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Charles Esten Embraces Acting, Singing, & Charleston



‘Outer Banks’ Actor Set to Perform at The Windjammer for a Second Time 

By: Jeff Walker, Entertainment Writer

Whether he’s doing comedy improv, acting, or performing his own songs before a live audience Charles ‘Chip’ Esten is thankful he’s been able to carve out a career in the entertainment industry. “Music is where I got my start. I was the lead singer in a band in college. Not long after graduation I was cast as the lead in a play about Buddy Holly. I guess I’ve always wanted to be a performer.”

Having stayed busy since that first musical stage production more than three decades ago Esten admits to being blessed. “I was kind of fortunate early on. That (Buddy Holly play) was not only a whole lot of acting experience on stage but involved a lot of music. It just really paid well for a young guy. It meant I didn’t have to do the things I had already done like construction and waiting tables.”

While his career didn’t take off overnight it did help pay the bills. “That was pretty much the time at which I didn’t have to do anything but act. I’ve always been fortunate that I’ve had work. Early on I got a sitcom, and soon thereafter I started to kid myself, this is how it works, that you always stay busy in this industry.”

He goes on to say, “Of course the sitcom (The Crew on Fox 1995) only lasted one season and after that I didn’t have any lead roles, so I had to do what a lot of actors do, taking quest starring roles in TV shows. I was on ‘Married with Children’, ‘ER’, and ‘The Cleaner’.” Esten had recurring roles in ‘Party of Five’ (2000) ‘The Office’ (2006) and HBO’s ‘Big Love’ (’09-10). During that same stretch he appeared regularly on ‘Whose Line is it Anyway’ and ‘The Drew Carey Show’. “I was staying busy.”

Esten admits he’s equally comfortable doing comedy or drama. “I’m an actor. I want to be able to do both. A good drama has elements of comedy and vice versa. I think drama without a bit of humor doesn’t depict the human element.” His skills, as a vocalist and musician helped secure his role on ‘Whose Line’. “It didn’t hurt that I could sing and play guitar. That came in very useful on the show.”

Guest roles aside, not having a permanent acting gig comes with mixed blessings. “You never really feel at home because it’s not your show. All along I’m auditioning for shows. Shooting pilots that never took off. The upside to all of that was I raising three young kids and the guest spots on TV shows allowed us to make it financially.”

Esten explains further. “What I mean I wasn’t spending every day in a cold sound stage. For me it was another year with the kids. The less busy schedule allowed me to be with my kids, to be the little league coach, the den leader. I would teach music at their school. I enjoyed quality time with my kids during their formative years and I’m extremely grateful it worked out that way.”

During that stretch he and his wife were thinking long term. “I remember saying to Patty. Maybe when they (kids) are older, when they’re off on their own this acting thing will kick into gear. I kept telling myself that to keep me motivated. Ironically that’s how it happened and I’m so glad it did, because that time with my kids and my wife was important.”

Esten’s more prominent acting career began to take shape a little over 10 years ago. “I feel very, very blessed. Right around 46 it all started to happen for me. Our oldest was a senior in high school and the other two not far behind. That’s when ‘Nashville’ came along. So, we all moved to Nashville. It’s funny but if you break it down in decades, the past ten years has been my time and it all started on the show ‘Nashville’.”

Playing troubled singer Deacon Clayborne on the hit ABC/CMT show added to his acting credits and enhanced his musicianship, but in 2018 the show came to an end. “After ‘Nashville’ I wasn’t sure what would come next. I had my music but then ‘Outer Banks’ came my way. The producers or maybe some of their family members knew me from ‘Nashville’ and rather than cast me as a troubled father, they opted to bring me in as more of a good guy, a good father who is somewhat flawed.”

For those not acquainted with the show, ‘Outer Banks’ is set on the coast of North Carolina and follows a group of young teenagers called the ‘Pogues’ determined to find out what happened to the missing father of John B, the group’s ringleader. The ‘Pogues’ often but heads with the ‘Kooks’ who are the local elite. Much of the show is shot in Charleston.

Esten plays Ward Cameron, a well to do businessman, the father of Sarah who walks a fine line between the upper and lower class and is John B’s love interest. While many might surmise ‘Outer Banks’ is a series geared towards a younger audience, Esten disagrees. ‘Surprisingly, I think it’s a show that attracts fans of all ages. There is a lot of different story lines in the show. In many ways it’s a classic love story, although it centers around a vicarious treasure hunt.”

Esten’s character is a departure from Deacon, a good guy with flaws, whereas Ward may be more flawed but for different reasons. “There are those who see Ward as a bad guy, but I see him as a man who has made more bad decisions, rather than being outright bad. In my role, I play a loving father, and there’s not much Ward wouldn’t do for his daughter Sarah, who is played by a wonderful young actress named Madelyn Cline. I totally enjoy playing Ward.”

Now in the middle of shooting the third season of ‘Outer Banks’ Esten explains how the show became such a juggernaut for NetFlix. “I was talking with Josh Pate (screenwriter) last night and we were thinking that there was just room for it. Why did no one else have a show that involved gorgeous teens from the wrong side of the tracks battling teens from the right side of the tracks, but in this paradisiacal place. Besides being well written it’s shot in beautiful locations like Charleston. The way the kids, actually they’re young adults interact with each other really is the magic to the show.”

Esten says the bonds between the characters remain the secret winning ingredient. “The real treasure to the show is you want a group of friends who are with you through thick and thin. You might fight a little bit but in the end you come together. The banter between the young actors is phenomenal. At the first table read I sensed it. I felt they all knew each other, but they had really just met. That’s what it is, an incredible story in a gorgeous location with kids who really love each other.”

