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RIDGEFIELD — After making a huge impression on a captivated, sold-out Ridgefield Playhouse audience in 2015, Charles “Chip” Esten — best known as Deacon Claybourne on the hit CMT show Nashville — is returning with his band for a for what he vows will be an even better set on Friday, January 19, at 8 pm.
Esten, who called in to The Newtown Bee for an exclusive interview ahead of the show, is expert at diversifying his creativity among the muses of music, acting, and comedy.
His acting talents have been tapped for in movies including Kevin Costner’s The Postman, Thirteen Days, and Swing Vote, as well as in TV series like HBO’s Big Love, Enlightened, The Office, and ER. He has appeared on Drew Carey’s Improv-A-Ganza, and the comedy improv show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, which allowed him use all three of his talents at once.
He also has toured frequently, performing live improv shows with Stiles, Proops, and Jeff B. Davis, of the original British version of Whose Line…?
Besides starring as the father of Disney Channel’s Jessie, Esten has been a Klingon on Star Trek: The Next Generation, a secretary on Murphy Brown, and Kelly Bundy’s fiancé on the series finale of Married… with Children.
Esten told The Bee he especially liked working with Kevin Costner, who, like himself, is also a longtime musician when not engaged in acting, directing, or film making pursuits.
“Kevin is a huge part of our family’s history, because for five years my wife was his assistant,” Esten said. “All through my work with him on all three of the films he put me in there were always guitars around the set, and we played guitars together around the campfire, too. Before I even got to play Deacon I went to a number of Kevin Costner and Modern West concerts, and I was a fan of his music way back then.”
Esten said he appreciates the difficulty of actors who try to do music.
“You can really take it in the teeth sometimes. But the only two parts of the equation that matter is that you like playing music and anyone in the audience who seem to enjoy it,” he said.
“A funny story, after I got picked up to do Nashville and I moved here, the very first night after we moved, Kevin was playing with his band at the Grand Ole Opry. So I went down and got to surprise him backstage. I know how lucky I am to get to do both of these things, and when people ask me if I’m an actor or musician, I say to them I’m blessed to be able to tell you that I don’t have to answer that — I can be either.”
Esten made his theatrical debut in London when he portrayed Buddy Holly, singing, acting, and playing guitar in the hit West End musical Buddy. He was so good, he was invited to perform with Jerry Allison and Joe B. Mauldin, who served as Holly’s bandmates in the Crickets.
In that role, Esten was honored to perform for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, as well as President and Mrs George H.W. Bush at The White House.
While on Nashville, Esten has had the privilege of performing at the Grand Ole Opry and the historic Ryman Auditorium, Blue Bird Café, headlining a St Jude Country Music Marathon Concert at Bridgestone Arena, and performing on the CMA Fest Riverfront Stage, at the 2016 C2C Festival in London and the 2017 CMC Festival in Australia.
He was also thrilled to sing and officially “flip the switch” at the 2013 Graceland Christmas Lighting ceremony.
Many songs Esten performed as Deacon — like “Undermine,” “Sideshow,” and “Playin’ Tricks”— are available on ten very successful Nashville soundtracks that have been released to date. He even co-wrote “I Know How to Love You Now” with Deanna Carter, which was featured in the season three premiere.
He has starred in the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 “Nashville in Concert” tours with sold-out shows across the United States and the UK.
Esten said he long contemplated releasing an album or an EP of his originals. Instead, in 2016 he decided to release a brand-new single every Friday, which became known as his #EverySingleFriday series.
“I’m not sure anybody’s ever done this kind of thing before, and it made a lot of sense for me to do it — it was the right project at the right time,” Esten said. “That’s a whole lot of material, and in the radio game, it takes forever to get a single up the charts. But I’m a different beast because I started so far behind most music artists because I was an actor for more than 20 years before I got on Nashville. So when I got there and started songwriting, I was going to put out an EP. But that really didn’t define who I was, so I decided to put out one of my songs every week.”
Esten said was also so busy doing the show that he didn’t have an opportunity to go out touring to promote a new album of his own.
“I really couldn’t go tour an album back then, but I could keep recording and keep writing,” he said. “Plus this served as a deadline machine for me and helped push me to keep writing.
“You know, John, when I step away from this role on the show, I’m not going to leave [the city of] Nashville, but I want to look back and say during those years I didn’t leave anything on the table — I got the very most out of it,” he added. “Musically, I can say I did that having made 54 songs in 54 weeks, and now I have this instant body of work and if they want to, the fans can go out and get them.”
When he hits the Playhouse stage, Esten said he’ll mix a bunch of “Deacon songs,” with some of those 54 singles he created.
“You might actually hear some new Deacon songs you haven’t even seen on TV yet, that I may play before they even get out there in front of Nashville viewers,” he teased. “I always want to bring in a couple of covers from players I love, honoring the heroes I grew up listening to — so you may hear some Glenn Frey or a David Bowie tune… I even do ‘Purple Rain.’ There’s always a couple that will shake things up for sure. I like to keep them guessing, from the audience to my own band.”
Ridgefield Playhouse is a nonprofit performing arts center located at 80 East Ridge, parallel to Main Street. For tickets ($75), call the Ridgefield Playhouse box office at 203-438-5795, or visit ridgefieldplayhouse.org.
Check out a clip of Charles Esten performing “I Know How To Love You Now” from the series Nashville
Charles Esten sings “A Life That’s Good” at CMA Fest in 2014