One of the biggest reasons that “Nashville” fans keep their burning fervor for the Music City drama is the talent of the cast. These performers do not “play” musicians on TV—they are musicians and artists in their own right, in every sense. Last night’s December 16 installment of “On the Record” was the third showcase of the cast’s considerable musicianship in the drama’s four seasons, and as the previous specials, it proved not just their abilities, but their passion for being on stage. Each of these specials has had a different focus; the first, back in 2014, was out to demonstrate the true artistry of every member of the cast, the second, last spring, was intent on promoting the songwriting talents that are so integral to the show, and this third offering definitely brought the viewers behind the scenes, and onto the bus, and off the bus, and into the performers’ lives.
Last fall was a real touring road trip for Clare Bowen, her beau turned fiancé just this month, Brandon Robert Young, Charles “Chip” Esten, who captures the soul of Deacon Claybourne week to week on the music saga, sisters, Lennon and Maisy Stella, who were born with musical talent that escapes most adult stars, and Sam Palladio and Chris Carmack, who proved their bond of friendship far beyond their lines in the script. Some special treats were the insights of Steve Buchanan, the executive producer of “Nashville,” and getting to know the parents of the Stella siblings, Brad and Marylynne Stella, who seem as genuine and grounded as the best neighborhood parents anyone could know, despite their daughters’ prodigal talents, revealed even as preschoolers. Witnessing the budding romance between Young and Bowen was tender enough to bring tears to anyone’s eyes, as the call to the songwriter to “drop what you’re doing and listen to this” was compelling enough to bring him to the show, and his future betrothed. Clare credits her partner in music and in life with “teaching me so much about songwriting, ” and it’s no wonder that the two bonded over bringing emotion to the page, and then to voice and instrument. Young has toured with John Hiatt and Jennifer Nettles, so revered as towering talents in writing and emotional performance on stage. Bowen “didn’t talk to anyone other than my parents” growing up, so her uneasiness around crowds was very understandable, and another part of performing that Brandon taught her about—trusting the audience to allow an artist ‘s vulnerability—and clearly, Clare Bowen has taken good notes on that score. Both the lovebirds trusted their audience as witnesses to their proposal at the grand ole Opry, and celebrated the moment in joyful tears. Another tender glance into Bowen’s time on the road was her father surprising her with a visit all the way from Australia, and she melted like a little girl, confessing that she just “hung onto my daddy” through that night. Chip Esten accompanied nearly everyone onstage with his guitar, clearly enamored by his adoring fans, finding their way to the front! He repaid their kindness with “He Ain’t Me,” before a funny misstep by Palladio and Carmack, making them have to hoof it to their venue after leaving the bus at the wrong stop. They made it fine, with neither one’s hair looking a strand out of place, and proving the fun of having “a best friend out there on the road,” as Bowen affectionately describes.
The versatile Aubrey Peeples also joined in on stage, but was never separately profiled for the special. She is included in the cast performances. “Nashville” knows how to give fans what they like. Not surprisingly, the iTunes release of the live show was made available the day of the broadcast. The latest cast album was released December 4, online and through Target stores. Fans of the real city and the show will have a feast for the ears and the eyes this Christmas, just in time for giving!