When Dierks Bentley took the stage for his Faster Horses performance Friday night (July 21), he knew it was already going to be a special show. The set marked Bentley’s return to the Brooklyn, Michigan festival four years after his performance at the inaugural fest in 2013, in which he also filled the Friday night headliner slot.
“I’ve had a lot of songs in five years, I can’t wait to sing them for y’all,” he told this year’s crowd, adding that it’s his favorite festival he’s ever played.
One of those new songs is 2014’s “Riser,” the title track on the singer’s seventh studio album. While Bentley typically performs the track on a B-stage in his normal What the Hell Tour setup, the massive Faster Horses crowd didn’t allow for that. But Bentley found an even more amazing way to present his meaningful tune.
Prior to his set, Bentley met a pair of friends named Chris Egen and Sue Cabadas in his pre-show meet and greet. The two were celebrating five years of friendship over Faster Horses weekend, as they met while camping at the 2013 festival. Their friendship is a special one, though, because the two didn’t just keep in touch for four years — Egen recently saved Cabadas’ life.
In the time since the 2013 Faster Horses, Cabadas found out she was going to need a kidney transplant. Who would’ve ever thought that a guy she met at a music festival campsite would end up being her donor, but that’s exactly what happened: On December 7, 2016, Egen donated his kidney to Cabadas in a successful transplant.
To commemorate the miraculous story that all began at the first Faster Horses, Egen wanted to share it with the festival organizers who brought he and Cabadas together four years ago. Upon messaging the Faster Horses official Facebook page (with a movie trailer-esque video about their story), the fest’s digital marketing manager, Caroline Waters, knew this was a story that founder Brian O’Connell had to hear.
“Brian saw their story, loved it, and wanted to make their experience was the best it could be,” Waters tells Billboard. After writing back, Waters found out that Bentley was the artist the friends were most excited to see — particularly because Cabadas listened to Bentley’s music while she was in the hospital.
Waters set up meet-and-greet passes for Cabadas and Egen, but from there, it was all Bentley’s doing. He asked the two of them to sit side-stage for his performance, then taking things one step further by actually inviting them out on stage before “Riser.” After telling their story and just before beginning the song, Bentley told the crowd that those two friends are a prime example of just how special the fest is.
“We play a lot of festivals — you don’t hear about that s–t at these things,” he said. “This is what Faster Horses is all about.”