When country star Dierks Bentley performed at the Academy of Country Music Awards earlier this month, a special friend showed up to introduce him: U2 frontman Bono.
The Irish rocker appeared via video to introduce Bentleys song Home, nominated for Song of the Year.
When he sings Home, I feel patriotic about America and Im not even American, Bono said. I think anyone who hears Home understands that America is not just a country, its an idea. I think country fans get that.
Home, the stirring title track of Bentleys latest album, has earned him the attention of everyone from the Arizona Centennial Commission to National Public Radios All Things Considered.
Bentley said the song, which he penned with Dan Wilson and Brett Beavers, speaks to a shared desire to unite the nation.
Politics sometimes looks like a football game with one side trying to beat another, he said. No matter where you stand, at the end of the day, were all Americans. The things that make us different are what make this country strong.
This weekend, Bentley will perform alongside the Eli Young Band, Will Hoge, Brett Eldredge and Ragged Jubilee as part of the Pozo Saloons annual Pozo Stampede.
Now in its third year, the country music showcase has featured acts including Merle Haggard, Dwight Yoakam and The Devil Makes Three.
An Arizona native, Bentley remembers listening to country radio with his father at age 3. He went through a Van Halen phase at age 13 and, then reconnected with Hank Williams Jr. in his late teens.
Thats all part of me: country and bluegrass and rock, he said.
When he moved to Nashville a few years later, Bentley landed a dream job researching old concert footage for cables The Nashville Network, now Spike TV.
No one knows as much as I do about country music, said the performer, who relished the exposure to Lefty Frizzell, George Jones and other country greats. Im always, looking always listening, always digging, always trying to find cuts I havent heard before. Im always looking to go deeper.
You could stop making country music right now and youd still need 20 lifetimes to listen to it.
Bentley soon added his own voice to the mix, releasing an independent album in 2001 and making his Capitol Records debut in 2003. The latter album netted him his first No. 1 country hit, What Am I Thinkin.
Bentleys next three albums 2005s Modern Day Drifter, 2006s Long Trip Alone and 2009s Feel That Fire spawned more chart-topping singles, including Come a Little Closer, Every Mile a Memory and Sideways. (They also earned him honors from the Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association, and led to his induction into the Grand Ole Opry.)
Home, which hit store shelves in February, comes on the heels of 2010s bluegrass- flavored acoustic album Up on the Ridge.
Although the title track has garnered the most attention, Home has other hits ranging from the silly, slangy 5-1-5-0 to the sweet Thinking of You.
Bentley describes Am I the Only One, about a man who finds his friends are too grown-up to party, as one of the biggest party anthems of my career.
Understandably, its a crowd favorite.
It really takes the party to another level, Bentley said of the No. 1 single. The energy really goes through the roof.
Bentley said he tries to find a balance between fun, hard-rocking tunes, and songs that make a statement.
Im always looking to push the boundaries, but I never lose sight of what my fans love, said Bentley, whos been nominated for nine Grammy Awards. Every now and then you try to widen the circle a bit. You just try to keep evolving.