While fans are anxious for season three to air, there is the usual buzz ‘will there be a fourth season’. Esten is optimistic. “I think if you had a magic eight ball and shook it, all signs would point to yes. Based on past response and how awesome this season is going to be from shooting it, I can’t imagine they wouldn’t want to do at least another season. I hope they do. I love the show, and everyone connected with it. I’ve learned to never say never.”

Esten who will turn 57 in September admits he’s open to whatever comes his way after ‘Outer Banks’ wraps up. “That old expression applies ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans. I’ve had an incredible career. I’m just like someone watching ‘Outer Banks’. I just don’t know. God keeps shaking it up. Every time I think I’m going to give it up, someone comes in with a character that is just too good to pass up on.”

Would he welcome leaning more on his music if acting jobs didn’t come his way. “People often ask me which am I more, an actor or singer. I can tell you; I can remember a time when I didn’t act. But in the same regard I can’t imagine a time when I wasn’t picking up the guitar to perform or write songs.”

While Esten would embrace tipping the scales more towards singing and performing live, he admits a balance between the two is ideal. “I would welcome that, but I would welcome more of the same. When ‘Outer Banks’ is done or done with me, I would welcome a show that has a character I could develop.”

He adds, “But if that doesn’t happen right away then I’m perfectly content focusing on the music. My wife and I can head out on the road and play wherever they’ll have us. I see that as an awesome road trip and a great way to share my music.” Speaking of his wife, Patty is Esten’s closest advisor, acting as his personal and business manager. “She’s the CEO. She makes this ship run smoothly.” Chiming in Patty amusingly adds “I dot the i’s and cross the t’s.”

Much like he did last year, Esten will perform his music on The Windjammer beach stage 6pm Saturday July 9th. Don’t expect the same show. “I won’t repeat a lot of what I did last year. The lock down and pandemic allowed me time to write. I’ve been writing so much new music, so there will be a lot of new songs.” Whether Esten will include an Eagles or Rolling Stones song remains open. “No doubt I’ll add a few covers from the 70’s or 80’s because I’m a product of that generation. I have a new band and we did a Springsteen tribute recently because they do that, so there may be a Bruce song thrown in.”

This time around the show at the Jammer has several changes. “New band, new songs. It’s very cool because we’re in season. What I mean is we’re still shooting ‘Outer Banks’, so lots of the cast and crew from the show will be in the audience. So, you want to do well for your friends, but actually I want to do good for everyone coming out.”

Not only does he have followers here in America but overseas as well. “I have a fan or fans coming to The Windjammer show from Denmark. That’s unreal. Who knew I had a fan base over there.” Esten’s current single ‘Worst Day’ a duet with up and coming talent Julia Cole topped the charts in Denmark. “So we’re hoping to be blessed by Julia performing with me at The Windjammer. She’s young and extremely talented.” The two performed the number in May at the Grand Ole Opry.

For the second year in a row Esten and his wife have found residence on Sullivan’s Island during filming. He has said he could imagine having a second home here in the future. “I embrace Charleston much like I did Nashville. It harkens back to my younger days growing up in Virginia. I spent over 20 years in California which has its own draw, but when I moved to Nashville I realized how much I missed the changing of the seasons. But it’s more than that. In Nashville and Charleston it’s more about the people and southern gentility that really draws me in.”

He and Patty do enjoy their downtime especially whole days off. “We love to walk the beach. The beauty of Sullivan’s Island is that they let you walk your dogs in the morning. So, we do that, maybe take care of some personal business and get in a workout. It’s great that Patty and I can do that all together. It’s great to have a workout buddy.”

The couple do enjoy food and drink as well. “Maybe later in the day we’ll try a new restaurant. I heard a new one on the set recently. I hope to try Sorghum & Salt soon. We love a good coffee shop.” He and Patty have been known to frequent Coastal Crust Pizza and Vintage Coffee as well at The CO-OP on Sullivan’s Island where we met for this interview. “We like to mix it up.”

One particular eatery has become a mainstay. “We love Acme Lowcountry Kitchen on the Isle of Palms. Can you get much closer to The Windjammer than Acme? I recommend that restaurant to anyone visiting the island or Charleston. I should tell you my opener for The Windjammer show is a rock band called Betcha. Full disclosure the lead singer is my daughter’s boyfriend. But I swear if I had never met them, I would have been blown away either way. They are that good. Great energy, and Charlie has an incredible voice. An incredible front man.”

Low country fans of ‘Outer Banks’ or Charles Esten’s music have an opportunity to see him perform live when he graces The Windjammer beach stage on Saturday July 9th. The high energy band Betcha open the show. For more on Charles Esten, or to check out a wide variety of his solo or collaborative songs, visit his website at

For more on Julia Cole visit
For more on Betcha visit their site at

Post interview side note: I’ve had the pleasure to interview Charles Esten on three separate occasions over the past four years. The first after ‘Nashville’ ended its run and Esten was performing at the Alabama Theatre in Myrtle Beach.  He took time out from a family vacation ironically on the outer banks to do the interview. The second interview was last year prior to his Windjammer concert. Our third interview took place in person with Patti by his side.

By all accounts from personal experience and through firsthand reports from family and friends who have met or run into Esten, they all agree he is gracious and nothing short of an old school southern gentleman. He is the kind of person who will hold open a door or help move a golf cart to help a disabled person gain access. It’s apparent that entertaining is his passion, but faith and family i.e., being a devoted husband and doting father rank highest on his list.

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