Charles Esten Talks ‘Every Single Friday,’ Evolution of ‘Nashville’

Being a cast member of Nashville has its definite perks, and one of those, according to the show’s Charles Esten, is getting to play one of the most respected stages in the country format–the Grand Ole Opry. He’s done so 70 times since the show premiered in 2012, and insists to Sounds Like Nashville that he doesn’t take it for granted.

“I can remember the first day I was asked,” he says with a smile. “I knew stories of the Grand Ole Opry, and none of it was lost on me. I know how special and hallowed it is to be standing in that circle. My knees were knocking, I can promise you. To go in there and play with those wonderful musicians on that amazing show is one of the most special things that have happened to me because of the show. It was also the first place I would play my singles. I would play one from the show, then one that I had written. For the longest time, I was playing songs and saying, ‘This is available in record stores nowhere.’ I wanted to rectify that, and if I was to play a song on the Grand Ole Opry, and somebody liked it and it meant something to them, that they would be able to get it.”

That led him to begin releasing a song a week in July of 2016, calling it “Every Single Friday.” Now, with the release of “Long Haul” this week, he has completed that task. He says the Opry helped go a long way toward that. “I have to thank the Grand Ole Opry for giving me that incredible honor and opportunity to play my music.”

Of course, the role of Deacon has seen many an evolution since the show’s premiere, with perhaps the biggest being the loss of Connie Britton’s Rayna Jaymes, the lead character of the show. When asked about life without Jaymes–and Britton, who left midway through season five, he shoots straight.

“It’s hard, and it’s been hard from the very beginning. Shooting those episodes where we all lose Rayna was some of the most painful work that we’ve all been a part of. And it’s on multiple levels. She’s an amazing person to work with, and such an amazing actress. She’s a great friend, and so kind and intelligent. So, not being around Connie everyday makes it sad, because she’s that kind of person. Having said that, then there’s Rayna Jaymes, and her character has been so completely central to our show. It seems so hard to believe that you can move on without that, but of course, that is our task and the task of the writers. For Deacon, he was able to somehow find strength through Rayna to overcome his weaknesses and become stronger.”

While the absence of Britton is an obvious one, Esten says the challenge of keeping the show from going stale is one that is invigorating as an actor. “The question now for him is did she make him strong enough that he can survive without her. He has a lot of responsibility now–with these girls he has to take care of. It’s been hard, but in a strange way as an actor, it opens up avenues and storylines that might not have otherwise been available. Frankly, I would love to still be working scenes with Connie the same way Deacon would still be loving that, but as an actor, you get to go down these other paths that you didn’t expect. So, we’re doing our best to honor her character, and what takes place after all this happens.”

One aspect of the show’s success has been the reactions from the viewers concerning the events portrayed in the show, and how it mirrors their lives. Esten says that hearing about them humbles him greatly. “Along the way, we’ve touched on so many difficult situations, whether it be addiction or cancer, organ transplants, losing the love of your life that you have seen as your other half. I’ve already met people that have come up to me and shared stories about their loss. I don’t know what it is about acting or music that can help process some of these things, but I like to think it is helping, and does help.”

Needless to say, Nashville–the show and the city–is where Esten hopes he is for a long time to come. “This is the role of a lifetime, but it brings so many other things with it. My wife has said that if I had written down everything I ever wanted with a show, I would have left off half of this. I get to play the Opry, the Ryman, the Bluebird, and Bridgestone [Arena]. My family has been here for the past four years, and this town didn’t just embrace me–they have embraced the show, but also each of us. There’s a warm relationship with this town, and I couldn’t be more grateful. I will tell you this–’Every Single Friday’ only works for me in Nashville. In some sense, it should be dedicated to Nashville–the show and to the town. It’s an unbelievable place. There’s something that just flows creatively. Nashville will always have a deep place in my heart, and we hope to stay here for the duration. When the show is done, I hope to have a home here for the rest of my days.”

Esten recently gained rave reviews for his hosting of the 2017 CMT Music Awards last month–again, a feat he chalks up to Claybourne. “That was out of the clear blue. I did not expect that offer. When it happened, it’s like so many things in this town–you can’t say no. It’s too good to say no to. Then, you want to make sure you do the best that you can. I’d never hosted a show like it before, but I knew I was in great hands. John Hamlin runs a great show every year. And once I saw the run-through, I knew all I had to do was stay out of the way. There were so many incredible performances and great moments. We did a lot of writing and fit that with my characteristics. I had a lot of fun working with the other artists. It was a ton of fun and I’m glad to have survived it unscathed, and had a great time doing it.”

But, will Deacon borrow a page from Esten’s fashion sense on the awards show, and break out the rompers anytime soon? Esten laughs, ponders the question, and offers this bit of Nashville scoop. “I rarely give out spoilers–but Deacon Claybourne will never wear a romper. That’s a promise.”

Fans can pick up any of Charles Esten’s “Every Single Friday” songs on iTunes now.