'Nashville' in concert: On the scene
The first-ever Nashville cast concert tour hit New York City on May 6, with Charles “Chip” Esten (Deacon), Clare Bowen (Scarlett), Jonathan Jackson (Avery), Sam Palladio (Gunnar), Chris Carmack (Will), Chaley Rose (Zoey), and Will Chase (Luke) in tow. They performed songs heard on the show, as well as originals. In honor of Bowen’s song “Cheap Red Wine,” which will be on the album she’s currently cutting, Mandi Bierly and Samantha Highfill grabbed a couple of glasses after the show and discussed their notes on the set list, Esten’s biceps, and the adorableness that was Chase’s girlfriend, Debra Messing, filming him on her phone from the balcony.
Samantha Highfill: Let’s start with the venue, the Best Buy Theater. The guard took my keychain mace. I’ve had it since college, like five years. Mace expires — fun fact — and it didn’t expire until May 2016, which I kinda find hilarious, because it’s like, I have to use it, so am I just gonna mace some mean person? But I don’t even get to now, because I’m gonna buy new mace, and it’s not gonna expire until I’m like 50. [She continues to talk about mace for 1 minute and 35 seconds.]
Mandi Bierly: Now that we’ve covered that…
Samantha: I got a real Nashville vibe from the venue. It was very dark and intimate. There was a lot of wood, chandeliers. It felt like that could have been in Nashville.
Mandi: Have you been to Nashville?
Samantha: No. But I watch the show. So I know everything. The sound was great, too. Too bad the [writers from another site sitting behind us] didn’t shut up.
Mandi: I hate when people talk during shows. I came to hear the music, not you.
Samantha: The one girl just kept getting up and getting beers and coming back. I think she was some obsessive fan of the actors and didn’t give a s–t about the music because she would just yell, “Marry me!” A photographer walked by, and she was like, “Tell them we have to hang after. I’m from [the site].”
Mandi: Chris Carmack, who plays Will, opened the show with “What If I Was Willing.” For him, my notes are: “Sexier in person than on show. One lady stood.” The ladies loved him. And his voice was great. When he later did “A Showman’s Life” — and dedicated it to its writer, Jesse Winchester, who died last month — there was a softness in his voice that I’d love to hear more of on Nashville.
Samantha: I wrote, “Damn, vocals.” So good. The first time I ever heard Chris Carmack sing —
Mandi: Oh god, are you about to reference The O.C.?
Samantha: Yes. He played this dumb jock and he was jokingly strumming a guitar and singing stupid words, and it was one of my favorite things ever. He hit this crazy note, and I was like, “Can he actually sing?” Yes he can, world.
Mandi: I think he was the biggest surprise of the night. Seeing him perform live, I understand why they cast him on the show.
Samantha: If tonight proved anything to me, it’s that he has so much charisma, his character deserves more. I’m excited to see his character do something other than struggle with himself, you know what I mean?
Mandi: I also now understand why they cast Will Chase as Luke Wheeler. I’ve never liked that character — mainly because I don’t think we were supposed to, but then the writers changed their minds about him and it was too late for me. But he’s sexy, confident, and relaxed onstage.
Samantha: Luke’s also between Rayna and Deacon, so as much as I’m going to like him, I’m never going to like him. Also, his hair is never going to look like Will Chase’s and they’re never going to let him rock the tats. The two of them, Chris and Will, looked the most different from their characters. Chris Carmack walks out and my notes consist of one word — forearms. Playing that guitar, I noticed them. He’s not playing a closeted gay character, so there’s that element to it. And the hair and the facial hair were better. Will Chase walks out, and he’s a rock star. He has a Red Solo Cup, which is amazing. He’s in all black. His hair is some crazy side coif. He’s got tats all up his arms. He’s pointing to his girl, Debra Messing, shouting out to his favorite redhead. It caught me totally off-guard and I loved it.
Mandi: After Chris’s first number, Sam Palladio was next to perform. He did “Can’t Get It Right” from the show.
Samantha: All I have is “High-five fail” because he and Chris Carmack tried to high-five and it was an epic fail.
