Charles Esten — better known as the tortured Deacon Claybourne to fans of CMT’s drama “Nashville” — is no newcomer to the Wolf Trap stage. He’s performed there before. As a clown. “This is my grand return,” says Alexandria native Esten, who once performed as a clown at the International Children’s Festival at Wolf Trap as a kid. “I will not be in clown face this time, and my shoes will be boots, normal size.” On Tuesday, Esten — whose credits also include stints on “The Office” and “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” — will join “Nashville” co-stars Clare Bowen, Chris Carmack and Jonathan Jackson to deliver a potpourri of songs from the country music soap, plus each artist’s original material. Esten talked to Express about the traveling show, his TV character and the 52 singles he just released.
It’s unique for a TV show to get to do a live tour. What’s it like for you and the audience?
It’s completely unusual. Other shows have these incredibly passionate fan bases, but “Grey’s Anatomy” doesn’t get to go do surgery around the country — thank God. We get to play music with the fans who love the show the most. When you’re shooting the show, it’s a dark soundstage, and it’s quiet on the set. You do a song a bunch of times with different camera angles, and we’re focused on getting it exactly right. There’s something completely different about [performing live].
Deacon has had a particularly dark run on “Nashville,” given the recent death of his longtime love, Rayna Jaymes, played by Connie Britton. Are brighter days ahead?
How do you move on with that kind of loss? I’ve always thought that Rayna made Deacon a better man and a stronger man. And the question is: Did she only make him strong enough to survive with her? Or did she somehow make him strong enough to even survive without her? That’s the journey we’re going to see.
Over the past year, you released an original song every Friday as part of your #EverySingleFriday series, culminating in a 52nd on July 7. Why?
I’ve been writing music my whole life, starting back in Northern Virginia when my mother got me guitar and piano lessons. I was in Fairlington [a neighborhood in Arlington County] banging away on a piano trying to imitate Bruce Springsteen’s albums. But it wasn’t until I came to Nashville [to film the show] that I was able to really dig in. I always felt that I was starting from behind. But I loved writing so much, and I had a bunch of songs — I was just stalling and never pulling the trigger. Finally, it occurred to me: Why not release them as singles? For a guy who’s been in this town and wanting to do this my whole life, it was this huge boon to creativity. It was a deadline machine, and I’ve loved every difficult bit of it.
It must be nice to get to have a homecoming of sorts.
The very first song I sang on “Nashville” is called “Back Home,” and one of the lines is about fireflies dancing in the yard. That definitely struck me as being Northern Virginia — I’ve seen those fireflies at Wolf Trap as well. So to get to come back home — and believe me, I’ll be playing that song — it’s just the best.
Wolf Trap Filene Center, 1551 Trap Road, Vienna; Tue., 8 p.m., $32-$75.
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