SCOTTSDALE — Country superstar Dierks Bentley was “on the road, the vacuum, the darkness of the road, the cave that it is," when he heard the news: 19 firefighters from Prescott's elite Granite Mountain Hotshots perished battling an 8,400-acre inferno on Yarnell Hill.
“I can tell you where I was in the moments afterwards,” the Arizona native said last week as he joined the cast and crew of "Only the Brave" at The Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale. “Just being on the bus, away from home. When something happens you just want to be home. I just wanted to be back in Arizona badly.”
Three weeks later, Bentley came home and hosted the fundraising concert "Country Cares" in Prescott for the families and for the town. The Grammy-nominated artist brought along Nashville friends the Band Perry, Randy Houser and David Nail.
“I met a lot of the families. I met Brendan" McDonough, the lone survivor of the Yarnell Hill fire, Bentley recalled. "It was a really emotional night for everybody but a very needed night for me personally, just to do something.”
The concert raised nearly $500,000.
Perhaps it was his connection to Arizona or that concert that brought Bentley to the attention of the "Only the Brave" filmmakers. About a year ago, Bentley, who grew up in Scottsdale and now lives in Nashville, was invited to an early screening and then given a proposition: would he come in and finish the movie's theme song "Hold the Light," which was a work in progress?
Bentley jumped at the chance, which is his first time performing on a movie.
“It was a great song. They could have finished it without me," said Bentley, the father of three who has been performing on a national stage since 2003. "It needed a bridge. It was almost all the way there, but they let me come in and participate in the writing and do something at the end of it and obviously sing it. They teed me up pretty good."
Writing for a movie is different from writing for a record, Bentley said, "but it’s even harder writing a song for a movie that has this much importance to it."
"If you care about the story, if you care about these families, you care about these guys’ legacies, then it’s important to write a song that does that," he explained. "Every word matters. Every line matters. The way the lines work together matters. You’re writing a song from the standpoint of these guys who are no longer here, what they are trying to say across the lines of time, the boundaries of time, to their family members who are here.”
"Hold the Light" comes on at the end of the movie, when the credits roll with the actors pictures beside the firefighter they portrayed. It's a moving tribute that Bentley said accentuates what he was trying to convey in the song.
“The idea is hold the light. You are in the depths of darkness you’ve never known before. Just find that ray of hope and hold onto that," he said. "The power of music is real and I hope this song has an impact primarily for these families of these guys and possibly beyond that.”
Bentley last week attended a red carpet premiere of "Only the Brave" with his mother. What did he think?
“This is like ‘Top Gun’ meets wilderness firefighters. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all, but it is. These guys died in this fire and it’s so tragic, but their lives weren’t tragic," he said. "Young guys running around in vans and mooning each other, doing all the stuff we do on the (tour) bus: picking on each other, listening to AC/DC and out there rocking it and living it. It’s a view to their world that we don’t know much about. I like that the movie is like that. It has that spirit and ultimately you walk away with that spirit.”