Mandi: Jonathan was third out and did “Keep Asking Why.” He was the first one to really go for it vocally. There was a high note he practically screamed, and I was like, oh, they’re not playing it safe. It’s not the equivalent of a retired figure skater doing doubles instead of triples in a “professional” competition because they don’t want to fall in front of the crowd.
Samantha: I could have done without that song, because they tried to throw in some rock ‘n roll.
Mandi: They were trying to get the crowd going, because barefoot Clare Bowen was next doing Scarlett’s upbeat “Crazy Tonight” in a sparkly, fringed number that Juliette totally would’ve worn on the show.
Samantha: Gypsy glam.
Mandi: Clare told the crowd that we looked beautiful, and I was thinking, “The lights are not up. Can you even really see us?” But I think like Scarlett, she’s most comfortable when she’s actually singing. Vocally, that was her only weak spot. It felt like she was acting. She shouldn’t do upbeat. She’s at her best when she’s singing something haunting. Charles Esten’s first number was next, and more than one lady stood for him. Everyone got an enthusiastic response, but it was clear people loved him most. And we both noted his biceps. I did not know he had those guns.
Samantha: I wrote “Arms!” I loved that he was just in a T-shirt. He was the most casual, the sexiest. When he started talking at the very beginning, I actually got nervous, because you could tell his voice was a little raspy. They’ve done a couple concerts. Were his vocals gonna be off? But I loved the rasp.
Mandi: I can’t not refer to him as Deacon though. I have “Deacon and the kids do ‘Like New'” in my notes.
Samantha: The ZAG Band: Zoey, Avery, and Gunnar. I wrote, “He doesn’t need no mic stand.” He was the first one squattin’ down shaking hands with the fans. He was workin’ the crowd.
Mandi: After Chris sang “A Showman’s Life,” which we’ve covered, he did the night’s first original — a song about sinking to the bottom of the ocean holding my breath for you.
Samantha: Which he can do with me… Wait, that made it sound like I want him to die. I want him to love me.
Mandi: He had like 10 women in the front row standing and dancing. This is where I noted his nice, wide guitar stance. He had the best guitar stance — very sexy.
Samantha: But it wasn’t like Shania Twain annoying. She doesn’t play guitar when she does it, she just stands like she’s straddling a horse 24/7.
Mandi: Chris was strummin’ so hard, he had to brace himself.
Samantha: And he had to flex his forearms. [Air guitars] I appreciated the original music in the concert. Sam Palladio’s two originals, in particular, were great.
Mandi: Let’s jump to those because his first one, “Wake Me Up in Nashville,” had the best story of the night. He said when he got cast on the show, he told his 92-year-old grandfather that he was moving to Nashville, and his grandfather said he’d met a girl from Nashville once. He was in Florida doing fighter pilot training and took a trip to New Orleans, where he met this girl. They exchanged letters, and when it came time for his grandfather to take a train from Florida to Canada and then head off to war, he asked the girl to meet him on the train platform in Nashville so they could say goodbye. His grandfather asked the conductor to wake him up at 3 a.m., but the conductor forgot and woke him at 4 a.m. and they never saw each other again.
Samantha: And P.S. She was on the platform screaming his name.
Mandi: It’s heartbreaking, which is why Sam wrote an amazing song about it.
Samantha: Part of me was like, where can I buy THIS song? He did another original after that, “Driftwood,” which was also good.
Mandi: Yes. That’s one of the times the girl behind us screamed that she wanted to marry him. Jonathan Jackson’s first original was one that’s appeared on the show, “The Morning of the Rain.” He was at the keyboard for that one, which is when you noticed a ring and asked if he was married. [Samantha Googles to confirm he is.] He does a lot of emoting with his intonation. He sounded great, but when the concert really got going for me was when Jonathan and Sam did their characters’ song “Be My Girl.” That’s when the crowd got into it. Just pure fun.
