If you go back a few years to the days of Nashville's Opryland theme park, it's just a few feet from the stages of the park's daily shows to the vaunted Grand Ole Opry house. For Natalie Stovall & The Drive, it took a few years to make that trip, but their debut on the WSM Radio show on May 6 was a moment that the band says will be etched in their memories forever.
"This is one of the most surreal experiences, and one of the most surreal experiences of my life to be here again – this time with my band, and play our music," Stovall reflected to Billboard. "I've been saying for years that I've been hoping and praying that we would get to play the Grand Ole Opry, and play our own stuff."
Stovall, who performed "Baby, Come On With It," their latest single, said that she was touched by how many people made the trip into Nashville for the performance – including many from her hometown of Columbia, TN – located an hour south of Music City.
"It seemed like there was a whole section," she said with a smile. "There were definitely a lot of people who drove in from Iowa – where (band member) James Bavendam was born. A lot of his family just hopped in the car and came down. All of us had people there, and there were fans who have came to our shows for years, who made the trip from Ohio."
While Stovall had never played the heralded stage with The Drive, she is no stranger to the area. "I was in the Opryland Kids Club show, then at Christmas time, I was in the Country Christmas show at the hotel. Those were the two shows I did for four years straight. It was so funny. I got hired when I was ten, and then I got too old for both of them when I was fourteen."
Her return trip was a much different story, she said, admitting that it was on her mind all day. "When I woke up, I thought 'Oh, my goodness. I'm going to be on the Grand Ole Opry. I've got to start doing my hair. That was my first thought. We spent most of the day in the studio recording our record. We don't get to spend a lot of time in the studio, because we're on the road all of the time. To know that we're not only recording a song for our record, but also a song that we're going to be doing on the Opry that night is pretty heavy. I won't ever forget this day. Every time we played it today, I thought about doing it in the circle."
And, as much as Natalie Stovall & The Drive – named as one of Billboard's "Ones To Watch" in 2014 – had anticipated their appearance on the Opry for the past two months, once John Conlee introduced them, she said it was over too quickly.
"It's very fast. I think the first thing I said when I got off the stage was 'Did that just happen?' I was still crying at that point, and had mascara running down my face. It was such a dream come true, and such a whirlwind when you're out there. I just kept looking up at the balcony, and thinking 'We're here."
The band is currently booking dates for the summer, with a series of performances for the United States Troops deployed in Asia on July 4.