Nashville’s Charles Esten on Connie Britton’s Finale Return: ‘It Wouldn’t Have Been the Same’

PEOPLE.COM: Six seasons, two networks and one leading lady’s sudden death later, the complicated crooners of CMT’s Nashville took their final curtain call.

Thursday night’s series finale concluded with Deacon (Charles Esten) performing his ballad about the simple things, “A Life That’s Good,” with his father. The rest of the drama’s musicians like Juliette (Hayden Panettiere), Scarlett (Clare Bowen), Avery (Jonathan Jackson) and Gunnar (Sam Palladio) gradually join him on stage. The camera pulls back, breaking the fourth wall to reveal the entire set. Their characters melt away, and suddenly they’re themselves, actors relishing one last jam session. The crew comes, out, too, and Connie Britton — who played country queen Rayna James until 2017 and returned in a tender finale flashback — takes her rightful place center-stage.

“Rayna got to do the impossible. She got to come back from the dead,” Britton, 51, said in a statement. “I got to do the most wonderful, which was to go back to my Nashville family and celebrate all the hard work and love and care that went into that show. Being on the Ryman stage, reunited with 6 years of cast and crew, is a moment I’ll cherish and never forget. I am grateful.”

And 52-year-old Esten — who’s now on tour singing songs from Nashville — opened up to PEOPLE about his thoughts on the finale, Britton’s return and what’s next.

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