Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native, Charles (Chip) Esten is a talented singer/songwriter, skillful musician, gifted actor, and top-notch comedian currently living in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife and three children. He has had a noteworthy career, appearing in TV series such as Married With Children, ER, and The Office. In 2013 he won $500,000 for his charity while playing Who Wants To Be A Millionaire as a celebrity contestant. Esten has performed at the prestigious Grand Ole Opry 100 times (yes, ONE HUNDRED TIMES) as well as the legendary Ryman Auditorium. We had the honor of having the very accomplished Charles Esten play at our first ever New England Country Music Festival back in 2015. He performed both originals as well as songs from his role as Deacon on the ABC/CMT’s hit show Nashville. After a lengthy six-season run, Esten’s venture on Nashville is unfortunately coming to an end on Thursday, July 26th. Though all around it’s going to be a bittersweet day, we have to tell you about a very special treat! Charles Esten will be right here in Boston, at City Winery, to sing the songs of Deacon Claybourne and watch the Nashville series finale with some of his loyal fans. As he gets ready to pack up his things and head north, we at NECM, had the opportunity to speak with Charles Esten about how important the show is to him, his fans, and his future.
Esten spent the better half of six years perfecting the character of Deacon. He reflects: “To get to explore somebody over the course of this many episodes was a unique, singular, and very special challenge and journey.” Esten describes his role on Nashville by saying: “It’s really apt and wonderful that I get to explore the earliest wound, the issue Deacon had with his father. And that Deacon is learning and growing and becoming that better man that he’s been trying to become.” The role of Deacon Claybourne was an important part of Esten’s career thus far. “Deacon ranks far above any other role that I’ve had.” When asked if he is ready to say goodbye to Deacon, Esten says: “Maybe, I don’t know. First of all, nothing lasts forever. We actually thought we were going to have to say goodbye two years ago. I felt then that it was too soon. There was something about getting these last two seasons. CMT was kind enough to let us know before the season that it was going to be our last one, which meant that we had more time to wrap our heads and our hearts around it. And it also meant that the writers had the opportunity to write us home and write us to the end instead of just keeping writing and then all of a sudden it stops.” Esten expresses that he feels a sense of closure from: “Not only the final episode, not only the very final scene, but I think even the very final line.”
When Thursday arrives, Esten hopes that the fans are moved by the ending and feel a sense of completion. He remarks: “There was magic from the very beginning of Nashville. I hope in some way the fans are able to appreciate the ending… All I can say is it’s very meaningful for me to be watching the end with the people that made it all possible in the first place and that’s our fans. If anybody is able to join us, come on out, I’d love to say hi and thank you and goodbye, at least for now. We’re gonna get to say goodbye, musically.” Boston fans that are in attendance on Thursday can expect some of the songs to be exactly the ones they’ve seen on the show and others to be changed up a bit here and there. Esten is planning on playing the piano for some pieces, which he did not do on the show. Out of the three hundred songs on Nashville, Esten has about thirty. “As this whole thing was wrapping up I just took a second to look at them all and it just occurred to me how much I like them and how fortunate I was with the songwriters we had and the songs they brought to my character. I’m very happy to sing them.” After reflecting on the songs, Esten laughs a bit and says: “They sort of feel like my own after all this time.”
If you don’t already know, Nashville fans, also known as ‘Nashies,’ have their own hashtag on Twitter! They’re a loyal bunch and will be sad to see the show come to an end in a few short days. When thinking about the ‘Nashies,’ Esten says: “We have a very special fanbase. We’re the kind of show that once you got on the train, it was hard to get off.” He continues with: “We’ve put our fans through some difficult things, obviously not the least of which would be losing Rayna. We were just so moved and blown away by the way they stayed with us and were along for that tough journey of what it’s like for Deacon to explore, and what it’s like to be without the one you thought you’d never be without. People go through that unfortunately every day.” Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Nashville coming to an end is that it will live on through its music. Esten says: “When you’re done watching you’re not really done because there’s music that you can download and you can take into your lives and as I like to say into your homes, your hearts, your headphones. We’re right there in the car with you, or right there in the room with you while you’re studying. In many instances, right there at the wedding party, or right there at the memorial service with the music of Nashville. It has created this really undoubtable bond.” Esten definitely holds the ‘Nashies’ close to his heart, saying: “When the story of Nashville is all said and done, you can’t tell it without talking about the fans.”
When asked about whether or not he kept any souvenirs from the set of Nashville, Esten laughs and says: “Oh boy I did! I have one of Deacon’s guitars and a couple straps. I have the leather chair in Deacon’s house, I purchased that. The piano that Deacon and Scarlett wrote ‘This Town’ on, I bought that as well. And a whole lot of clothes. Deacon’s clothes, you might not be surprised to hear, fit me very well!” Continuing with the light-hearted tone: “Danny Rowe was kind enough to get me the microphone from my last performance in the Blue Bird.” He also has the signet ring that Deacon wore all six years. And on top of that, he kept Deacon’s boots. Where some actors have to leave their character forever when their show comes to an end, Esten’s character Deacon will live on for years to come. He will be able to experience “moments where I get to sit behind his guitar with his strap around my neck, maybe his signet ring on, and play a Deacon song. Whereas some actors have to say goodbye completely, I don’t think I ever will.”
Last week, Esten played his 100th show at the Grand Ole Opry. What an amazing experience that must have been! “There’s an incredible combination of talent and kindness there. I have a lot of great, fun memories. The overall feeling I have when I go there of being not only in these hallowed halls, on this very special stage, especially on that circle that they cut out of the Ryman and brought there from the old Opry. So, it’s all very special. As far as country music, it’s pretty holy and sacred. I’m made to feel very welcome and at home. Not only do I get to play at that wonderful place, I get to be amongst friends when I’m doing it. That’s very thrilling.”
Whether it’s continuing down the path of acting or the journey of music, Esten will not be stopping either anytime soon. He talked with us about being cast in a recurring role on the new TNT thriller Tell Me Your Secrets. “This role is not a lead role, like Deacon was, but that is almost preferable to me right now.” “It’s very different from Nashville in terms of the tone, it’s darker in a lot of ways. In terms of the scenes and the acting, and the dialogue, I’ve already enjoyed performing.” With a little giggle, Esten says: “Every time we get a script I read it and I’m like WHOA! WHOA, I did not expect that! This is definitely a real intense ride. So, I’m glad to be on it.” Along with his new role, Esten has no plans to stop singing and writing music. “I’ll never step away from music. When it comes to music, I don’t have to wait on anyone or anything. I can make the music that I feel and it comes through the writing that I do on my own and the cowrites that I’m so fortunate to get to do in this great town. I’ll be doing that the rest of my days.”
To conclude our interview, we asked Esten to do a word association and give us the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the exceptional people that he spent the last six years with and some of the spectacular places that he frequented. Here’s what he had to say: Connie Britton – “honest, truthful,” Hayden Panettiere – “force of nature,” Jonathan Jackson – “soulful,” Lennon and Maisy “lovely and amazing,” Clare Bowen – “magical,” Callie Khouri – “life changer,” Blue Bird “perfect,” Opry – “family,”
And of course, Nashville – “home.”
On that note of being home, we hope that you have tickets for Charles Esten’s show here in Boston at City Winery on July 26th because it is sold out! If you’re not joining us on Thursday, be sure to tune in to CMT at 9:00PM for the final episode of the series and to bid farewell to Deacon Claybourne and Nashville.