October 2018 - Extras: Charles "Chip" Esten
It's funny the interviews that will make you giddy. My assistant got the notification that Charles “Chip” Esten was coming to Albuquerque to perform at Isleta Casino and Resort on September 30th and knew how much I loved him on Nashville. So, after setting up interviews to make my staff happy, the tables have turned. Esten received recognition playing the character, Deacon Claybourne, for six seasons on the music drama show, but there is more to Chip besides his guitar playing and excellent voice. So we had the opportunity to discuss his upcoming performance, his time on Whose Line is it Anyway, the final season of Nashville and his love for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Esten’s time in high school led him to football, where he played at T.C. Williams High School, home of the Titans (yes, the ones from the movie Remember the Titans), and college led to him performing on the stage. But music was always his go-to. “Music was the first love. I grew up playing guitar, well, trying to learn guitar. I was just writing songs and learning to play what I heard on the radio. That’s from way back when I was younger,” shared Esten. “In college, I was actually in a band and I stayed an extra year, because...when I am I ever gonna get a chance to do this.” After a year Esten’s friends graduated and moved on to living the professional life as doctors and lawyers while Esten still was trying to figure out where his life might lead. Soon he turned to some close friends that led him down a different path. “I knew a couple of people in Los Angeles who were acting and I always wanted to do that in some fashion or another,” said Esten. “So, I figured I could go out to Los Angeles and be an actor.” That journey would always find him working with other musicians giving him the ability to work on his music, but would never last. Those moments came in useful in terms of his career. “Along the way, I used my music a couple of times. One of them was playing Buddy Holly in a musical production in London on the West End. I got on “Whose Line is it Anyway.” I used a little bit of the singing and songwriting. You have to improv a song off the top of your head. But music took a back seat for Esten. Soon he focused on country music. “I ended up writing with a friend from Nashville. Once or twice I was meant to even come here [Nashville] and perform at The Bluebird with them. But twice I had to cancel because I kept getting acting work. It seemed that the acting was getting in the way of the music. I remember asking my wife, ‘When I am ever gonna get to Nashville?’”
Unbeknownst to Esten, his question would be answered. His acting and music would collide and the script for the television show Nashville fell in his lap. The role of Deacon would change his life. “Deacon opened all these doors. I just recently played my 104th Grand Ole Opry appearance. I really couldn’t ask for more...the acting would bring me back around to the music.” Esten’s role of Deacon, the talented musician with a struggling alcoholic past, would keep him busy for six years. The music created for the show was fitting of the country history that many fans have come to know and love. Inspired by the country of before, Esten shared how Callie Khouri and T-Bone Burnett worked to have the music of Nashville be a character on its own. “Between the two of them, we had the authentic heart and soul of Nashville very much taken care of. But, I know for a fact that T-Bone, in his shepherding of the music, was not looking at that point to imitate country radio. He was, in some way, for all purposes, even trying to beat it a little bit. He knew with some of these scenes you didn’t want to start suddenly singing some pop radio song. It might be a great song, but it wouldn’t be as emotionally resonate, or as stirring as the deeper stuff he was trying to reach for.” Esten said goodbye to his character earlier this year when the show ended in its sixth season. The show has truly opened the flood gates when it comes to new projects for Esten. He is currently working on a new TNT show called Tell Me Your Secrets and Esten is excited about the direction the show is taking. “I was interested in what the project was and the people that were starring in it. There’s a lot of quality [in the script] and the tone is...different. It’s darker than what I’m used to. I was really excited about that.”
Esten’s passions are vast and include an organization near and dear to his heart. Esten’s daughter, Abby, was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 2 and a half. After a procedure, the family realized that Abby wasn’t recovering well. She was pale, no color on her lips and these little freckles. Discussing the situation with their pediatrician, the family headed to Cedars-Sinai Hospital and after a series of tests was diagnosed with leukemia. “It was very earth-shaking if you can imagine. It was very difficult. A very dark day. A day that you feel very much alone and powerless.” But the doctor laid out the “path to healing” for Esten and the results paid off. “[Abby] is now 18 years old. She is a freshman in college, where she is playing Division I soccer. She is strong, healthy, and we are blessed. Our prayers were answered through people who did the research and people who have helped raise money to pay for that research.” It was then that Esten knew how he and his family could give back. “All the blessings we’ve been given through Abby...we want another to have the same chances, that’s why I am the honorable national spokesperson. My wife is on the board here in the Nashville for the Light the Night campaign. I’m happy to be a part of it and I would just recommend that anybody who has a heart, even if it doesn’t affect you directly...you never know the ripple effects when you do something like this.”
Following your dreams is never taken in a straight line. Esten’s driven and determination led him to a dream role, creating his music, and staying connected to his family. We, his fans, are lucky for it.