Just minutes before the season premiere of ABC's 'Nashville' on Wednesday night (Sept. 24), a denim-clad Charles Esten stood in front of the set's Bluebird Cafe replica. In less than an hour he'd be performing live in front of an audience bigger than any real country superstar could dream of, but Deacon Claybourne seemed anything but nervous. As an anxious director counted down the minutes to showtime, Esten posed for fan photos, insisting on taking another because he thought he might have been caught mid-sentence.

Twenty feet away sat a few other regulars. Actor Chris Carmack was getting makeup touchups. Lennon and Maisy Stella were greeting fans and media with a confidence and charm many country pros never learn. Sam Palladio sipped a glass of wine -- he wouldn't be required to perform live on this night -- and Chaley Rose strolled around in black leather pants, chatting with ... whomever.

Taste of Country and select media were allowed in the North Nashville soundstage to watch the live and recorded portions of the 'Nashville' Season 3 premiere. The transition was no easy feat -- rehearsals went up to the very final minutes. Finally, the set hushed, Carmack got into character as Will Lexington and the cameras went live.

His song was 'If It's Love,' written by country duo Striking Matches and songwriter Aaron Eshuis (Find it on iTunes here). Eshuis was on set, pointing out similarities between the replica Bluebird and the real one on Hillsboro Pike in the Green Hills neighborhood of Nashville.

Later, Esten's Claybourne turned up at the Bluebird for the episode's climax. The actor penned 'I Know How to Love You Now' with well-known country hitmaker Deana Carter long before he used the title of the song in his Season 2 closing plea to Connie Britton's Rayna James. The two didn't intend for it to be used on the show, but when producers heard it, they had to have it. Carter joined Esten on set and stood just behind the cameras to watch him sing their song.

The final performance featured Esten onstage, solemnly picking with Florida Georgia Line on 'Dirt.' The country duo actually looked the most nervous about performing on live television, but like all performers, they got two passes at it. In addition to performing for the East Coast airing, everyone stuck around for a sequel to air live on the West Coast.


As for the episode, the big reveal that Hayden Panettiere's Juliette Barnes is pregnant was no shock to anyone who has followed her life off the camera. Fans on set seemed more surprised to see James choose singer Luke Wheeler over Claybourne. But that decision seemed anything but ironclad. After all, this was just the season premiere, and Britton's character was looking mighty remorseful as the credits scrolled. The other bombshell was that Lexington's admittance that he is gay was secretly filmed for a reality show. Could more than his new wife find out about his secret life soon?

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