Each year as the calendar page turns to May, it has become a tradition for myself and my father to look at the lineup of performances coming to the PNC Bank Arts Center and plan out which acts we wish to see throughout the summer. The two of us began attending concerts at PNC in 2010 when we saw Jason Aldean perform with Luke Bryan. We immediately fell in love with the venue that is tucked into the woods off the garden state parkway. The amphitheater which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in just a few short weeks has seen the best of the best grace its stage since its inception. Legends from Frank Sinatra to James Taylor and almost every performer you can think of in between. Legendary pianist Van Cliburn opened the venue 50 years ago on June 12th. The following week Judy Garland belted out her hits on its stage. Some of the reasons my father and myself love this venue is its fantastic sound system, a great view from almost every seat in the house and the fact that it is covered from rain but maintains that outdoor summer concert feel. Perhaps the biggest reason for our love of the amphitheater is our love for country music. Living in NYC it can be a bit challenging to hear your favorite country artists live in person. MSG has begun to book more country artists of late which is music to my ears. Barclays Center had Luke Bryan perform there in 2014 and the new Ford Amphitheater in Coney Island had Toby Keith on its stage last summer. Throughout the years country has been coming to the empire state with more and more frequency. Just a quick ride out from the city, the PNC Bank Arts Center has been ahead of the country curve for years, booking top country acts summer after summer since its inception.
Saturday it was Dierks Bentley’s turn to make east coasters hoot and holler at the sound of a banjo or a steel guitar. The 42 year old Bentley has become a staple at PNC having performed there multiple times and selling out the joint each time. This turn came on his “Mountain High Tour” where he was joined by opening acts LANCO and Brothers Osborne. LANCO took the stage first and warmed up the crowd perfectly with cuts off their newest album “Hallelujah nights”. The best part of the performance for LANCO came when they sang their hit “Greatest love story”. The crowd sang along and was fully engaged for the fresh faced country groups entire performance. Brothers Osborne were next to hit the stage and kicked things off with a bang and brought the crowd instantly to there feet with “Shoot me straight”. The brothers rolled through hit after hit which constantly kept the crowd entertained. The guitar solo performances by John Osborne were the best I have seen to date. His performance on “Stay a little longer” particularly stands out as excellent. Dierks Bentley could not have chosen two better opening acts for this tour. The crowd was fired up when the time came for the headliner himself to take the stage. Bentley kicked off his set with “I hold on” a hit that has become something of an anthem for Bentley. The chorus of “I hold on to the things I believe in, my faith, your love, our freedom” was sang back to Bentley by the sell out crowd of 17,000 plus. “Free and Easy” was the second song for Bentley and he performed it on the run throughout the crowd leaving fans awestruck. Getting closer to the crowd has been a staple of Dierks Bentley concerts for as long as he has performed. Midway through the performance it was time for Bentley to reconnect with his fans again. As he made his way through the crowd once more, only this time ending up at a mini stage set up in the mezzanine section overlooking the fans on the lawn. Bentley pulled a fan up on stage and shotgunned a beer with the man…now whats more country than that? The fans loved every second and it appeared Bentley did as well, claiming “Everytime I come here it just feels like a home show, I feel like I am home, Kenny Chesney has Boston and I have Holmdel”. Dierks could not have said it any better as that is exactly what the energy in the audience felt like. Dierks also paid homage to those who have performed on that stage before him saying “Everytime I come here it is just so surreal to be hanging out back there in Frank Sinatra’s dressing room”. Hit after hit Bentley brought them to there feet and kept them there. The crowd once again proved that there is a thirst for live country music in the New York/NJ area. Dierks closed the party with perhaps his biggest hit “Drunk on a plane”, coming out dressed as a pilot and swerving through the air on a model stage made to look like an airplane.The crowd sang along and loved every second as did me, my Father and my girlfriend Stephanie. The first show of the summer for PNC Bank Arts Center was a smashing success and sets the tone for a great summer of music.
Article written by Rich Warnock