Since its debut in October 2012, ABC’s musical drama Nashville has provided the equivalent of a weekly, hour-long tourism commercial for Music City and has spun off a cottage industry of CDs, merchandise, and tours.
Today, Nashville expands its footprint once again, taking its show on the road—literally— for its third tour. This outing will include international dates for the first time, as well as 17 U.S. dates, up from four in 2014 and 10 last year.
The trek features cast members Clare Bowen (Scarlett), Chris Carmack (Will) and Charles Esten (Deacon) on all dates, with other cast members, Will Chase (Luke), Jonathan Jackson (Avery), Aubrey Peeples (Layla) and Sam Palladio (Gunner) joining for select cities. They will play songs their characters have performed on the show, as well as their own compositions.
“When the tour started out, we got to do a couple of shows and we were taken aback by the reaction and the passion,” Esten tells Forbes. “It’s a rare [TV] show that allows you to go stand on the stage in a theater full of people who have grown so attached to the show, the characters, and the story lines and get to play the songs they and we have grown to love. It’s hard for me to really describe how magical that is.”
“We get to come out and see people in cities, and now countries, who might not be able to come to Nashville and see us,” Bowen says, adding that she relishes being able to go out in the audience and mingle with fans during the show. “They’re inviting us into their space. It’s the biggest thank you and appreciation and honor for us to go out there.”
Nashville, created by Thelma & Louise’s Callie Khouri, has never been a ratings juggernaut—it draws around 4 million viewers each week— but has attracted a devoted, loyal following. ABC will announce if the show is renewed for a fifth season next month.
When asked if the tour is a money maker or a promotional vehicle, Opry Entertainment Group president Steve Buchanan says, “we look at the tour as a promotional tool.” Buchanan’s experiences at the Grand Ole Opry served as the show’s inspiration and he is an executive producer on Nashville. He adds that ABC’s television affiliates and radio stations in participating U.S. markets also tie in with the concerts via on-air sweepstakes for trips to Nashville.
Part of the show’s appeal is its authenticity: it shoots in Nashville and often features prominent local landmarks, such as the Opry and Bluebird Cafe, and top Nashville artists and industry figures have been known to drop by for a quick cameo. But shooting in Music City isn’t cheap. So far, the state and city have kicked in at least $46 million to offset production costs and to keep the show from moving to their cheaper neighbors, like Georgia, who offer greater incentives.