The popularity of Country music, the perceived mainstay of the Southern United States, is on the rise both throughout the rest of the U.S. and in the UK, with London’s O2 Arena now in its fifth year hosting C2C: Country to Country – the UK’s Country music festival – alongside a number of home-grown Country acts hitting in big on the charts. Duos The Shires and Ward Thomas have each produced two massive British Country music records, proving just how universal such Southern-sounding, story-telling songs truly are.
One of the factors in that rise in the popularity of Country music has been huge television show Nashville, set in its namesake Music City and following the lives of fictional artists who live in that world, played by talented musicians who excel in real life. And so it was both a demand from fans and a natural progression that some of those artists ventured out to perform, first in the U.S. and then last year across the pond in the U.K., including three stops at London’s Hammersmith Apollo venue.
This year, the tour not only kicked off in the U.K. rather than the U.S. but had its London leg upgraded to three shows at London’s famous Royal Albert Hall venue as well as fifth cast member Jonathan Jackson joining the fold.
Deacon Claybourne actor Charles Esten opened the night, stepping out on stage dressed smartly in a charcoal suit and white shirt, with his own number Buckle Up, guitar-rich with plenty of slide from guitarist Colin Linden adding to its Country twang alongside Esten’s own harmonica playing.
“Please welcome my buddy, Chris Carmack” Esten growled as he beckoned the Will Lexington actor on stage, the audience roaring as the 36-year-old waltzed out on stage, his lumberjack shirt and jeans adding to his stereotypical look. “D’y’all come to have a good time?” he screamed. “Y’all might know this one” he continued before kicking off foot-stomping cut What If I Was Willing, featured in the TV series’ second season.
Introducing Spinning Revolver he said, “this is a song that’s been on the show a few times, it’s a little bit more of a rock tune”, the cut easily something you’d find on a Country radio station anytime in the last 15 years, it’s rockier edge shifting the crowd to nodding along.
“Ladies and gentlemen please keep it together for my good friend, Mr. Jonathan Jackson” Carmack screamed as he departed the stage, the Avery Barkley actor taking his turn fronting the Nashville house band. “So how many of you guys have been watching Nashville since season one?” he asked. “So most of you remember when Avery was not the most charming and likable fellow” he continued, explaining his character’s journey before introducing up-tempo season one cut Keep Asking Why, a huge sound coming from the band including Hammond.
“This next song was written by U2 and Bob Dylan, and I find myself quite often in a place where I need some rescuing and the best thing for me is love” he said, introducing a slow-paced, ‘country-fied’ rendition of Rattle And Hum cut Love Rescue Me, pedal steel adding another dimension to song.
Jackson then handed over to Gunnar Scott actor Sam Palladio, the Pembury Kent-native sporting a new bleach-blonde hair style. “It feels good to be home” he beamed to huge cheers from the London crowd before strumming the intro to slow-drive season one song I Will Fall.
“This is something special” Palladio said, looking out at the historic Royal Albert Hall. “I grew up down in Cornwall so I never thought I’d end up living in Nashville and getting to work with some of the greatest musicians and songwriters in the world” he told the audience before breaking into original number Headed For The Fire, starting off slowly but quickly building into a foot-stomping romp of a Country tune.
“This place is rocking on a Sunday night!” the 30-year-old screamed before ‘reviving’ a musical collaboration from the television show “back in season three there were three exes that formed a band” he said, introducing Jonathan Jackson and Scarlett O’Connor actress Clare Bowen to the stage to easily the biggest cheer of the night so far as they kicked off Borrow My Heart, the first of many collaboration songs from the Nashville cast tonight.
“I’m so grateful to be here and so lucky to share the stage with so many wonderful people, please welcome to the stage Mr. Brandon Young” Bowen said, introducing her fiancé to accompany her on vocals and guitar “we like each other so much, we figured we might as well get married” she laughed in her whispered, kooky voice, her mild Australian accent a departure from the thick Southern she adopts on screen. “Let’s go back to season four” she said as Young picked out the downbeat riff of Longer.
“I think we should take it back to a show song” Bowen teased, the band breaking into upbeat duet Hand To Hold, Esten walking onto stage from the wings to join his on-screen niece, huge cheers erupting and getting louder as they each descended into the audience at opposite sides of the Royal Albert Hall arena, stopping to take selfies with fans while not missing a note.
“I missed you guys” Esten said to the audience as Bowen departed the stage. “This is a season five song that Deacon wrote for Rayna, of course he wrote all of them for Rayna” he continued, as a slow piano part kicked off behind him for delightful Country ballad Simple As That.
Chris Carmack returned to the stage next. “Y’all interested in hearing a new one?” he said, introducing a song from the TV show’s newest season, pulling Bowen and Young back out alongside Palladio taking up drumming duties for rousing cut Stand Up before the troupe broke for a brief intermission.
Palladio and Carmack kicked off the second half of the show in fine form with an outing of season three song If It’s Love, Palladio clearing the stage for a solo tune from Carmack “I want to share some music with you that I used to listen to when I was younger” the Washington D.C. native said, introducing blues number Texas Flood, it’s complete departure from Country made up for in spades by Carmack’s incredible blues guitar chops, his playing a true joy to watch.
The tag-teaming continued with Jackson returning to stage, also sharing tales of his childhood growing up listening to his father play (and record) Country music but finding himself drawn to British rock. Airings of Echo And The Bunnymen’s 1984 hit The Killing Moon followed by 1955 classic Unchained Melody flexing opposite ends of the Orlando, Florida-native’s vocal stylings, both covers garnering rousing responses from the crowd.
Sam Palladio bounced out next, describing his journey from visiting the Royal Albert Hall for the first time in 2007 to see John Mayer play to playing the same stage ten years later before kicking off new, mellow cut Hello Heartbreak Blues followed by Wake Me Up In Nashville, a self-penned tune based upon a heart-breaking tale from Palladio’s grandfather about travelling through the U.S. and falling in love with a girl from Nashville.
Fade Into You brought Bowen back to the stage for a duet with Palladio, their delicate TV show tune stunning the audience to quiet before Bowen aired new solo tune Letting It Rain, introducing it as a song about forgiveness. But it was Bowen’s chilling season two song Black Roses that showcased her incredible vocals while achieving moments of near pin drop silence from the audience.
Charles Esten was up next for a couple of foot-stomping numbers, the 51-year-old telling the audience of his time playing Buddy in London’s West End decades ago and riling both the band and audience, storming about the stage with easily the most energy of the five.
All five cast members returned to stage next for the closing numbers, kicking off with a heartfelt rendition of David Bowie classic Heroes, Carmack taking up saxophone duties, teasing the audience next with One More Song before closing the night with season two song A Life That’s Good, the audience on their feet and singing along.
While the various acts’ original material was truly excellent, as were the covers with Nashville Country flavour added, the largest disappointment of the night was the sheer volume of material from outside the television show the tour was purported to be about aired, especially given the huge legacy of music from the show which spans some nine album releases to date.
That said, these are artists all hoping to break through with their own solo material and so it was always to be expected and we can only look forward to each of them coming back to play solo shows of their own, Palladio already lined up to open for Foo Fighters’ guitarist Chris Shiflett this week.
So as season five of Nashville ends on U.S. television network CMT, and continues on Sky Atlantic in the U.K. we know for sure there will be a season six to look forward to, let’s hope next year brings even more cast members from the show to these shores for more shows.
Live review of Nashville In Concert @ Royal Albert Hall by Kalpesh Patel on 12th June 2017.
Read Kalpesh’s interview with UK Country duo The Shires: Interview: The Shires, Fish ‘N’ Chips & Country Licks
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate