"The Opry is like a family," says actor-musician Charles Esten. "There'd be no way to perform here without that, because it's so daunting."
The Pennsylvania-born, Virginia-bred star must've sensed a lot of family love during his recent performance at the Grand Ole Opry, as he delivered the bold, country-to-the-core tune, "He Ain't Me" with valiance as strong as its lyrics. (Watch the performance above.) With its narrator telling his old flame that her new guy will never measure up to him, the song sounds tailor-made for the ABC musical drama, Nashville, on which Esten plays brooding, lovelorn musician Deacon Claybourne. In fact, he dedicated it to "Rayna Jaymes and Luke Wheeler" from the Opry stage, referencing the two other characters in his love triangle on the show. But "He Ain't Me" hasn't been performed on Nashville… yet.
Esten made his debut on the Opry two years ago and has been a regular performer since. The former frontman of a rock band called N'est Pas, he got his big career break playing Buddy Holly on London's West End. And in addition to weekly musical performances on Nashville, the 49-year-old actor continues to revive his musical career during breaks from the show, touring with co-star Clare Bowen, writing with the likes of Deana Carter and Jeffrey Steele and playing several local benefit shows — one of many ways he's immersed himself in his adopted hometown.
"I’ve fallen for Nashville," Esten tells Rolling Stone Country. "My family, they’re all here now. My kids go to school here. This town has welcomed us so much as a cast, and we love it right back."
Esten's next Opry performance is set for December 27th. Castmates Chaley Rose, Sam Palladio, Aubrey Peeples, Lennon and Maisy, Jonathan Jackson and Clare Bowen also have appearances set for December. Check out the full Opry schedule here.
On tonight's (December 3rd) episode of Nashville, Deacon is livid over Rayna's Rolling Stone cover story, in which she spills details of their rocky romance. Watch all the drama unfold at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.