In Nov. 2004, nine years after his CMA internship, Dierks Bentley accepts CMA’s Horizon Award during “The 39th Annual CMA Awards” at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

As talented as all interns at CMA are, few have achieved success at the level of Dierks Bentley. While it cannot be conclusively said that his success stems from time put in at our office as a Vanderbilt University student, to this day he remembers vividly what it was like to work for the first time at CMA Music Festival – as a member of the CMA team in 1995.

“The Festival was at the (Tennessee State) Fairgrounds then,” he recalls. “I remember driving a golf cart around with a headset on, and Jo Dee Messina was in the back. I was taking her to sign autographs at her booth, and she said to me, ‘I wonder if anyone will know who I am here?’ When I dropped her off, there were tons of fans waiting for her, and I told her, ‘I think you’re gonna do all right.’”

When Bentley heard that the Festival was moving from the Fairgrounds to downtown Nashville, he didn’t think it would work. “I thought it was too big a space,” he admitted. “But today they shut down Broadway and the whole thing has become so big. The loyalty and dedication of the fans to this format and the singers is like nothing else in the world.

“I think people who come here who are not familiar with Country Music are just shocked at the proximity of the Country singers to the fans and the mutual respect and trust and love between fans and artists,” he added. “It even shocks me, and I’ve been here 20 years.”

Dierks Bentley returns to LP Field in June – as a performer, not a talent escort – at the 2014 CMA Music Festival.

Photo: Dierks Bentley rocks LP Field during CMA Music Festival on June 8, 2013 (Photo by John Russell).