Phoenix native Dierks Bentley was deeply affected by the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire that took the lives of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot firefighters.
So much so that the singer hosted a benefit concert in Prescott on July 22, 2013. The Band Perry, Randy Houser and David Nail joined him for the sold-out Country Cares Concert, which raised just shy of half a million dollars for the firefighters’ families.
“It just spoke to me from being from Arizona,” says Bentley, who was in town for a red-carpet premiere at Tempe Marketplace. “We have a lot of fires. Knowing how important these guys are to our community and knowing that small community like Prescott, losing 19 guys. What an effect it had on that community, so it just kind of struck me.”
So, when Only the Brave director Joseph Kosinski asked Bentley to contribute to a song for the film’s closing credits four years later, it only made sense for him to add his own touch. “Hold the Light” is the result.
“You’re writing a song that’s basically coming from the viewpoint of the hotshots who are no longer there and what they’re trying to say to their loved ones that are still here,” Bentley says. “That’s a different parameter than anything I’ve ever been a part of writing before.”
Writing “Hold the Light” was a different experience for Bentley, both from his usual country style and with its emotional resonance, he says.
“I’m out there writing songs like ‘Drunk on a Plane’ and stuff that makes people just have a good time,” he explains. “I write some heavy songs, too, but this is a totally different level of heaviness and importance and getting it right and saying something that you hope these families – when they hear this song – are going to go, ‘that message feels sincere.’”
The song is a collaboration between Bentley, Bon Iver’s S. Carey, Jon Randall and composer Joe Trapanese, whose score the song is heavily based around. Trapanese teases elements and motifs of the song leading up to its full appearance in the film’s credits.
“It was a difficult task,” Bentley explains. “I’ve learned so much working with Joe Trapanese. He’s such a pro at this stuff, so I learned how to make that work and how to look for lines in the movie and pieces in the movie and these personal lives that could fit into the song and make it feel as sincere as possible.”
For the singer, making sure the song connects with listeners and those affected by the tragedy was important.
“Hopefully the song adds to that feeling of walking away going, ‘Wow, I feel inspired that these guys are out there doing what they do and these guys made a sacrifice trying to save our community,’” he says.
The story is even closer to home for Bentley now, as he has become friends with the Granite Mountain Hotshots’ lone survivor, Brendan McDonough. The two met at the 2013 Country Cares Concert, but getting back in touch surrounding the film allowed the two to become pals, he says.
Of everyone who helped to throw the 2013 benefit, he says, “It had a big effect on us, and we wanted to just get back home and give a hug to the community and get one in return. As much for me as it was for that community, I just needed to be around them. When tragedy strikes like that, you just kind of want to be around people. There’s not really an agenda. It’s just to be there. So, I just wanted to get back here, and luckily we were able to raise some money and raise some spirits in that concert.”
But for Bentley, holding the concert and writing the song are just his ways of playing his part.
“It’s a feeling of gratitude to be associated with this movie,” he says. “I just can’t believe that a song that I had a chance to be a part of writing that I get a chance to sing is part of a movie that has a lofty goal of honoring these legacies. I feel thankful to be associated with it…just a lot of gratitude that I could be part of something that hopefully honors these guys’ legacy and really honors all first responders.”
The singer will appear on Good Morning America Tuesday, October 17, via a block party live from Austin, Texas. Columbia Pictures’ Only the Brave, which stars Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch and Jennifer Connelly, is set for a nationwide release this Friday, October 20.