OFFSTAGE: When Dierks Bentley Picks, Why Doesn’t Anybody Grin?

(CMT Offstage keeps a 24/7 watch on everything that’s happening with country music artists behind the scenes and out of the spotlight.)

When musicians talk about how they taught themselves to play, they never really mention those excruciating days when they were first learning. And when I say excruciating, I mean for the listeners. You can see how that’s unfolding for Dierks Bentley , who looks like he’s only been plucking his Gold Tone banjo for a couple weeks.

In his new DBTV webisode , Bentley and his band are in a van headed for the airport. “It’s a long day, but luckily for these guys, I brought along my old banjo,” he says. “They’re not gonna get tired of it.” But after he plays the same part of “Dueling Banjos” tune over and over and over, one guy’s taking pills and one’s begging for someone to kill him. (Maybe because of the memories of Deliverance, the 1972 film that made that tune so famous.) Bentley even plays the banjo on the airplane, on the hockey rink and in the river with no shoes and no shirt. “I just feel at one with nature when I’m out here — river, sun, five-string banjo,” he says.

Bentley actually seems blissfully unaware of how his playing sounds. That is, until he gets the ultimate snub from the American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma. He offers to donate his banjo to the museum, and the man there just shakes his head and says, “We’re good. But thanks, anyway.” And this is a place that highlights Kermit the Frog and his banjo, so that had to hurt.

But I, for one, can actually hear Bentley’s potential. He seems like he’ll be a natural at it, once he gets over the practicing stage. And I know that he loves and respects the banjo for two reasons: One, he told a story a couple of years ago about hearing Billy Idol’s 1983 “Rebel Yell” and wondering, “How would that sound with some banjo?’” And two, when legendary player Earl Scruggs died last year, Bentley was one of the first to tweet his sympathies. “Lost one of the pillars of bluegrass music and country music today,” he wrote. “Rest in peace #earlscruggs! thanks for a lifetime of music to listen to!”

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.