Hit US television show Nashville, following the lives of fictional Country musicians living in Tennessee’s Music City, has been a breakthrough hit on both sides of the Atlantic. And while viewing figures may have waivered enough after four seasons for the ABC broadcast network to cancel the show, fans the world over have made enough noise for cable channel CMT to pick it up for a fifth. But the thing that makes the show great is the simply diverse talent of its stars – actors, singers, musicians and writers across the board from the youngest cast members, sisters Maisy and Lennon Stella, to seasoned veterans Connie Britton and Charles Esten.
Understanding the demand to see these performers outside of the television screen, a number of the cast have been touring the US with a live show which has finally (thankfully) made it across the pond to the UK. Kicking off in Manchester, the tour concluded with not one but three performances over two days at West London’s Hammersmith Apollo venue. While the cast of all-singing, all-playing stars on the TV show is extensive, a rotating subset have been playing the live shows. So for the UK leg of the tour, Washington D.C.-native Chris Carmack, Australian Clare Bowen and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-born Charles Esten joined Cornwall-raised Brit.
Introduced onto stage as “The Bearded Wonder”, Chris Carmack jested that his beard was getting its own credits before introducing foot-stomping show opener What If I Was Willing: “What d’ya say we kick it off with an old Will Lexington tune?!”, the seated Hammersmith crowd immediately clapping along, with a few debating the appropriateness of standing.
“Keep it going for your very own Sam Palladio” Carmack screamed as he departed the stage to make way for Palladio. “Are we gonna have fun tonight” the 29-year-old beamed, “I’ve brought my American friends with me” before breaking into downbeat ‘Gunnar Scott’ song Can’t Get It Right. “It’s good to be home” Palladio said before introducing the next star: “You know her as Gunnar’s better half, give it up for Clare Bowen!” the Brit departing as Aussie Bowen appeared in a flowing white gown, the game of musical tag-team continuing.
Moving about the stage in a flowing, angelic manner, Bowen introduced her fiancé Brandon Robert Young, a singer-songwriter himself, backing up Bowen on vocals and guitar for the melancholy Nashville tune Longer. Bowen herself then made way for Deacon Claybourne actor Charles Esten, the star receiving the biggest cheer of the night so far.
“This is actually a song that Deacon wrote for Rayna” he said, “that’s not really saying anything because he wrote ‘em all for Rayna” the 50-year-old jested before kicking off slow tune I Know How To Love You Now, written by Esten himself with Country Music star Deana Carter.
It was Chris Carmack’s turn next. “Anyone heard of a show called The O.C.?” he asked, referring to his time on the hit US teen drama. “Back when I was on that show, I was actually doing my version of Will Lexington, I was playing empty clubs, I played original songs. This lovely show Nashville has given myself as well as my fellow cast mates the incredible opportunity to put our original music out into the world” he said, introducing slow-drive original tune Pieces Of You.
Palladio joined Carmack next for the first collaboration of the night, an airing of original tune Heading For The Fire from the Brit’s forthcoming solo record, the tune’s driving beat coupled with Carmack’s whistling giving the cut an old Country ‘n’ Western feel.
“This is a song that Gunnar writes for Scarlett when she’s going through some bad times” Palladio said, introducing season four song Count On Me, the long drawn pedal steel providing the downbeat tune it’s necessary Country inflection.
Charles Esten returned to the stage to close out the first half of the set with upbeat tune Like New before strapping on a beautiful wine-burst Les Paul guitar for the heart-wrenching No One Will Ever Love You, intermixing the tunes with a humble story of his time working as a stage actor some 25 years back in the title role in musical Buddy and catching an Elvis Costello show at the Hammersmith Apollo. “Definitely grab a drink or two ‘cause this thing’s gonna get out of hand” he said before departing the stage for a brief intermission.
The second half of the show was kicked off in rocking style by Chris Carmack and Sam Palladio duetting on season three tune If It’s Love before Carmack demonstrated yet another fascinating string to his bow, shredding some killer blues guitar licks with a cover of BB King’s Sweet Little Angel. Slow acoustic tune She Dances was another outing of an original song by Palladio before he dove into his grandfather’s story of a wartime love in Nashville, the story captured beautifully in original song Wake me up in Nashville, the song telling a powerful story and demonstrating Palladio’s own strong story-telling song-writing skills his character on the show often struggles with.
Bowen opened up to the audience in a beautiful and extremely personal way next. A cancer survivor herself, she went on to introduce original song Love Steps In, written for her by fiancé Brandon Young and Justin Halpin. “The reason I couldn’t write it is because it’s way too personal” she said, going on to explain that her brother Tim had been diagnosed with cancer and that she had stepped in to donate bone marrow. “If I cry, cry with me and thank you for letting me be human” she continued, tearing up as a driving beat kicked off the uplifting tune.
Duet Hand To Hold between Bowen and Esten was a particular highlight, the pair descending into the crowd at opposite sides of the Apollo stage, meeting in middle of the venue.
Esten took the show to another level next with a cover of Elvis Presley’s That’s All Right, Mama, the American shimmying about the West London stage, lifting his shirt collar up whilst mimicking Presley’s style to fine and fun effect while harmonies were provided by Bowen. “The best pretend niece I’ve ever had!” exclaimed Esten as Bowen left the stage.
The tempo was upped as Esten strapped on the Les Paul once more for self-penned blues-country tune He Ain’t Me, the consummate showman taking time out to introduce and play along with each member of the house band before diving about the stage and jumping off the drum riser.
The final song of the main set saw Carmack, Young and Bowen return to the stage with Palladio taking over drumming duties for One More Song, the entire Hammersmith Apollo crowd reaching their feet for the very Country goodbye tune. “Now we got to go, but our hearts will stay here” Esten sang to yells of “no” from the crowd.
After a short departure, the collective returned for a rendition of TV show cut A Life That’s Good, a mainstay song from the show hitting home with both the crowd and the artists on stage alike before the four said a long slow goodbye to their audience, shaking hands and posing for selfies with those at the stage edge.
This was an incredibly fun show for those familiar with material from the Nashville television show and those less so. It served as both a live outing of the show’s material as well as a showcase for the individual talents of its stars and a platform for their own musical careers, which I personally hope flourish. Would it have been a better night had more of the show’s stars had appeared? It would have been different for sure but these four would have been hard to top in this Country music fan’s opinion!
Nashville returns to British screens with season 4 airing on Sky Living on 22nd August.
Live review of Nashville In Concert @ Hammersmith Apollo by Kalpesh Patel on 18th June 2016.
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate