Chip Esten will tell you that sometimes the line between Nashville the show and real life not only gets blurred but goes away.
The songwriter who plays the character Deacon Claybourne was on tour a few weeks ago with Claire Bowen, the singer and actress who plays his niece Scarlet O’Connor. They got off the tour bus, said their goodbyes and see you at work the next days. The next day, Deacon and Claire were doing a scene with Gunnar Scott played by Sam Palladio. The three were right by a tour bus when he and Bowen had a revelation.
“We just looked at each other thinking about the crazy lives we’re leading,” Esten remembered as he sat onstage at the City Winery talking with Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale. The show was the first of what is expected to be a monthly broadcast at City Winery for the Buddy & Jim Show on Sirius XM Outlaw Country.
Esten recounted how one of the first songs he got to perform in the show was onstage at the Bluebird Café. He described the scene in which a very young and wide-eyed Gunnar approaches Deacon to tell him the song was really good. Deacon then tells him “It’s going to be you next up here because I think you’re really good.”
A month later, the Bluebird Café called Esten to invite him to sit in a writer’s round. In the audience watching was Sam Palladio who approached the singer to tell him how good it sounded. “I said, ‘Thank you, you’re going to be next,” Esten remembered. “And as I said that we both experienced this incredible déjà vu.”
Esten related how that story is indicative of the cast’s everyday lives in Nashville. Esten is now a full-time Nashvillian, having moved his wife Patty and three children from Los Angeles. Esten shared how he enjoys going to the Bluebird now and then but tries to slip in the back and pull a ball cap over his eyes.
One night songwriter Kendall Marvel was playing. Esten had yet to meet Marvel who, with his long beard and bald head, looks like a character out of Sons of Anarchy. Marvel asked how many of the people were here because they watch the television show [Nashville]. Following a round of applause, Marvel then said, “Well I hate to tell you. Deacon ain’t here tonight.’”
Standing in the back, Esten couldn’t resist. He lifted his hat and shouted to the stage: “He is here.” That’s how he and Marvel met and the two went on to write the song “I Climb The Walls.”
Prior to playing the song “The Story of My Life,” Esten explained that the character Deacon has been useful to his writing. “You can write songs from the place of happy and plenty,” he related, “but it’s nice to have the alter ego who goes through so darn much. After playing a day of hard times, maybe you write something that’s influenced by that.”
In the audience sitting twelve feet from the stage was Colin Linden, the gifted guitarist who plays most of the tracks when Esten is seen singing. “Whenever you hear Deacon singing that’s me singing but whenever you hear him play guitar that’s Colin Linden. We were saying Deacon is such a bad ass that it takes two guys to play him.”
Esten also took pride in helping to recommend Mark Collie when they were casting for Deacon’s sponsor who happened to be a bartender. He and Collie co-wrote “Spin The Wheel.”
Lauderdale asked Esten when he would be releasing a CD. Esten responded that his goal is to get one released by the last episode of the current season. Esten released his first single “Hot One” during the summer and has recently released “Like New,” a song written by Striking Matches and Jonathan Singleton.
“You dance with who brought you,” he said of his commitment to the show being his first priority.
Esten shared the excitement of being in Nashville and awaiting the new music as its being sent to the cast by music producer Frankie Pine. “You go to your phone or computer to get an email to see what the next song on the show is,” he explained. “You feel like a kid at Christmas. There’s a wrapped present under the tree and you’re trying to unwrap it while your phone is so slow downloading it and then you hear one of these unbelievable gems.
“I keep telling people we don’t have a songwriting staff. Our songwriting staff is the city of Nashville and all the amazing people who write our songs. The songs fit right into the fabric of the scene.”
“There’s no other place like this in the world,” the show’s executive music producer Buddy Miller responded.
Esten concurred. “We couldn’t do this any other place in the world.”
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