CNN — With a rev of his Harley-Davidson's engine and a smile, Dierks Bentley plays leader of the pack once a year on his annual fund-raiser, Miles and Music for Kids.
On a Sunday afternoon each fall for the last eight years, Bentley has been at the head of the line as motorcycle enthusiasts follow him on an hour-long ride from the Harley dealership in Columbia, Tennessee, to downtown Nashville's Riverfront Park.
The day ends with a star-studded concert, with some of the biggest names in country music joining Bentley on his mission. Over the last eight years Bentley, his famous friends and their fans have raised over $2 million for the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.
"The idea for this started, I guess, not long after I went out on the road. We were just trying to figure out a way to give back to the Nashville community, do something here. (We) get so many offers to do different types of events to give back, we kind of wanted to make our own so we could really focus on one particular thing," Bentley said.
"We wanted to do something here in Nashville, so we chose the Vanderbilt children's hospital and Children's Miracle Network and kind of focused our efforts towards that. It's been great. From the very beginning we've made money, and I've been able to bring a big check over to the hospital every year. I felt really good about that."
Bentley also credits the advice of a music icon in helping him focus his charitable efforts.
"I sat next to Bono one time and heard about all his exploits and all the stuff he does with his organization ONE," he said. Bentley said he was overwhelmed at how much Bono's anti-poverty group was accomplishing, "but something he said, and I tell other people too, is to just concentrate on what's right in front of you. It could be a smallest thing in the world, just taking, helping out one person. You're making a difference in changing somebody's life, so just taking something you can tackle and get behind."
While his primary focus was to give back in his own backyard, Bentley took his show on the road and held rides in several other cities including Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, and Phoenix to benefit the children's hospitals in those towns.
"I really like the idea of that because so many towns and cities across this country have given me so much, have given me a life, it's nice to be able to go in and give back," Bentley said.
Bentley brought the event back to Nashville a few years ago and said it's been pretty easy to get his famous pals to contribute their time on a Sunday afternoon they'd typically have off. Big stars like Luke Bryan, Jake Owen and Brett Eldredge bring the fans in, and as a result the fund-raising is more and more profitable every year.
If you ask him about all the star-powered help he gets, Bentley just chalks it up to people helping each other out. But that's not entirely it, according to the event's emcee Storme Warren, host of Great American Country's "Headline Country."
"I think it's as simple as his energy and his genuineness. There's just something about Dierks that you want to root for, and the whole town feels that. He's loved by everybody, both as an artist and as a person. So it's like he gets behind a cause, you want to help him out with it. And it's his ability to step out on the edge and say, 'All right, nobody else is doing this? Let's do it. Let's get it done!' and we all fall in line," Warren said.
This year Bentley led 2,000 riders down the back roads of middle Tennessee, including a few famous faces. Even the fictitious mayor of Music City -- at least, he plays the mayor on ABC's "Nashville" -- Eric Close was along for the ride.
"I'm here to support the ride that's supporting Children's Hospital," Close said. "One of the things I love about the city of Nashville -- it's an incredibly charitable place. There's constantly events going on, people are very supportive. It's constant that people are out there trying to make a difference, and this is one of those events where they're making a difference in the lives of kids through the children's hospital at Vanderbilt," said Close.
Bentley, who didn't have children when he started this fund-raiser, now is the father of three and is even more aware of the importance of his cause.
"You're always just praying to have a healthy kid, that's the most important thing, and knock on wood, we have. But you never know when you could be in someone else's shoes and need the assistance of the great medical staff and team, like at Vanderbilt children's hospital. So (the ride is) something I definitely look forward to every year and definitely feel really honored to just to kind of be the face of the whole deal," Bentley said.
Miles and Music for Kids this year raised over $300 thousand -- a new record.
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