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Skipped most of the Grammy pre-party hoo-hah this year, PopWatchers, as it tends to all sound the same after a while (and by “the same” I mean “like the Black Eyed Peas”). But there was one gig I couldn’t pass up: Country music purveyor and Bud Light poster child Dierks Bentley’s show Friday night at L.A.’s Knitting Factory. My 2007 Grammy date was nominated again — Long Trip Alone, both the album and the single, were up in three different categories, though he ultimately came away emptyhanded — providing the perfect excuse to set up Nashville West for the weekend. Dierks kicked things off with a 45-minute set of hits and new tracks, then welcomed a parade of special guests to the stage that whipped the crowd of VIPs, radio contest winners, and at least one Friday Night Lights star (hey, Tim Riggins!) into a frenzy.

The whole thing was broadcast live on iClips.net, and I think they’re going to put it up again later. Meanwhile, after the jump: appearances from Miranda Lambert, Brad Paisley, Mike McCready, Dwight Yoakam, and those adorable Paramore kids. They’re from Tennessee, ya know.

addCredit(“Dierks Bentley: Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage”)

So while the Knitting Factory in NYC is on a grimy Tribeca street, the L.A. one is basically in a strip mall on Hollywood Boulevard, next to a DSW. Inside, however, it manages to look pretty banged up and appropriately rock ‘n’ roll, the performance space is intimate, and there are plenty of bars to quench one’s thirst for the King of Beers’ lighter cousin, if one were, say, under contract to do so. While the turnout was enthusiastic, the night’s organizers did a great job of keeping the invite-only crowd under capacity, so at no point did I feel like I was being crushed to death, and could move around at will to catch the show from every angle, especially when someone thrust a sign or digital camera up in my line of sight.

And boy, were there plenty of digital cameras. Dierks has a staunchly devoted fanbase, many of whom arrived at the venue two hours early and stood pressed up against the stage, just waiting for their boy to appear, which he did, kindly reminding us all that “the more you guys drink, the better we sound.” (It’s the oldest line in the book, but it still works.) The hits were great — “Every Mile a Memory,””Lot of Leavin’,” “Trying to Stop Your Leaving,” “DON’T LEAVE” (okay, I made that one up) — as were the anecdotes about the internet porn convention happening at the band’s hotel. They debuted a new rockish number, “Life on the Run,” and another called “Sweet and Wild” that sounds like the best song the Wallflowers never got around to recording.

But the invite said “… and Special Guests,” and there were a lot of those to get through. First up was Lambert, who’d watched the opening set from the side of the room, politely entertaining certain fawning reporters (sorry) before bringing a Texas flag onstage to join Dierks for “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way.” She bolted soon after, having been up since 5 a.m., but the introduction of Paisley managed to heal that wound, as he sat in for versions of “Folsom Prison” and “Act Naturally.” “I love playing in Hollywood,” Brad would tell us later. “We have a house here, and usually I have nothing to do. It was nice to have a gig.” P.S.: Did we know how good a guitarist Paisley is? The man can shred! I had no idea, but will now be paying closer attention.

Speaking of shredding, while the screaming ladies in the crowd may have loved them the “Ticks” man, even a nice run-through of “Settle for a Slowdown” couldn’t chill out my anticipation of the next guest: Pearl Jam guitar hero Mike McCready. Since we’re talking about Grammy moments, I think Dierks — a massive PJ fan — had a lifetime of ’em while McCready backed him on the little-played “Distant Shore” and a terrific though slightly technical-difficulties-interrupted take on “Crossroads.” It should be noted that Bentley’s guitarist Rod Janzen more than held his own during this, while Dierks mainly stood there with a big sloppy grin on his face and strummed in the background. “I was gonna take the solo, but I didn’t want to mess him up,” he joked about trying to keep up with McCready’s well-documented mastery. “Hendrixian.” “Hendrixian” is the word I use. It was pretty cool, and I don’t know that Dierks is gonna stop talking about that one for a while.

After singing the song that brought them to town, “Long Trip Alone,” Dierks welcomed his next guests, the adorable kids of Paramore. They opened with a terrific cover of “Jackson,” Dierks and Hayley Williams trading lines like Johnny and June in an alternate rock universe, and though Williams may spend more time on Warped Tour than at the Opry, she’s good with her Nashville roots. Next was a little tribute to the Foo Fighters’ Chris Shiflett, who was supposed to cameo, but he had a baby instead (oh, fine). In his honor, Williams and the band launched into a cover of the Foos’ “My Hero.” About this, my notebook reads only “holy f–king s—.” If I could choose a voice with which to be able to sing, it would be that girl’s voice. I liked Paramore coming into this, love them going out. That number alone is worth you checking out the archive of the show if iClips puts it up.

For an encore — and I mean, really, the night was already an embarrassment of riches, so it was hard to know where they’d go from there — Dierks called up Dwight Yoakam, and the two went at it on what I believe was a double shot of Buck Owens: “Close Up the Honky Tonks” and “Love’s Gonna Live Here.” (Hmm, I wonder why they chose that material.) Dwight looked a bit like Neil Young. I was on complete excitement overload, but I remember whoo-ing very loudly.

And then it was over, and we all hung around backstage for a while, and then we went back to the hotel for a little afterparty. Now, last year, as I rode around in a limo with Dierks & Co., a lot that was said got declared “off the record” by his various and lovely peeps, who were just trying to protect their client. This year, there was no limo, just a series of cabana rooms at the Roosevelt, a bottle of Jack Daniels, and an angry Jeff Tweedy. I am making the executive decision to keep all of THAT off the record to protect myself, because I’m afraid I stopped being a reporter after a certain point, and just started being a gal hanging out with some of her favorite people in the world while attempting to evade security guards. It’s a long story. I did learn a little of what Dierks has in store for his next album, though (not counting the greatest hits disc due in May), and if you think Friday night’s guest roster was something, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. As they say.

ANYWAY. Hello! Do you like Dierks Bentley? Why not use this apparently-annual post-Grammy Bentleypalooza’s comment board to talk about it? And because this question came up on Friday: If you were to put him in a category with other country artists, who would those be? Like, if Chesney and Urban belong together, or Strait and Reba, where does Dierks fit in?