smattering of fun, crowd-pleasing covers of songs from artists that span from George Strait to Pearl Jam. And because he's playing such small venues - this one was a sold-out, standing-room-only crowd of about 500 - it all just feels like an incredibly great party in someone's sizable basement. And for as much fun as the rest of us were having, no one in the room was having a better time than Dierks Bentley.
It was awesome.
There was some good news for Bud, though. As luck would have it, I happened to go to the show on the first night that the new album was on sale at the merchandise table (it won't be available in stores until June 8), so I was able to pick up a copy to take home.
And the album is as awesome as the show. It is, simultaneously, classic Dierks Bentley and a complete departure from his previous albums. There are songs like "Draw Me a Map" that resonate so completely that after just a few listens I feel like I've known them forever. And there are others, like Bud's favorite, "Fiddlin' Around" - a fiddle-driven up-tempo track that makes it impossible to sit still - that are totally new sounds. There are tracks written by Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson and U2. There are appearances by Del McCoury and Miranda Lambert and the Punch Brothers and Jamey Johnson.
When taken as a whole, Up on the Ridge is hard to define. It's too country to be traditional bluegrass, but too bluegrass to be mainstream country. It is, I think, a hair-dryer album in a toaster-brained industry. Of course, I know nothing at all about the inner workings of the music world, except what I glean from this side of the radio - but what I observe is a market that sometimes seems to reward conformity over innovation, and an industry that too often uses valuable prime-time network TV slots not to showcase the best of what country music has to offer, but to market a select number of carefully groomed country artists, promoting them as potential crossover artists to the lucrative pop-dominated airwaves.
But, then, what do I know?
In any case, it seems to me that Up on the Ridge flies in the face of all that. It is Dierks Bentley performing directly from his heart, and it leaves his audience - or it leaves me, anyway - thinking, "Ah. So this is who you are." And I sure do like who he is.
But all of that barely matters when I see Bud's reaction to the album, as his hands fly across the strings of his air guitar while he sings along to the title track. The bad news is that it will likely inspire requests that will be hard to meet. He's already asked me if he could be Dierks's new mandolin player. And I imagine that his request for a dobro will be coming soon. But really, it's all good, because Up on the Ridge inspired much more than that for Bud.
Remember back at the beginning of the school year, when I shared my hunch that Bud's friendship with Dierks would make the idea of friendship more appealing to him? And then, remember how he's spent a year in a classroom of peers who are helping him become their friend?
Well, Bud's second reaction to Up on the Ridge - immediately following his request to join Dierks's band - was this: "I'll bring this to school tomorrow. The kids are going to love this."
Did you catch that? Bud thought the album was so good that he wanted to share it with his friends.
How awesome is that?
So, I have three take-away messages here, and in case you've missed them, I'm going to re-cap:
1. If Dierks and the McCourys are coming anywhere near you, don't miss the opportunity to see them, even if it means travelling two and a half hours each way and having to go to work the next day on only three hours of sleep. Trust me on this.
2. Don't let the word "bluegrass" scare you. Up on the Ridge will make you love Dierks more than you already do.
3. The good news is that sometimes a little low-stakes bad-mom moment can turn out to be not so bad at all. In fact, sometimes it can lead to something truly awesome.