“The stars of Grey’s Anatomy don’t get to go around the country doing surgery,” quipped Charles Esten at the beginning of his set. Right he is, as Nashville stepped out of the screen and came to New York for the fourth consecutive year on Saturday night (August 5th). This year’s tour featured less talent from the primetime country music soap, but no less energy and music.
Chris Carmack, Jonathan Jackson, and Charles Esten rocked the brand new Ford Amphitheater on Coney Island’s boardwalk. The tour was originally slated to feature Clare Bowen, but she fell ill earlier this month and has been ordered by her doctor to sit out the last two weekends of concerts. We here at the The Music Universe wish her well and hope she gets better soon!
Carmack, who plays Will Lexington on the CMT series, was the first act to perform. He kicked off the concert with what has been the go-to opening number since their inception in 2014: his character’s first hit, “What If I Was Willing.” Carmack continued with another older number, “I’m On It,” and his original song, “Being Alone.” His performance was marked by energy and smoldering faces directed at the women in the front row.
Jonathan Jackson was the next out, performing two numbers from season one, “Keep Asking Why” and “The Morning of The Rain”. The ladder song is a number Jackson personally wrote and performs with his own band, Enation. His relaxed, stoic energy but powerful voice are no act. As Avery Barkley has matured on the show, these older songs proved an interesting look back at Jackson’s character’s brooding past.
Charles Esten has always been Nashville’s leading man. But during its four years on ABC, his Deacon Claybourne was overshadowed by the central clash of the titans: Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton) and Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere). Now, with the departure of Britton and an apparent reduction in Panettiere’s role, Esten’s acting and musical talents shines in this fifth season as his character handles personal grief, a family left in turmoil, and business pressures for which Claybourne feels ill-equipped to handle.
So, when Esten took the the stage as the third act, the crowd went their wildest. Described by Jackson in his introduction as the “Captain of the ship,” Nashville’s newly-anointed protagonist came bounding on stage with “Buckle Up,” an original not heard on the series, but part of Esten’s #EverySingleFriday project. He released a single every Friday for 54 consecutive weeks. Esten continued his set with fan favorites “Sanctuary” and “Like New.” Esten’s energy and presence were boundless, as though he had been a rock star for decades. Before a brief intermission, the gang gathered on stage for a rousing rendition of David Bowie’s “Hero,” with Carmack surprising the audience with his saxophone skills.
Upon their return to the stage, Carmack and Esten began teasing the audience with the familiar opening to another Nashville classic. After building up the crowd’s curious tension, Esten screamed “Please welcome the great LUKE WHEELER!” Out stepped Nashville alum Will Chase, a Broadway veteran with a smokey Kentucky singing voice. He held clutched a cup as he played to the audience during a driving version of “It’s On Tonight,” another fan favorite of the hit TV show’s deep catalogue.
And it is that depth of catalogue that leaves these concerts with more to be desired. For four years, the setlist has only seen incremental change. For instance, “Spinning Revolver,” arguably Carmack’s signature song on the series, has been a noticeable consistent absence. Though, it has been recorded and released in three different studio versions. That said, the point of these tours has always been to show off the TV stars’ real-world musical talents, not just have them sing in character. The setlist manages the challenge of striking this balance quite well.
The second half featured more originals and covers, and a few more numbers from the recent season of Nashville. Chris Carmack brought down the house with the season five equality anthem, “Stand Up.” Charles Esten earned an ovation on the slow burning “Good Rain or Jesus,” a song that appeared on the most recent episode. And Jonathan Jackson sent the crowd to the rafters with an emotional cover of “Unchained Melody.”
The concert is a Nashville family affair. The band, led by Colin Linden, moved deftly through the diversity of musical numbers. As well they should: Linden is the music supervisor on the series and acts as band leader on the road. Even the guitar technician on the road is responsible for all the instruments on the series.
Will Chase returned to the stage to close out the main set with Charles Esten, singing “He Ain’t Me.” An inside joke duet, both men were at one point love interests to Connie Britton’s Rayna James, with Esten’s Deacon winning her heart. The whole cast, including special guest Chase, returned for the traditional closing number, “A Life That’s Good,” A song from the second season.
Nashville has always been a show that lived for and because of the fans. Always on the bubble, previous concert tours served to prove to ABC the support the show had from their “Nashies.” Now on its cable home at CMT, the show received a confirmed season six renewal in mid-April. the cast was able to relax on this jaunt, strap on their guitars, and celebrate a Life That’s, indeed, very Good.