It was a night of jokes, red Solo cups and Number One hits when Dierks Bentley sat down with a group of songwriters for an informal concert filmed by PBS for its superlative concert program, Front and Center. The performance also helped mark the 10th year of the Country Music Association's intimate CMA Songwriters Series. Joined onstage by singer-songwriters Ross Copperman, Jon Randall, Brett James and Jim Beavers, Bentley and company, armed with just their guitars, sang their most popular songs and told the stories behind them. The episode is set to air this fall, leading up to the 48th annual CMA Awards.
While Bentley may have been the most recognizable face on the stage, his songwriter buddies didn't let him forget that he was fair game for a ribbing. When Beavers opted to sing and share the inspiration for the hit "5-1-5-0," he quipped that Bentley was probably walking out of an early morning Pilates class about the same time the other boys were calling it a night. Bentley proved his drinking mettle later on, however, when he had most everyone in the room hollering along to his boozy summer smash, "Drunk on a Plane."
The boys straightened up when Randall brought out his beautiful wife and fellow songwriting maven Jessi Alexander to duet. Alexander provided a highlight of the evening and a much needed dose of estrogen. But no sooner had she exited the stage then the boys were back to telling tales of nights on the town with Kenney Chesney — and the subsequent hangovers.
Over the past 10 years, the CMA Songwriters Series has featured more than 127 songwriters, among them a collective 61 CMA Song of the Year nominations. Songwriters such as Patty Loveless, Miranda Lambert, Phil Vassar and Chesney have talked about and performed their songs in the traditional "in the round" style so beloved by Nashville.
While this batch of songwriters was most certainly a rowdy bunch, between the songs, stories and Solos, there lingered a real sense of camaraderie and vulnerability. Without the back-up bands, stage production, lights, showmanship and screaming fans, Bentley, Copperman, Randall, James and Beavers were like every other songwriter — sitting around with friends, picking guitars and cracking jokes.
With its new CMA partnership, Front and Center becomes an outlet for the true backbone of country music — the songs and the people who wrote them — to be laid bare. Along with Bentley, Lady Antebellum will also be featured on a new episode this fall. Exact air dates are forthcoming.