Concert review and photos: ‘Nashville’ cast expresses warmth at Atlanta show

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Charles Esten flashes that winning smile. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC
Charles Esten might win the "Nashville" popularity contest, but he was in good company Wednesday night. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC

Charles Esten might win the “Nashville” popularity contest, but he was in good company Wednesday night. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC

There is something a bit surreal about seeing members of the cast of “Nashville” on stage a couple of hours before you could watch them in a new episode on ABC.

Even more meta, shortly after their Wednesday night Fox Theatre concert ended, Charles Esten (aka Deacon Claybourne), Aubrey Peeples (aka Layla Grant), Chris Carmack (aka Will Lexington) and Clare Bowen (aka Scarlett O’Connor) hit social media from backstage to live tweet during the latest episode of the show.

That type of nonchalant vibe – “yes, we’re on TV, but we’re really just musicians at heart” – was apparent throughout their Atlanta show, the first time the “Nashville” tour has visited the city.

All four performers dazzled during their respective sets – during which they were backed by a crackerjack five piece band — and all emitted vibes of friendliness and gratefulness.

Carmack, a terrific guitarist, was especially appreciative of the crowd that filled about 60 percent of the theater, telling fans that he played plenty of half-empty clubs in Los Angeles before “Nashville” gave him newfound visibility.

“I enjoy playing for thousands more than I enjoyed playing for 10,” he said with a grin and a push back of his floppy hair as he unveiled the original ballad, “Pieces of You.”

Peeples, a raven-haired wisp of a young lady, offered a well-chosen cover – Juice Newton’s “Break it To Me Gently” – along with the impassioned anthem “Soul Survivor” and the plaintive ballad “Empty Sheets” (performed with Bowen).

Bowen, her hair in a pixie ‘do, highlighted her angelic vocals on a duet with talented fiancé Brandon Robert Young on “Longer” and smiled frequently, almost in disbelief at the outpouring of affection from the Fox audience.

Of course the loudest cheers were reserved for the eminently likeable Esten, a guy who clearly loves being on stage and could prompt swooning whether crooning the tender ballad “From Here on Out” or going deep and guttural for a “Purple Rain” tribute to Prince.

Almost as gratifying as watching the cast perform was witnessing their interaction with each other as they entered and exited the stage. There was always a kiss, a hug or a smile, indicating that, TV drama aside, “Nashville” really is one big, happy musical family.

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