Dierks Bentley was on hand to celebrate his long career in country music on Thursday night (March 3) in Nashville, when he hosted the opening of his new exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Dierks Bentley: Every Mile a Memory.

The 40-year-old singer-songwriter released his self-titled debut album in 2003, and has since scored 13 No. 1 singles. His most recent album, 2014's Riser, received massive critical acclaim, and Bentley is set to release its follow-up, Black, in 2016, accompanied by a major tour.

The exhibit chronicles his career from the early part of his life until the present, including pictures from his childhood, clothing he has worn onstage and in videos, his beloved acoustic guitar, awards, gear and more. Bentley brought along his wife, Cassidy, and one of their daughters for the opening, and he was also accompanied by another very special guest — his beloved dog, Jake, who has been his steadfast supporter since the early, struggling days of his career.

"Jake's been with me through every phase of my career, since before I had a publishing deal ... before I even had a gig, really," Bentley recalled to a group of reporters. "When I got my first gigs downtown, he'd be waiting there in the windowsill. He actually wore out a little spot in the couch where he'd wait for me. I'd come home real late, and he'd be there sitting in the window, putting in his time. Those were his years of grinding, sitting in the window waiting for me."

Bentley also reminisced about his earliest days at the Station Inn, a bluegrass venue in Nashville where he often hung out, and eventually got his earliest Nashville stage experiences. It served as his primary training ground, and he's still part of the scene there today.

"It was the start of a lot for me," he says. "I was looking for the source — where's the heart of this town? I went down there on a whim, and I ended up finding what I was looking for: guys and girls that, they weren't wearing starched jeans and big belt buckles. They were just wearing regular clothes, but they had all the chops, man; they could sing and play together, and it was a community spirit, very open and sharing and not competitive. It was a real moment for me, one of the three or four moments of my life when things really clicked."

Bentley can scarcely believe that his career has developed to the point where it warrants a Hall of Fame exhibit.

"I understand I'm not in the Hall of Fame, but I am in the Hall of Fame," he jokes. "It's hard to process ... I didn't use country music as a vehicle to become a star. I'm a star, I guess, because of my passion for country music, and I've never thought about these things. I never pictured myself having a display at the Country Music Hall of Fame. I didn't save stuff, thinking, 'This needs to be saved for this and that.' There's so much I lost over the years, It's really taken being here now to actually really grasp this whole thing. It's hard to comprehend. It's the Country Music Hall of Fame ... even to be part of this in any small way is amazing."

Dierks Bentley: Every Mile a Memory opens to the public on March 4 and is slated to run through Sept. 6 at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. For more information, visit the Hall of Fame website.

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