Charles "Chip" Esten, who portrays Deacon Claybourne in the ABC TV series "Nashville" will perform with some of his co-stars at Deer
Charles "Chip" Esten, who portrays Deacon Claybourne in the ABC TV series "Nashville" will perform with some of his co-stars at Deer Valley on Saturday. when the St. Regis Big Stars, Bright Nights Concert Series presents Nashville CafŽ. (Photo by Doug Collett)
A little bit of "Nashville" will hit Deer Valley's Snow Park Amphitheater stage on Saturday, Aug. 23.

Not only will audiences hear some great country singers and songwriters, but they will also see some of their favorite characters from the ABC TV series "Nashville," said Charles "Chip" Esten, who plays guitarist Deacon Claybourne.

Esten will perform with his co-stars Clare Bowen, who plays Scarlett O'Connor, and real-life sisters Lennon and Maisy Stella, who play sisters Maddie and Daphne Conrad.

"We will perform songs from the show and some of our own as well," Esten told The Park Record during a phone call from his home in Nashville, Tennessee. "I hear we're going to play at a gorgeous venue, so to do this with friends of mine sounds wonderful."

Esten was introduced to country music at an early age.

"My first influences came from my father," he said. "We would take trips and there would be country music on the cassette.

"There was especially one we had called '50 Golden Years of Country Music' and what was great about that one was it wasn't just songs, but also had stories about Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Jimmie Rodgers, Roy Acuff and musicians like that," Esten said. "It also told stories about the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry."

So when Esten moved his family to Nashville after ABC ordered a second season, he felt a sense of awe.

"I not only got to do shoots on those stages, but also play on them on my own as myself," he said.


Advertisement

"It's one of those things I can't quite believe, because I remember being in the car with my father and hearing about these mythical places."

Esten doesn't know how much of himself is in Claybourne's character.

"I'm certainly the raw material that he's made of. He comes from where the writers' imaginations and mine meet," he said. "But it's hard for me to say."

Still, Esten can relate to Claybourne's duality.

"He's always trying to be the man he wants to be and live up to that image," Esten said. "In a way, though, his heart is my heart, but like all of us, he has his demons and falls down and makes mistakes."

Then there's the added element of substance abuse.

"Deacon, of course, is battling his addictions," Esten said. "I don't have addictions to alcohol and pills, but like most people, I'm familiar with that lifestyle through other friends and, perhaps, family.

"So, I borrow a lot from other people's stories," he said. "I put myself in those circumstances and ask how I would feel."

While Esten relies on others when it comes to playing Claybourne, he has appeared to come into his own when writing his own country songs.

"It's funny how some of my own music is more country than some of the stuff heard in Nashville," he said with a laugh. "I recently did a writers round at the Bluebird Café and was told that me, the guy from Los Angeles, had the most country songs in the room.

"I love what you can do in a country song," Esten said. "It really blows me away when it comes from the stories you can tell and the things you can say."

Many people know Esten from his improvisational comedy work on the TV show "Whose Line Is It Anyways," and that experience has also helped him develop Claybourne's character.

"I learned early it took a while to recognize that I could be very free with my improv, but with acting when you see a line, out of fear you lay some primrose path where the scene will go and how I would say a line," Esten said. "That's actually the opposite of what you should do. You need to be just as free and improvisational with your written lines as you are without them."

Connie Britton, who plays aging singer Rayna Jaymes on "Nashville," does that, he said.

"She's great with not ever letting you predetermine how a scene will go or what a line will mean," Esten said. "When Connie responds to my first line, if I'm really listening to her, my second line will be delivered totally different than what I maybe might have planned, and so on. That's the thrilling way to do a scene.

Also, everything that comes after improv, seems easier, especially during a live show.

"I'm calmer on the stage between songs, talking with the audience," he said. "And I can deal with unexpected surprises."

One of those incidents happened a couple of weeks ago when Esten was opening for Dierks Bentley at a fundraiser.

"It had been raining for a long time and the stage was really wet," Esten said. "I went running to the mic and went to stop and my feet didn't.

"I had my guitar strapped to me and landed flat on my back," he said with a laugh. "I was fine, but had to let the audience I was fine. So I grabbed a towel and dried the stage like what they do at an NBA game and said, 'There, that's better.'"

Esten feels blessed and lucky to be where he is in his career.

"It's funny because long before I was cast in 'Nashville,' I was already writing songs with a friend of mine who was from Nashville and I planned to come to the Bluebird Café to hopefully sing," he said. "I had to cancel a couple of times because of work, and I kept asking my wife if I would ever get to go to Nashville, and all of sudden, here we are."

The Park City Institute's St. Regis Big Stars, Bright Nights Concert Series will continue with Nashville Café, featuring the stars of the "Nashville" TV show, on Saturday, Aug. 23, at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $45 to $85 and are available by visiting www.bigstarsbrightnightsconcerts.org.