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Does Dierks Bentley smile his way through every concert, or just the bluegrass dates?

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Image Credit: Brian Killian/WireImage.comQuestion: Have you ever been to a concert and noticed how much fun an artist genuinely appeared to be having? Like so much fun that you said to yourself, this is the happiest and most grateful I’ve ever seen an artist look onstage? Who was it?

For me, if you couldn’t tell from the headline, it was country artist Dierks Bentley, who’s reached the halfway point of this week’s four-night residency in New York City. Last night, he played with the Del McCoury Band, and his smile was as big and constant as it was when I caught him with the Travelin’ McCourys (the Del McCoury Band minus Del) earlier this year in State College, Penn., in support of his bluegrass album Up on the Ridge. I’ve seen Dolly Parton, Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban — artists who are known to have a good time that carries to the cheap seats. But there’s something different about Bentley when he’s playing these intimate bluegrass dates. The love he has for the genre, the musicians, and the memories of all those nights he spent at The Station Inn soaking up the music (and beer) when he first got to Nashville is what reaches you, again and again. You feel it when he’s lamenting how he’ll never have Del’s high, lonesome, blue voice unless he undergoes what’s known as “the bluegrass operation” in Music City, and when he’s asking Del to play another G run. You feel it when he recounts how he suggested the Del McCoury Band cover Sinatra’s “Learnin’ the Blues” (and how making the album’s liner notes is still one of his career highlights), and when, after a gospel song, he says, “We’re all prayed up now, I think we should kill somebody… It’s time to kill somebody, Del,” then launches into his song “You’re Dead to Me” because someone always has to die in bluegrass.

As someone who’s just starting to get into bluegrass, it’s that on-stage camaraderie that I find so inviting. I love seeing musicians stand that close on-stage that they can actually hear each other speak during a song, have a running joke on Dierks’ penchant for doing toe stands, and share a mic for the entire show as they take turns singing lead. (As awesome as Dierks and Del sounded, bassist Alan Bartram may have stolen the show with his rendition of “Kentucky Waltz.” I got the feeling that it’s Bartram’s standard featured number, but that he’s never quite sung the hell out of it like he did last night. The audience was cheering during the song, and afterward, Del cracked, “Somebody has to follow that act… and it’s gonna have to be Dierks.”)

Okay. Your turn.

For more music coverage, visit EW’s Music Mix blog.

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