For all of pop’s existing hyphenated genres, better get used to a new one: “post-game” music. That’s a brand pushed hard and with great success this season by the Washington Nationals, who turned their ballpark over to country superstar Dierks Bentley after Saturday’s win over Milwaukee. The non-baseball portion of the afternoon’s entertainment was marketed heavily by the team in radio and print ads, and a massive percentage of the announced sellout crowd of 40,493 stuck around and bought concessions, mainly beer, after the last pitch.
Bentley, 36 years old and reared mostly in Arizona, is musically malleable enough for an audience that didn’t necessarily come to see him. He only gets airplay on country music stations, but he doesn’t have a stereotypical country music background. He was president of his dorm and played varsity lacrosse at Lawrenceville Academy, a New Jersey boarding school that now charges $51,000 a year. Yet he drops a heap of stereotypical country references into his songs — the opening tune of his hour-or-so set, “Cold Cans,” had Bentley proclaiming the joys of “Crankin’ up the Hank” and “Doing 12-ounce curls, listening to Merle,” though the musical backing on that tune, and most other Bentley offerings, favored a louder backbeat and more distorted guitars than you’d find on any Hank Williams or Haggard tunes. (He came to the stage to Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” and left to a death-metal mix.)
The logistics of post-game pop, even beyond the fact that a big portion of the audience probably didn’t come to see the headliner, aren’t ideal for a performer. Bentley took a stage set up behind second base, just as the Beatles did at Shea Stadium nearly five decades ago in pop’s first stadium concert. (The Fabs sold out that show even without the Mets as an opening act.) But other than a couple hundred “VIP” fans who were allowed inside a rope at the front of the stage, Bentley was playing in front of a lot of green space.
And he used none of the pyrotechnics or props or video screens that stadium acts now use. He didn’t even have a light show, other than the autumnal equinox sun provided by Mother Nature. Bentley’s charm and charisma filled the room. “I feel just like Bruce Springsteen!” he shouted with a huge smile before “Grab a Beer,” the newest of Bentley’s many lowbrow, high-times smash singles (Springsteen played the stadium eight days earlier.) Bentley was initially scheduled to play a post-game gig at Nationals Park in June, but he had to back out because of the death of his father.
He got sweet and sensitive while talking about being given a jersey by the team before the game to wear while he threw out the first pitch, and saying the experience made him think of his dad, who “wore his last name on a uniform” in the military. He then sang “Home,” a ballad that tugs at the patriotic and familial heartstrings. As he sang, fans could see Nationals star Bryce Harper, who at age 19 probably thinks of “Home” more as a place to steal or throw to from the outfield, taking in the performance as he stood alongside fellow postseason-bound teammates just outside the home team’s dugout. That’s a perk that post-game pop has over all other genres.
McKenna is a freelance writer.