MEXICO — When country superstar Dierks Bentley pulled Mexico’s Sydney Lawton on stage with him Sunday night, she was understandably surprised — and a little worried.

“I didn’t want him to stop the show!” said Lawton, 17, of her impromptu cameo with Bentley at the Lakeview Amphitheater. “My friend was pointing at me and [Bentley] just grabbed my arm and I jumped up.”

A capacity crowd descended on the shores of Onondaga Lake for Sunday’s concert, part of Bentley’s “Burning Man” Tour, but no audience member can claim a connection with the singer like Lawton does.

“I was crying because it felt really nice that I touched his heart, I guess,” she said in a Monday interview with The Palladium-Times. “Most people wouldn’t stop in the middle of a concert.”

To understand how the Mexico Academy and Central Schools student and Nashville, Tennessee-based multi-platinum recording artist found themselves standing (and hugging) before nearly 20,000 screaming fans, it’s important to know that they’re both animal lovers and art aficionados.

After Bentley lost his beloved 15-year-old dog Jake in 2016, the musician poured his grief into his album “Black,” particularly the track “Can’t Be Replaced.” Inspired by both Bentley’s pain and her own experience with losing pets, Lawton set to work on a painting of the dearly departed pup.

“When I heard about Jake and how much he meant to [Bentley], I thought a painting might be a nice thing to do,” she said.

Each year, Lawton and her mother, Jodi, try to attend Bentley’s summer concert tour. In 2016, they brought a little something special with them. Although Bentley doesn’t accept items from fans on stage as a matter of security, the Lawtons passed the painting to a helpful security guard and, satisfied in their effort, enjoyed the rest of the show.

On the drive home, the phone rang. It was Dierks. Dierks Bentley, calling.

“We were in complete shock,” Sydney said. “When I was 14 I was very, very shy, so I just said ‘thank you’ and he said he loved it and would hang it up.”

Jodi Lawton had written a phone number on the back of the painting, Sydney said, “just in case of anything.” In their brief chat, the two became even bigger fans of Bentley’s, if that’s possible.

On May 2, 2019, Bentley took to social media with a heartbreaking announcement that would bring the Lawtons back in touch: his 14-year-old dachshund George had died.

It takes a while for her paintings to get started, Sydney said, but once she began to put down the background, base and layers of paint, her portrait of George took about five days from start to finish. With some touchups the morning of the concert, she was ready to go.

“I did not expect it to happen like that,” she said.

After arriving early to get good seats, the Lawton ladies got in touch with a member of the event staff to pass off the painting. A text back confirmed that Bentley loved it. Then came the magic moment.

“To be honest, it was really quick,” she said. “He was talking about fans, then a painting.”

A member of their entourage pointed out Sydney to Bentley, who came over and scooped her up.

“He’s a great guy,” she said. “We love going to his concert every year because it’s always something different and he’s so into it with the crowd…”

Sydney Lawton’s voice trails off momentarily before finding the words.

“I go, and I’m instantly happy when he comes on stage,” she said. “I just get this huge smile, it’s so great. I just hope it touches people’s hearts.”

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