One person pleased with the way 2004 turned out is Dierks Bentley, who co-headlined the WKXC-FM Million Pennies for Kids Guitar Pull in November at Bell Auditorium.
He performed more than 200 show dates this year and won the Academy of Country Music's Top New Artist award, and his self-titled debut Capitol Records CD has resulted in three hits: What Was I Thinkin'?, My Last Name and How Am I Doin'.
Asked backstage at the Bell whether he was surprised how fast his career took off this year, he replied, "No, I never stay still long enough to really think of things like that. But I look back at this year, and a lot of great things have happened. I've been truly blessed. It's been a great year."
Mr. Bentley, who turned 29 on Nov. 20, moved to Nashville from his hometown of Phoenix when he was 19 to try his luck as a songwriter.
"I fell in love with country music at 17, and I just knew that was what I wanted to do with my life," he said.
"So, at 19, I couldn't wait any longer. I got my butt down there (to Nashville) and started working during the day at a couple of places."
He was a regular at the Market Street Brewery in Nashville, performed with bluegrass music friends at the Station Inn nightclub off Music Row and performed with the Uptown Ramblers at the Springwater Lounge near Vanderbilt University.
During the day, he worked for a couple of years at The Nashville Network as a researcher for a video documentary project, Century of Country.
His unusual first name is his mother's maiden name. If you think "Dierks" is unusual, his brother studying at the University of Georgia is named Fife.
When I asked Dierks what his brother was studying in Athens, he smiled and said, "I think he is studying partying, because he seems to be having a great time at every Georgia football game and on every football road trip. I'm not sure what his major is yet, but he loves the school. He just loves it."
Mr. Bentley was influenced growing up by his father's love of Hank Williams and George Strait. His dad listened to country music on the car radio while driving his son to school.
"When I turned 13, I got into the electric guitar and started playing a lot of rock stuff, especially Eddie Van Halen. Then in high school, I got into Hank (Williams) Jr., and that took me back into country music."
Like a lot of songwriters, Mr. Bentley writes songs that often reflect some personal experiences, including his recent hit single, How Am I Doin'
Some lines go:
"Well, how am I doin' since you did, what you've done to me?
I can't lie, I sometimes cry, when I think of how it used to be.
I keep my friends with me, I stay busy, and I don't get much sleep.
Baby that's how I'm doing since you did, what you done to me."
Just before Mr. Bentley sang that song in the WKXC acoustic concert, he told the audience, "An ex-girlfriend inspired a lot of these songs."
At intermission, I asked whether he had since written his ex-girlfriend a thank-you note for inspiring his single.
"No, but I harbor no ill will toward her," he said. "She's a good girl, and we had two good years together. When my record came out, she sent me a real nice letter. So, there are no hard feelings. I just say that on stage as a funny joke."
Don Rhodes has been writing about country music for 33 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or firstname.lastname@example.org.