Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Tampa Bay Music & Shows

Charles Esten of 'Nashville' talks touring, show's season finale and Connie Britton's hair

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The cast of ABC's Nashville has already been on two tours but hasn't come to Florida. And Charles "Chip" Esten, who plays the Deacon Claybourne, wanted to make sure the country singers made time this go around for the Sunshine State.

"I love Florida. My wife and I actually honeymooned in Longboat Key. That's near you guys, right?" he said.

It is, in fact, about 55 miles from Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, where Esten and fellow Nashville actors Clare Bowen (Scarlett O'Connor), Chris Carmack (Will Lexington) and Aubrey Peeples (Layla Grant) perform on Thursday.

ABC hasn't renewed the struggling drama about the country music industry, which airs at 9 p.m. Wednesdays, for another season. The show will end its fourth season in May.

Just days before speaking to the Times, Esten had finished taping his final scenes of the season.

"We've actually never filmed a season finale knowing that we'll be back," he said.

Thankfully, fans were given a little finality between two of its main characters. Esten's character recently married his long-time love, Rayna James, played by Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights), who is not on the tour.

So, we had to ask, is her famous hair just as luscious and lovely as it looks on screen?

After a few deep chuckles, Esten sighed, "Yeah, it has its own trailer. And PR. Nah, I'm only kidding!"

Esten, 50, plays a country singer on TV, but he's also one in real life. His band Sixwire tours the country, and he's working on his own debut album. He really lives in Nashville with his wife and kids, so he's constantly walking through the doors of the Grand Ole Opry to perform or support musician friends.

And he knows he's pretty lucky to have found a role where he gets to play music and act.

"The very first job I had was playing Buddy Holly in London. I was a musician at the time and learned to act with that (show). … That was my acting school."

(Fun fact: You may remember him as the musically inclined comedian from early days of Whose Line Is It Anyway?)

Esten definitely gets to use his acting chops on Nashville as swoon-worthy Deacon, a wholesome bad boy who struggles with sobriety and uses music as his therapy. Music plays a pivotal role in the show, too, with characters creating and singing the songs to enhance plot points.

"There comes a point in a scene where words have said what they can. With our music, (the show) can go to another place," Esten said.

But you're not alone if you've noticed that Nashville has devoted more of its airtime lately to dramatic and sometimes silly storytelling. These live concerts fill that void for its fans.

"We have such a devoted fan base. … This is really a 'thank you' to the fans," he said. But even "if you're not a fan, come along. It turns into kind of a party."

The audience can expect to go behind the songs, get to know the group, hear songs from the show and hear some new ones. And for a little more authenticity, Esten and his castmates will be backed by the band who performs the songs on the show.

Esten says he's aware of the concerns of drama trumping the music, but he still has faith in the show.

"There is something about Nashville that holds onto you. There's always something deeper and something real that holds you" as you watch those "truthful moments in music," he said.

Nashville has kept its roots strong in country music with hit soundtracks as well as three TV specials. Counted with the blooming number of country music awards shows and the number of NBC's The Voice winners that have coach Blake Shelton to thank, it seems Nashville is part of a new wave of country.

"It's such a broad genre and there's so much to be found in it. … We explore the full range of (country music) as much as we can," Esten said. "You can hear (something like) what's playing on the radio today, or something more traditional."

Contact Brittany Volk at [email protected] Follow @bevolk.

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