Nashville will end its four season run tonight, as the primetime musical drama comes to an end on ABC. With the show filmed in its namesake town, the cast and crew immersed themselves in all-things Music City, plucking songs from Music Row and habitually performing at the Grand Ole Opry and various charity events around town. Indeed, Nashville boasted a cast that can actually sing — it wasn’t just the magic of television. We count down the show’s top 12 musical moments that proved its authenticity and gave its characters exceptional dimension.
"Believing" certainly makes it believable that Deacon Claybourne and Maddie Conrad are family. Season Two brought with it the revelation that Maddie's biological father was not Teddy Conrad, as she'd been told all her 16 years of life, but rather her mom's old — but still smoldering — flame, Deacon. After finding this out, the father and daughter bond over guitar lessons and pen this ethereal love song together (which was, in actuality, written by Tami Hinesh, Emily Shackelton and Kate York), with their voices blending together in kindred harmony. It's one of the sweetest family moments on any season of Nashville and foreshadows Maddie's parents' eventual happy ending.
The decades-long Deacon and Rayna love story had more twists and turns than a Dollywood roller-coaster, but every time these two sang together it was impossible not to root for them to work things out (in spite of drunken Deacon nearly killing Rayna, not to mention her almost marrying Luke). Packed with fantastic harmonies and off-the-charts chemistry, this upbeat tuned emphasized the "sweet side" of the couple's wild ride.
Newly inducted members of the Grand Ole Opry rarely (OK, never) go as gleefully off-script and off the rails as Juliette does in this Season Two highlight. After her liaison with a married man angered her fan base, and she antagonized haters by making a comment that was construed as blasphemous, she vented her frustrations in a very public way, with this venom-laced "sorry, not sorry" performance. Record label chief Jeff Fordham wasn't amused, but we were.
God bless the Nashville producers for dragging Will Lexington out of the closet. When Chris Carmack's character was suppressing his sexuality, he performed (at least publicly) as a hat act with a loud band and cliché-laden barn-burners. It wasn't until Season Three that he hit his musical stride — when he lost the hat and teamed with out-and-proud songwriter Kevin Bicks for more authentic tunes like the soaring "Broken Song" (which certainly deserves an honorable mention on this list). But the most poignant Will Lexington musical moment came one season earlier with the foreshadowing "Is That Who I Am," performed with just an acoustic guitar behind the closed doors of his bedroom. "Am I just a lost soul, blowing in the wind / Or a coward, scared to look within? / Do I have a brave heart with a light so dim / Is that who I am?" Carmack sings with breathtaking vocals, proving all he needs are three chords and the truth.
Before she emancipated herself from Deacon and Rayna, Maddie (Lennon Stella) shared the stage with half-sister Daphne (played by her real-life sister Maisy) in some of Nashville's most affecting scenes. Watching these two prove themselves as fine actresses and future real-world music stars has been one of the show's most consistent pleasures. Penned by Sarah Siskind and Ashley Monroe, the tune was featured throughout Nashville's run, with versions by Deacon and Maddie, and also Deacon, Rayna and Maddie, but this sweet, intimate rendition is simply unforgettable.
We admit, the Scarlett-Gunnar duets deserve their own list. But the one that solidified these star-crossed lovers as a match made in Bluebird heaven came early in Season One with "If I Didn't Know Better." Clare Bowen, a classically trained singer with a voice that rivals Alison Krauss, delivers a haunting performance of the sensual ballad, with chilling and seemingly effortless accompaniment by Sam Palladio. It's a cover that does the track's original singers, the now-defunct Civil Wars, proud.
As Season One came to a dramatic close, Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) was grieving her mother's death. Onstage at the Bluebird Café, Juliette (who would, alas, endure three more seasons of heartbreak) does little to conceal the tangled emotions arising from her loss, especially the anger and defiance that would eventually subside, turning a spoiled-rich superstar into a repentant mom determined not to repeat the same mistakes.
In the show's first season, Avery Barkley's character served as a Nashville cliché-breaker: He was a successful rock star in a country music town, something that has become more and more common in the real-life Music City USA. But after a combative storyline involving walking away from a record label deal, Avery moved from bad-boy rock frontman to sensitive country sideman for the rest of the show's duration. That is, until this clip from the final season had him returning to his roots — and, rightfully, to center stage. Actor Jonathan Jackson fronts his own band in his time off from the show, and shows off some killer guitar chops and rock god charisma with "Kinda Dig the Feeling." It also proves Avery's career probably should've remained more of a prominent storyline, if only for the musical moments.
Before they were the Exes, Gunnar (Sam Palladio) and Scarlett (Clare Bowen) were just a couple of starry-eyed dreamers destined to be together, whether Scarlett wanted to accept it or not. It's fitting that Justin Davis and Sarah Zimmermann, who wrote this song with Georgia Middleman, would perform as a duo called Striking Matches. The tear-stained ballad, introduced in Season One, would spark a fiery on-again, off-again relationship that kept Gunnar, Scarlett and Nashville viewers guessing for four seasons.
If one song encapsulates the theme of ABC's Nashville, it's this Steve McEwan and John Paul White-penned tune sung by country icon Rayna Jaymes and her volatile boyfriend-turned-sensitive soulmate, Deacon Claybourne. Title alone, "No One Will Ever Love You" sounds like it might be a yearning breakup ballad, but what this song really exudes is confidence. Just as the lyrics convey, the song's duet partners have had death-defying (literally) ups and downs but know without a doubt they are meant for one another —and Nashville's writers knew they had to appease their audience with a Rayna-Deacon wedding in the final season.
We forgive Nashville's writers for the icky Deacon-Juliette fling in Season One, only because "Undermine" came out of it. Juliette Barnes was established as the show's egotistical, sexed-up villain within minutes of its pilot episode, but it was with her performance of this tune in Episode Three that we see her as a talented (without Auto-Tune) singer capable of expressing vulnerability. "It's all talk, talk, talk, talkin' in the wind / It only slows you down if you start listenin'," Juliette sings in the poignant tune she co-wrote with Deacon in the back of a pickup truck. Real-life writers Kacey Musgraves and Trent Dabbs didn't originally craft "Undermine" for Nashville, but it seems tailor-made.
Sisters in both real life and on the small screen, Lennon and Maisy Stella made an entire side project out of covering songs they love in stripped-down, harmony-heavy style. One of their best is a captivating take on the Lumineers' "Ho Hey" from Season One of Nashville — which hit country radio's Top 40 and was the show's most downloaded song that year. The performance left viewers hungry for more of this musical sibling magic, and thankfully producers obliged.