Dierks Bentley upped the ante on his Miles and Music for Kids benefit concert Sunday night, moving the 10th anniversary show to Nashville’s newly-opened Ascend Amphitheater and doubling the amount of money raised over last year’s event. At the end of a soggy but high-spirited night, the final total collected for the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt came to an astounding $636,479.
“That’s a damn six!” Bentley said in disbelief as the giant check was unveiled. “Our first year was $30,000, and now 10 years later there’s a six in front of it! This is unreal.”
Indeed, 2015 marked a decade since Bentley started his charity event (which kicks off CMA Awards week and includes a massive, police-escorted motorcycle ride just before the show), and up until now his team had amassed about $3 million in total. But this year was bigger than any before, with twice as many fans and a star-studded lineup featuring Bentley, Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett, Cole Swindell, Canaan Smith, the Cadillac Three and Brooke Eden.
As the venue began to fill and hundreds of motorcycles roared by outside, Bentley spoke with the press about why the yearly shows are so important to him.
“We go over to the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital every year to present the check and meet some families, and I have some personal relationships with people there after 10 years,” he explained. “It’s really good to go over there and see how lucky you are to have healthy kids, and if you didn’t, this is where you’d want them to be. They have the best staff, the best doctors, they make it feel like home even though it’s a hospital.
“I was at the hospital today and there’s three or four open heart surgeries happening right now,” he continued. “They’re cutting the roof off the building and adding four floors (to accommodate more patients), which is going to cost $130 million. We’re getting close to $3 million here, which sounds like a big number on its own, but next to $130 million it’s kind of small. But everything counts and it’s not just the money — we’re raising awareness here, too. It’s great for regular families to get a reality check of what other people are going through.”
The concert itself was a casual affair, with Bentley’s band filling in for the other artist’s groups. Each one played three or four songs as Bentley’s band nailed the hooks to Swindell’s “Let Me See Ya Girl,” Rhett’s “Die a Happy Man” and FGL’s “Anything Goes” — which was even surprising to the duo’s Tyler Hubbard.
“Thanks for making that a Number One song this week,” he said as “Anything Goes” came to its snarling end. “And thanks to this band. We’ve really had zero rehearsal, we’ve never done this together and didn’t even sound check.”
A mini-auction was staged with an autographed motorcycle gas tank going for $1800, while a guitar signed by all the performers inspired an actual bidding war. It eventually went for the mind-boggling sum of $45,000 to a women who explained her husband had been killed in a motorcycle accident less than a week before. This was her way of honoring his memory, and reminding the other riders in attendance to stay safe.
Once Bentley took the stage, his songs began to take on new meaning, too. With thoughts of sick kids and their worried families mixing with the grateful, good-time atmosphere, tunes like “Tip It on Back” and “Every Mile a Memory” with messages about enjoying every moment almost turned into tear jerkers.
Likewise, “Riser” — a swelling ballad about being a fighter and a survivor — became the night’s most moving musical moment. Singing from a platform lifted 10 feet above the stage, Bentley raised a fist in the air and said simply, “My buddy Dalton is a riser.” The crowd had met Dalton earlier, a smiling, 12-year-old Vanderbilt patient who had taken part in Bentley’s first Miles and Music event 10 years ago, and is still receiving treatment today.
After a rousing encore of “What Was I Thinkin'” and “Drunk on a Plane” (complete with fireworks) the giant check was brought out, but not before Bentley could thank the artists and the audience one last time for all the good they were doing.
“I want you to know what you’ve done tonight,” said the singer. “Last year was our biggest year ever and we raised $370,000. If we’re anywhere close to that tonight I’ll be ecstatic.”
Dumbfounded might have been a better word. $405,000 was his prediction, and the star nearly fell off the stage when he saw the final number. Fumbling for words and giving out hugs after the shock, Bentley had just one more declaration for the crowd, letting them know exactly where his heart lies.
“I’m up for Male Vocalist of the Year at the CMA Awards in a couple of days,” he said. “But this is way more important than any of that award show shit.”