'Nashville' star Jonathan Jackson brings his band to Hampton

Mike Holtzclaw
Contact Reportermholtzclaw@dailypress.com

Jonathan Jackson is a singer and an actor, but it wasn't until "Nashville" that his dual career paths significantly merged.

On the popular ABC series, he portrays Avery Barkley, an aspiring singer-songwriter who has many parallels with the performer's real life.

"You can't help with any role bringing your own life experience to it," Jackson said in a recent phone interview. "It was interesting to play a guy who is a musician and a songwriter. My first performance on the show my character was singing in a club, and it felt surreal because that's what I had been doing for the last six or seven years. They wanted us to bring who we are to our roles."

It will be Jackson, not his TV character, who performs at the Downtown Hampton Block Party on Saturday night with his band Enation. The show is free.

Jackson and Enation play an energetic brand of indie rock, distinct from the country music that fills "Nashville." But he said there has been an undeniable crossover of fans from the TV show to his live appearances.

"Absolutely, 'Nashville' has increased our Enation audience," he said. "The reach of the show is amazing, and the fans have responded in an incredible way. It's natural that the music I do would have a wider reach. We don't do country music in Enation, but the fans have been very willing to go along with what we play."

In May, ABC dropped the show, but earlier this month CMT picked it up and is preparing to produce a fifth season.

Jackson, 34, started playing guitar when he was 8, but his first turn in the spotlight came as an actor. He was 11 years old when he was cast as Lucky Spencer on the soap opera "General Hospital," a role that would earn him five Daytime Emmy Awards.

His most prominent credits include Fox TV's "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" and the film "Tuck Everlasting." In 1999 a rumor spread that he had been cast to play Anakin Skywalker in "Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones," though Jackson himself acknowledges that he never auditioned for the part and "I don't know how that whole story started."

He grew up in the state of Washington, surrounded by country music. His father, Ricky Lee Jackson, was a family physician who wrote and performed country music on the side. Jackson says the voices he remembers most from his childhood include Vince Gill, Don Williams and the gospel side of Elvis Presley.

He was thrilled to return to those roots as a cast member on "Nashville," even getting to meet some of the classic country stars whose songs his father used to sing.

Jackson said he has learned a great deal from working with legendary producer T-Bone Burnette, the show's original musical director, as well as Buddy Miller (who took over for Burnette after the first season) and Colin Linden (who has played guitar on many of the show's musical numbers).

"With everything in life, you're always trying to learn and grow, so I hope I've picked something up," he said. "The intent remains the same for Enation. We were performing as a band for many years before the show, so we had already gotten past that first few years of playing in front of people."

He said fans who come out to the Hampton show Saturday will hear primarily original songs, including "The Morning of the Rain," which he sang in an episode during Nashville's first season. Enation's EP "Blame-shifter" came out last month. He also likes to toss in the occasional cover song by Pearl Jam, Radiohead or U2.

Looking forward, Jackson has no plans to focus specifically on either singing or acting. He said he sees no reason to pursue one at the expense of the other. After all, he's been doing both for as long as he can remember.

"We're going to keep making music, and we'll keep touring," he said. "I've got some scripts I'm looking at. At this point in my life I'm just looking for that balance to do both — a way to fuel that creative drive and balance the different schedules. 'Nashville' gave me the chance for those two worlds to come together in a unique way.

"I'd be very open to doing that again. It would be fun to play a musician again."

Holtzclaw can be reached by phone at 757-928-6479.

Downtown Hampton Block Party

Who: Jonathan Jackson + Enation, with special guests Beat Root Revival and Full Spectrum.

When: 6 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Kings Way and East Queen Street in downtown Hampton.

Admission: Free.

Info: hamptonblockparty.com.

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