Samantha: My notes: “Jon and Sam 4 Ever.” I loved how they started back away from the mics, and then in perfect synchronicity ran up and started singing and were just on. They both have high male voices and great ranges. Jonathan, surprising to me, always goes higher when they sing together. Jonathan, in that song in particular, has one line where he gets really high up and belts it, and it’s amazing. Plus, their height difference is ridiculous and adorable. I can’t handle it.
Mandi: Chaley Rose, who looked stunning, joined them for “I Ain’t Leavin’ Without Your Love,” and then Charles, Will, and Chris did their song “It’s On Tonight,” which is when Debra Messing got out her cell phone to tape her boyfriend, Will Chase.
Samantha: I think the two back-to-back trio performances were the peak of that night. At one point, Will threw his mic over to Chip, and Chip did a crazy awesome “Ooh” and held it, and Will was just laughing, and then they shared the mic. They were tossing this mic around like it was a piece of meat. Chip Esten — praise Jesus.
Mandi: Oh, he got catcalls during that song, one of which was from you. Next came Will Chase doing “Ball and Chain.”
Samantha: We can talk about your hatred of that song in a minute, but he was talking about how he usually sings that song with a redhead on the show. I’ve never heard Connie Britton referred to as a redhead. She’s kind of a blonde. [A fight ensues.] The point of this whole thing was that Will followed it up saying she isn’t his favorite redhead though, and he threw a little smile to Debra Messing. They are the cutest. Then he brought out Clare Bowen to fill Connie Britton’s shoes, because as he put it, he can flirt with the best of them, which we know is true, because he danced her around that stage. I don’t know what was in the Solo cup. But it was awesome.
Mandi: I think “Ball and Chain” is the most overused song on the show, and I can tell you for a fact that we haven’t heard the last of it this season. It would have been hilarious if they’d hologrammed in Connie though. I’ve seen them do that at big country concerts — Brad Paisley will have a hologram Carrie Underwood and Jason Aldean will have a hologram Kelly Clarkson for their duets — and people are always fooled. But moving on… I thought the first time the crowd was truly silent and captivated by a song was when Sam and Clare did “Fade Into You.” I think that song is even more spellbinding than “If I Didn’t Know Better,” which they performed later in the night and is the song that made that show’s pilot.
Samantha: I like it better, too. Listing to “Fade Into You” again, I decided that I need to go home and buy it.
Mandi: Clare invited Charles out and they did “This Town,” which was great.
Samantha: I’ve never been to Nashville and I’m obsessed with that song about Nashville. She really opened up her vocals.
Mandi: The guitar tech then brought out Chip’s guitar for his original song, “I Climb the Walls,” and received a great shout-out. That song was inspired by playing Deacon, who has demons to deal with.
Samantha: He did this a cappella part and it was like, whoa, that man can sing.
Mandi: We’ve never seen that vocal power or level of emotion in Deacon. There was a crescendo, almost takin’ us to church.
Samantha: He was lettin’ it loose.
Mandi: Also, inappropriate, but this is where I really noticed Chip’s biceps when he dramatically held his arms out. But let’s continue. We’ve already talked about Sam’s originals. Then it was time for Clare’s, “Cheap Red Wine.” They had to lower the mic for her, which was hilarious. But the song was somber and sweet. It’s about being brokenhearted and having people tell you that one day you’ll be all right and love again, but for now, the only hope you feel is cheap red wine. I could see me buying that song. I don’t like it when you can tell people are singing a country trope just because it will sell. But her singing about drinking memories away felt genuine.
Samantha: It wasn’t my favorite original song, but I liked it. I’m not the biggest country fan, but I like the really depressing songs for a certain playlist, so I liked Chip’s best. I started it in college when it was what I studied to because it was slow, calming music. But now it’s what I listen to when I’m in a chill mood, or like relaxing on a beach.
Mandi: You want to listen to Deacon’s demons on a beach?
Samantha: I would. [Fight ensues.]
Mandi: I like dark country, which leads us nicely into Clare doing “Black Roses.” That was the only song that gave me chills. Poor Chris Carmack had to follow that, and he came out, like, “That is a song.”
Samantha: That got the biggest crowd reaction — a partial standing ovation that almost made her cry.
