"I knew it was gonna be overwhelming, and I kinda thought about that all day," fiery newcomer Natalie Stovall told me just mere moments after making her Grand Ole Opry debut earlier this week.
"I was trying to prepare myself mentally for tonight -- for what it means," she said. "We've been talking about this night and the possibility of getting to play this stage for a long time."
On Tuesday (May 6), Natalie Stovall and the Drive -- including bandmates James Bavendam, Miguel Cancino, Joel Dormer and Zach Morse -- realized that very dream.
The "Baby Come On With It" singer and fiddler grew up performing at Nashville's Opryland theme park and first hit the Opry stage at age 12. But Tuesday's appearance was especially emotional for her and the band.
"There's no way to prepare for what it feels like when you walk out onto that stage," she said. "I was just overcome with such a wave of emotion that I could feel it happening at the very beginning when I walked out. I thought, 'OK, all right, hold on, hold on, hold on ... not yet, not yet!'"
It's one of many dreams and moments the group is crossing off their bucket list. Stovall will be the first to admit the road to the Opry has not been an easy one -- countless miles on the road and performing more than 200 shows a year -- but it's a journey well worth every single step.
"It's an honor," she said. "It's surreal. It's amazing to be in this place because we've been living in a van for nine years. This was always out there in the far distance of a possibility. But to be playing a show like this makes me feel like we're making it."
And there are scores of others who agree. Stovall and her band have been named to CMT's Next Women of Country campaign, a movement geared toward highlighting the best and brightest in the next generation of female country stars.
"It's so incredible to be recognized as one of the Next Women of Country, I feel weird saying it!" she explained. "It's something I've always seen in my head and wanted to be, and thought that I was, but for someone else and someone like CMT to be recognizing that is pretty insane."