Dierks Bentley is planning a party for Atlantic City. "My goal with every show is to leave everyone in the room without any voice," says Bentley, who headlines this year's Jagermeister Country Tour, which makes a stop this weekend at the House of Blues, inside the Showboat Casino-Hotel.
"I want them to scream and yell. I want it to be the most fun time of the year for the fans who come to these shows. When you're sponsored by Jagermeister, you might as well throw it all out there."
Bentley, who is one of the most popular Nashville artists to emerge during the past decade, arrives in Atlantic City following last year's well-received all-acoustic record, "Up on the Ridge" (Capitol Records).
He plans to include some of that material in a special set, as well as preview his new single - "Am I the Only One?" - from his forthcoming album.
Ahead of the show, he talks about his surprising New Jersey connection and why he never aspired to be the next Garth Brooks.
Question: Not many Nashville stars attend high school in New Jersey. How did you land at The Lawrenceville School?
Answer: I grew up in Phoenix, and lived there for the first 14 years of my life. I had troubles in my younger adolescence, and my parents decided to send me away to boarding school.
If I hadn't gone there, I would never have discovered country music. I made some great friends - and had a love of Jersey girls - but country reminded me of home and Arizona.
Q: Did being a kid from the Southwest, by way of Jersey, make it harder to break into Nashville?
A: It's weird, growing up in Arizona, I thought country music was Western music. When I got to Nashville, I realized it's a big Southwestern thing. I grew up where Waylon Jennings got his start, and Marty Robbins.
Q: What was it like when you moved to Nashville at age 19?
A: I didn't know anybody. I had to start from the ground up. It was a classic story of persistence and determination paying off in the end. I worked nonstop, pounding on doors and playing bars for tips.
It took about eight years to get a record deal.
Q: Unlike many fledgling country artists in the mid-'90s, though, you didn't want to be the next Garth Brooks. Why not?
A: I wasn't in love with the music coming out at the time. Everyone was trying to be Garth Brooks. I love Garth Brooks, but it wasn't my thing to wear a cowboy hat.
Q: Instead, you learned a lot from the bluegrass artists who played at Nashville's Station Inn, and came full circle with your last album, "Up on the Ridge." What inspired you to go unplugged now?
A: I'd been on the road for about six years. I realized I was losing creativity. I wanted to make a heavily bluegrass, country music record.
That meant I was stepping away from the game a bit. I made a record I poured my heart into.
Q: For your next project, you're changing direction again?
A: I spent the last five months working on a record coming out in August. It's electric country, with a lot of bass and drums.
The first song is a big party song. It's called "Am I the Only One?" and it's a song about trying to drag your buddies out to have a good time.
Q: Is there anything else on your mind before we go?
A: If The Boss is reading this, I would love to have him get out to the show.
Q: You must have crossed paths with Bruce Springsteen at some point?
A: I haven't met him, but several people close to him told me was a fan of "Up on the Ridge." That means a lot to me.
Josh Thompson, Miss Willie Brown back Bentley at HOB
Show opener Josh Thompson, left, who is touring behind his 2010 debut record, "Way Out Here" (Columbia Nashville), is a singer-songwriter in the classic country mode.
A former construction worker who poured concrete for a living, he writes about the ups and downs of working-class life.
"My songs are mainly about me and the experiences I had," he says. "The job site was a great place to get song ideas and build up material. You get so many song ideas from normal conversations and keeping your ear open to it is an important part of it."
The second opener, Miss Willie Brown, right, is a duo consisting of singer-songwriters Kasey Buckley and Amanda Watkins, who have just released their debut EP on A&M/Octone.
The twosome, which is working on a full-length album, has diverse influences, Watkins says.
"Mine are Lynyrd Skynyrd to the Rolling Stones to Waylon Jennings," she says. "Kasey has hip-hop, influenced with Garth Brooks. We mix that up together."
Jagermeister Country Tour, featuring Dierks Bentley
with Josh Thompson
and Miss Willie Brown
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, March 19
WHERE: House of Blues, Showboat
Casino-Hotel, Atlantic City
HOW MUCH: Tickets, priced at $32.50, $42.50 and $52.50, area available at the HOB box office or