Derwood, Maryland’s own Chris Carmack, who plays a closeted gay country singer on the ABC series “Nashville,” has a homecoming of sorts on Sunday when a three-city tour featuring stars of the show pulls into the Lincoln Theatre on U Street. Carmack joins cast mates Chip Esten, Clare Bowen, Jonathan Jackson and Sam Palladio for an evening of performances of some of the show’s signature songs.
Carmack, who’s straight, said he didn’t spend much time in D.C. while growing up.
“You know, when you’re 16 years old you don’t get to explore much of the city because you can’t go anywhere that requires an ID and I liked listening to music and they were all 21-and-over bars.”
It wasn’t until he returned home from college at NYU that friends would take him out to D.C. clubs such as Chief Ike’s Mambo Room in Adams Morgan.
Will Lexington, Carmack’s character on the show, hides his sexuality deep in the closet. He worries what the truth could mean for his own burgeoning music career.
“You know, as an outsider looking in, of course you want to see him make a lot more progress with himself, and living within his own skin comfortably,” Carmack says. “That’s what you’re rooting for. But at the same time, it’s the South and there are sort of these pervasive ideas in the country audience and institutions that make his fears very real about coming out and trying to be a country singer. It hasn’t worked for anybody else. And I don’t think Will has any reason to believe it will work out for him.”
That it’s only a matter of time before something happens to cause that door to swing wide open is not lost on Carmack.
“I think something needs to happen for Will because he’s at a boiling point,” Carmack says. “He’s trying to keep a secret and he’s trying to lie to everyone around him, and to some extent lie to himself and keeps trying to convince himself that everything’s going to be OK, that he can get married and be a good husband and put on this front and it’s all going to be OK, if he could just make his music career happen. And every step along the way it’s just proved that it’s not gonna be true.”
In an interview last year with OUT Magazine, Carmack referred to the possibility of a successful, out, gay country singer as being “a stigma that’s insurmountable.”
Now he says it might be possible.
“I sincerely hope that my portrayal of this character on television will in some way make it a more surmountable thing,” he says. “I just wish I could snap my fingers so it would be much more accepted by the country audience. We’re on that path now and I think that we’ll get there, I just wish we could get there a lot sooner.”
Prior to acting, Carmack played in a couple bands in Los Angeles and says he “became that guy that played at everybody’s wedding.” He admires country music and cites Buddy Guy and Vince Gill as idols he was thrilled to meet.
A recent episode of the series was a preview of the tour that took place at the legendary Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Known as the “mother church” of country music for its being the first home of the Grand Ole Opry, many performers in their own minds don’t make it until they play that stage. Carmack agrees saying that it is a beautiful place inside and out with incredible acoustics.
“There’s just so much history in that building,” he says. “Johnny Cash met June Carter back stage and you just sit there and go, ‘Where did that happen?’ and it happened right where you are standing. So in terms of country music history, the Ryman’s full of it, it’s full of those ghosts. You feel them, they inspire you and when you go out on stage it’s a pretty special feeling.”
A quick Google search of Carmack’s name yields, among other things, a variety of Tumblr blogs dedicated to the actor. Carmack says he has not seen them and that “I tend not to Google myself or seek out reviews or find, you know, I think it’s dangerous to start looking at yourself through the lenses of how other people perceive you because it can start to warp your perception of yourself. … I try to just be a regular guy.”
Carmack performs Sunday at the Lincoln Theatre. The show is sold out. His single “What If I Was Willing” from the album “The Music of Nashville (Original Soundtrack) – Season 2, Vol. 1,” can be purchased on iTunes.