As Dierks Bentley looks towards Sunday’s ACM Awards ceremony, the singer says he’s excited to still be a part of the show, 16 years after winning his first trophy.

“My first ACM was back in 2005. To still be invited, still be nominated for some of these bigger awards and be part of the fun is something I really appreciate and have never taken for granted,” he reflects.

But Dierks is far from a relic in the country genre: On the contrary, he’s excited to be part of pushing the genre forward, and that includes inclusivity when it comes to the racial diversity of the artists being recognized. That’s part of the reason why he wanted to invite The War & Treaty, a husband-and-wife vocal duo comprised of Michael and Tanya Trotter, to join him for his performance of U2’s “Pride (in the Name of Love.).” The duo are Americana Music Award winners, but they haven’t seen much mainstream country recognition — at least, not yet.

“They’re so awesome and I’ve been waiting for a chance to collaborate with them again,” says Dierks. “They came out and played my Seven Peaks Festival in Colorado a couple of years ago. Lovely people, huge voices, and exciting, too, that they’re both African-American, to have that element, with what’s going on in country music.”

For Dierks, the push to open up the genre’s boundaries is exciting, and he hopes his ACMs performance will be an example of what the genre stands to gain from being inclusive.

“They just elevate the performance so much. And it’s just a really cool mixture of people on stage for this performance,” he adds.

The 2021 ACM Awards will air on CBS at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday.

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