This week the stars of the TV show Nashville are in Britain to tour. Take a look at these venues – Royal Albert Hall, Birmingham Arena, Glasgow Hydro – these have huge capacities and most of these shows are selling well. It seems ludicrous, really, considering none of the people on this bill have ever had a hit song or even released a successful album of their own.
So what’s the attraction of seeing actors who pretend to be singers on TV pretending to be singers live on stage? Most of the audience seem to be here just to get a real life glimpse of some people off the telly or to imagine they are a part of the constructed reality of the show. There’s another element of weird to this as these actors don’t perform in character – instead they are billed as themselves and sing a mixture of songs from the show, random cover versions and the occasional original song (more about them later). It’s a little unnerving since these actors are very different than their TV characters yet the audience shout out their on-screen names and seem to be treating them as if they were the real, fake, thing.
I speak from experience, having gone to one of the gigs last year. I was a fan of the show and loved all the songs but I guess I didn’t realise how odd it was going to be. I go to gigs all the time and I could see this wasn’t the real deal from the start. These are actors putting on a good evening of entertainment but it’s got little to do with good music and even less to do with country music. A few of the songs from the soundtrack hold up but they aren’t enough to carry the show. I don’t want to single anyone out but let’s just say some of their original songs were cringe-inducing and some of the singing was second rate.
These shows use the name ‘Nashville’ but really none of the participants are from the city or have any history with Music row. These are straight up pop concerts and often karaoke ones at that. It’s like a west end show without the storyline. In fact a country music, Nashville-based jukebox musical actually sounds like a much better idea.
And the most worrying fact of all is how expensive these gigs are. Some of these tickets are £60 to see people that aren’t even professional singers, let alone songwriters. This is a blatant cash-in to bring fans of the show out in numbers. Most of the fans are women too and usually I am outnumbered by guys at every gig I go to. If even a small fraction of these people went to see someone who is actually a country singer from Nashville then we’d be getting somewhere. Even the worst acts at the Country to Country festival have more talent than all of the Nashville cast put together. None of these actors have any chance of making it in the music industry proper without the help of the show and even with it I’m dubious as to their potential. This isn’t personal – they all seem like nice people, hard working actors but they shouldn’t masquerade as singers and charge people through the nose for concerts.
I do think the tour should come back one more time though now that Rhiannon Giddens has joined the cast. Having witnessed her live this year I can tell you that she is the real deal. If she came on board ‘Nashville Live’ not only would she gain much needed exposure for her work but the audience would be witness to real God-given talent that is undeniable. She is an actual musician and singer whose work deserves the attention of a mass audience which this show can bring her. Helping her to succeed really would be a worthwhile legacy of this show.
So by all means go to see Nashville live if you want but accept that it is a pantomime, nothing more than cabaret. And afterwards try to buy some tickets to see some actual country music and support the real talent out there.