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Bridgewater Hall
13 June

The cast of ABC hit show Nashville were perhaps surprised by their UK welcome at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall. The concert sold out in minutes, leaving no doubt that they could have filled a bigger venue easily.

On British shores we have been treated to three series of the country music TV drama on E4 but the ratings clearly don’t do justice to the fandom for the show. When Charles Esten (Deacon Claybourne) asked if the crowd was looking forward to season four, due to air in August, it was clear that a good portion of them were up to date with their American counterparts. “We obviously have a few pirates here,” noted Penzance-born Sam Palladio (Gunnar Scott). “It’s the Australian way,” added Oz native Clare Bowen (Scarlett O’Connor).

Over four seasons Nashville has gone from a show primarily about female rivalry in the country music industry to giving equal time to its sprawling cast and tackling difficult topics such as gay rights and rape in its most recent episodes. It was met with much outrage then when ABC decided not to renew it for a fifth season, despite it ending on a cliffhanger. Introducing his original song, So I Cry, Esten (pictured, right) said “This is how we all felt when ABC decided to axe the show”, which was met by pantomime-like boos from the crowd, followed by whoops when he confirmed the show has been picked up by Nashville-based country cable channel CMT. It was a fitting response for a concert that was full of theatrics as well as many moments of authenticity.

Bowen’s on-screen love interest Sam Palladio won over the home-country crowd with storytelling

This was best exhibited by pixie-like Clare Bowen (pictured, left) who sprang onto the stage barefooted wearing a sparkly white ballerina dress. Her intense performance would be just as at home on Broadway and she was clearly the one acting the most. But a heartfelt story about a recent trip to Australia to donate bone marrow to her younger brother, suffering from leukaemia, inspired a standing ovation and a few damp eyes in the crowd. She was joined on stage by her real life fiancé Brandon Robert Young, who was given almost as much stage time as the cast members. It seemed like a strange decision but by lending his falsetto to harmonies and backing vocals he proved himself worthy.

Bowen’s on-screen love interest Sam Palladio similarly won over the home-country crowd with storytelling. His cousin, who bought him his first drum kit, was in the crowd and he played homage to him by drumming during the encore. A song inspired by his grandpa’s lost Nashville love, Wake Me Up In Nashville, was rehearsed for the Birmingham show tonight where his elderly grandpa will be watching. When he played his original solo music the British influences were clear – as he danced around the stage in his skinny jeans it was easy to imagine an alternative career fronting any given indie band.

After opening the concert with the most memorable of his character’s tunes, What If I Was Willing, Chris Carmack (Will Lexington) also treated the audience to some solo material from his EP Pieces Of You – the title track a heartfelt country love song that showed a moment of sensitivity from the performer who spent the majority of the three hours showboating. He has much to showboat over however – Carmack stood out as the most accomplished musician by far, even picking up the saxophone to support Bowen’s performance at one point.

Individual performances were interspersed with various configurations but the finale – with all four cast members – revealed the chemistry that has made Nashville so successful. An original song led by Esten brought the crowd to its feet – not an easy task in the seated Bridgewater Hall – and an encore of the song that has become the heart of the show, A Life That’s Good, brought the show to a gorgeous end. The cast’s genuine surprise at the warm welcome for their debut UK performance was clear. Carmack mouthed “wow” at the crowd, which loyally sang the catchy chorus back to them.

It’s an odd thing to watch a concert based on a show. It would be easy to write Nashville in Concert off alongside purely commercially-motivated tours like X-Factor. But the talent at the Bridgewater Hall last night was undeniable and the un-selfconscious theatrics worked for a crowd that was ready to be swept up in the drama and was left shouting for more.

Antonia Charlesworth

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