Oh, lucky little poor little Peyton.
Dierks Bentley’s Monday night show at the Erie County Fair grandstand was the 5-year-old boy’s first-ever concert.
The country rocker set a standard that nobody will ever meet.
That’s not just because Bentley and his five-piece band were impressive. They were, but frankly, when you’ve reached the platinum-selling level of the 38-year-old Bentley, you’re supposed to be good.
Bentley was good in ways he didn’t have to be, both big and small.
Let’s start with the small, as in blond, bespectacled Peyton and his 8-year-old sister, Mikalya, who came to the show with their family from nearby Eden. The pair was dressed in black-and-gold-trimmed airplane pilot suits, a clear tribute to Bentley’s April 2014 hit, “Drunk on a Plane.” (Imagine a little Jonathan Lipnicki from “Jerry Maguire” and an “E.T.”-era Drew Barrymore both dressed to fly, and you’ll get the visual.)
About an hour into his 90-minute set, Bentley played the song and pulled the kids, who were positioned at the front of platform that extended several rows into the crowd, onto the stage.
Let’s pause to acknowledge that it takes a special kind of charm – the most elusive form of “it factor” – to pull off singing about flying trashed with a couple of tiny kids sharing your stage.
But Bentley makes that work as easily as his tight-fitting black Harley T-shirt, ripped blue jeans, close-trimmed curly brown and five-day beard make women scream.
Maybe that’s because he’s a dad – Bentley and his wife have three young children.
Maybe that’s because he’s a sentimental man. Before singing the nostalgic “I Hold On,” Bentley talked about driving from his hometown of Phoenix to Nashville at age 19 in a 1994 Chevy truck, his dad sitting shotgun, fully supporting his son’s dream to make it in country music.
Maybe it’s because he’s a sensitive guy. Bentley talked to the crowd, few of whom sat in their seats on the track, about his dad dying two years ago.
He talked about why he still drives that ’94 Chevy: “Thanks to y’all, I could’ve bought a new truck years ago, but I hold on to things that are important to me.”
He explained why one of his multiple acoustic guitars (stagehands passed different instruments to Bentley every several songs) has a hole in it.
“I earned that hole playing in a lot of bars,” Bentley said, harkening back to his early Nashville days.
Sweet, sentimental, sensitive – and, yes, sexy to sizable contingent of his crowd.
Those are all reasons why Bentley can pull off bringing kids onstage for a PG-13 song as readily as he can pull a guy up to do Bud Light beer shots. (If you’re wondering, Bentley won, downing the full can in a single gulp.
It also helps that his music is fun. With some exceptions, it’s not the deepest, or most musically intricate. But it’s bouncy, and Bentley delivered a full slate of his catchiest, country radio-dominating tunes, from 2003’s “What Was I Thinkin’” to 2012’s “5-1-5-0.”
But the biggest reason, I think, is Bentley works the crowd as hard as a politician glad-handing for votes, but with far more charisma than you’ll ever find from someone wearing pins and pounding lawn signs.
He doesn’t have to work that hard; most people would be happy with the live music. But Bentley, who one night earlier played a record-breaking crowd of 60,000-plus with Luke Bryan in Boston, seemed to enjoy the comparatively small county fair crowd as much a jammed stadium.
Not a song passed without Bentley talking to people in the crowd, high-fiving fans, and chatting up the audience.
And he localizes it: After using some football metaphors to introduce his band members, Bentley said, “Speaking of the Bills, is Bon Jovi going to buy your team?”
The crowd erupted into boos, then broke into the Bills’ “Shout!” song.
Bentley smiled and said, “So, I guess you don’t want to hear, ‘Tommy used to work on the docks…’?” as he strummed a few chords from “Livin’ on a Prayer.”
But the best moment came at the end, when Bentley sang the patriotic “Home” in support of troops, then called Peyton and Mikayla back onstage, where he handed them and autographed a red-and-white electric guitar.
It was a heady first concert for Peyton. Maybe he’ll expect that treatment at every one from now on. He’ll adjust to the disappointment, I’m sure, but at the same time, performers who think playing concerts is only about the tunes could take a lesson from Bentley.
He brought the music, but he delivered the show.