Dierks Bentley, who once met Alan Jackson at the mall, is now honoring him with a CMAs tribute

It’ll be a full-circle moment when Dierks Bentley steps onstage at the CMA Awards tonight, November 9, to honor living legend Alan Jackson.

“I mean, he was one of the first guys I listened to when I got turned on to country music in ‘94,” Dierks reminisces to ABC Audio.

In fact, AJ was one of Dierks’ very first country celebrity sightings after he moved to Nashville to pursue music in the ‘90s. “I was at the mall, Green Hills Mall, and there’s Alan Jackson and his wife, Denise,” he recounts.

“And I was like, ‘Oh my, I have to meet him. So I waited outside for about half an hour,” Dierks continues. “He came out, [I] shook his hand. He said, ‘Thanks a lot, son,’ you know, got in his truck and drove away. And so it’s kind of a full-circle moment for sure.”

Dierks is in a unique spot in country music: His discography boasts many radio hits, but he also releases and performs bluegrass-leaning music and always makes time to connect with both the mainstream and roots worlds.

“I’ve always been really happy with my spot in country music, you know? I know a lot of the bluegrass guys and the older country guys, and I love being a part of that world,” he reflects. “But I’m also a huge fan, and I get to collaborate sometimes with the next upcoming generation of kids that are out there making their mark.”

Case in point: Dierks teamed up with Breland and Hardy for “Beers on Me,” which earned a CMA nomination for Music Event of the Year in 2022.

The 56th annual CMA Awards airs tonight at 8 p.m. on ABC; the ceremony will broadcast live from Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.

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