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 Bentley's song "Home," nominated for Song of the Year.
"When he sings 'Home,' I feel patriotic about America, and I'm not even American," Bono said. "I think anyone who hears 'Home' understands that America is ... not just a country, it's an idea. I think country fans get that."
"Home," the stirring title track of Bentley's latest album, has earned him the attention of everyone from the Arizona Centennial Commission to National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."
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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, we're all Americans. The things that make us different are what make this country strong," he added.
Bentley will perform April 28 at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort at an event organizers call "Throwdown at Fightertown." The concert is open to the public.
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 reconnected with Hank Williams Jr. in his late teens.
"That's 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 cable's 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. "I'm always looking, always listening, always digging, always trying to find cuts I haven't heard before. I'm always looking to go deeper.
"You could stop making country music right now, and you'd 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'."
Bentley's next three albums -- 2005's "Modern Day Drifter," 2006's "Long Trip Alone" and 2009's "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 2010's 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, it's 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.
"I'm always looking to push the boundaries, but I never lose sight of what my fans love," said Bentley, who has been nominated for nine Grammy Awards. "Every now and then you try to widen the circle a bit. You just try to keep evolving."