Mandi: Oh yeah, she was trying to deflect and called Chris out saying, “He’s very cute” so the audience would focus on him.
Samantha: I was a little bummed she didn’t just do the piano with that song. When they did their concert special, they stripped it down to her and a piano — and that’s the version I bought. I think it fits the mood better. But it was still amazing.
Mandi: Chris did “Hurtin’ on Me” with Will, which was rowdy and sexy.
Samantha: Debra was up on her feet.
Mandi: Then Jonathan did the song “One Light Shining,” which hasn’t been on the show yet, but is still to come this season. He said Avery pens it for Juliette, not knowing that she “made a little mistake recently.” If Hayden Panettiere had popped out for a surprise cameo at that moment, I wonder if people would’ve booed her for a second.
Samantha: If Jeff Fordham (Oliver Hudson) had popped out — boo! It would’ve been me! I liked the lyric about no matter what you tell me, I will always love you. But what if she tells you she slept with Jeff Fordham?
Mandi: Cheers! (Glasses clink) He had Sam come out and play drums on that song. And whenever Sam would do that throughout the night, the usual drummer would go and f–king rock the tambourine like I’ve never seen. He would be dancing with it. I adored him. I was watching him more than Jonathan at that point, to be honest.
Samantha: Shout-out to the band because between him, the harmonica guy, and that amazing guitarist —
Mandi: Who Chip said was the “voice of Deacon’s guitar” on the show. I loved that when Chip wanted the crowd to get on our feet at the end, it was for the band. But before that, we got Clare and Sam doing “If I Didn’t Know Better.” I remember Chip Esten said seeing them sing that at the end of the pilot was the moment he was like, “We might have a chance!”
Samantha: It’s so funny to see them as people and as friends, and then to see how great they are on the show, because it’s such a different vibe.
Mandi: Chip closed the show with “Playin’ Tricks” and invited Sam out.
Samantha: When Sam ran out and slid up behind Chip, and the two of them shared a mic and were so close they could’ve kissed — they were clearly just having so much fun, but their harmony was dead on. And I loved, loved, loved that moment because Sam and Chip don’t sing together that much on the show. Getting to watch the two of them was something really special.
Mandi: Chip led the cast in the encore, “A Life That’s Good.”
Samantha: When Will sang about family, he looked at Debra, did a little finger point, a little smile. The two of them are so in love. I’m going to tattoo “Will Chase & Debra Messing” on my arm.
Mandi: So as we finish our wine, final thoughts on the concert: Even though I knew they must be good singers, you can still think to yourself, “Oh, they’re in the studio, they pre-record all the music,” but they were all fantastic live.
Samantha: And I think that’s why they did the original music, to emphasize that these people are musicians and they are artists. I love the show even when I want to punch it in the face: It’s such a soapy mess mixed with amazing music. I had this thought during the concert: their best numbers live, and even on the show, aren’t their solo numbers. They’re best in their harmonies, they’re best in their interactions. The girls behind us were like “Oh my god, they’re friends. They like each other.” That’s what people want to see, and I think that’s why the energy was stagnant starting off with a bunch of solo numbers. As soon as we got to the duets and trios, they were joking and having fun and sounding great. I probably wouldn’t see any of them on their own unless they released an album that I just adored, but I will say I’m so impressed with how comfortable they are on stage, because when they film it, it’s obviously so fake.
Mandi: It was interesting to hear Chip talk about a third season: if we make it, will you watch it?
Samantha: I know, I was like, “Are there some execs in this audience?” Because why else would he be like, “Make some noise if you would watch it!”
Mandi: Having seen the finale for a review in the issue of Entertainment Weekly out Friday, there are cliffhangers that will very much make you want to see a third season. Not crazy ones, like the first season — there’s no car accident — but things where you’re like, “I’m invested in this. I want to see what happens. I hope they get a third season.”
Samantha: They need to bring it back to the emotional centers, because the characters are where we’re attached: I could never stop watching the show because I care about Deacon and Rayna too much, and I care about Juliette and Avery too much. (Glasses clink)