Carly Pearce had planned for months for her outdoor dream wedding to fellow country singer Michael Ray under a romantic canopy of trees.
But when the first rainstorm to hit the Nashville area in weeks decided to arrive on Sunday, the day of the wedding, Pearce knew that morning she had to let go of the dream. She contacted the venue, Drakewood Farm, located just north of the city, and directed that the ceremony be moved into one of the charming barns on the 40-acre property.
And that’s where Pearce discovered, later that afternoon, that she and Ray could have their dream wedding after all.
“Honestly, it was more magical and way more romantic than I think it would have been outside,” Pearce, 29, told PEOPLE on Tuesday, still in the afterglow of the special day.
Ray, 31, agreed: “The rain actually enhanced it, I think. It was an old barn from the 1850s, and we had all our family there, and with the rain falling, it made it a little more magical.”
Watch the full episode of People Weddings: Carly Pearce and Michael Ray streaming now on PeopleTV.com, or download the PeopleTV app on your favorite device.
The ceremony itself was filled with tears, laughter — and surprises.
Ray adamantly wanted his “first look” of the bride when she walked down the aisle, but that moment arrived a little later than planned. Standing outside the barn doors, Pearce and her father awaited their cue, but when the processional music began, her dad began to sob, and he stepped away to gather himself. Pearce recalls: “I had to tell him, ‘Dad we gotta go!’”
Ray’s back was facing the barn doors when they finally slid open, and he turned to see Pearce in the gown she’d kept hidden for months. The untraditional design, by Samantha Sleeper, featured a high neckline, flowing short sleeves, and a short pencil skirt cloaked in a full-length piece of sheer lace.
“She was beautiful,” Ray says of that first impression. “The dress was perfect. There were just a lot of emotions watching her walk down — just feeling very blessed and lucky.”
Pearce says she was overwhelmed by the moment. “When the barn doors opened and just looking at this person who has completely changed my life,” she says, her voice trailing off with emotion. “I don’t know … I was just like, Oh my gosh, there he is!”
The ceremony was officiated by Bill Cody, a country radio DJ and announcer at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, and Pearce and Ray both read vows they’d written themselves.
Ray, who famously wears his heart on his sleeve, admits he wasn’t sure he would get through his vows. That morning, he realized he was in trouble when he practiced them with best man C.J. Russell and broke into sobs. Ray knew he needed a better strategy.
“I said, ‘C.J., I gotta put some funny stuff in here, man,’” Ray recalls. “‘If I go too sentimental, I’m going to be a mess.’ And so I threw in some funny little things, inside stuff between us and between her and her family that they would only know.”
When Ray’s time came during the ceremony, everyone discovered the groom and best man had cooked up another idea to lighten the mood. Ray turned toward Russell, who, on cue, dramatically handed his friend tissues for tear-sopping and a small bottle of bourbon.
Pearce and the 100 gathered guests just chuckled as they watched Ray tip back the bottle for a long swig, take a deep breath, exhale and turn back to his bride.
“When he did that,” Pearce recalls, “that was the most Michael thing to do in the whole world. And I loved it. I thought it was really funny. I don’t think a lot of people know, but he’s one of the funniest, if not the funniest person I’ve ever met in my life. So it was just perfect.”
She also played along, coaxing on her groom before he began: “You can do it!”
And he did. Through a quivering voice, tears, sniffles — and more than a few laughs — Ray declared his love for his bride, telling Pearce she was making him “the happiest man in the world.”
When Pearce’s turn came, she managed to keep her composure as she made her vows to the man “who shows me what true love is.” By the end, though, she couldn’t stop her voice from breaking, and it was Ray handing her the tissues to wipe away the tears.
Ray’s sensitivity, Pearce says, has definitely put her more in touch with her emotions. “I was pretty overwhelmed in that moment, as well, just thinking about how we both got there,” she says. “I said this to Michael this weekend, that he is the most true example for me that God is real. And so that was just a special moment for me.”
After Cody declared the couple husband and wife, Ray sealed the deal with a kiss that ended in a deep dip, and the wedding moved to a pavilion for a cocktail reception, dinner and dancing. Pearce changed into a Hayley Paige-designed dress “that felt kind of like something that maybe Dolly [Parton] would have worn when she got married.” The off-white, above-the-knee dress, she adds, was “a little more party-ish.”
Ray and Pearce chose to limit their guest list to family members and close friends. Pearce describes her six bridesmaids as friends who “reflect my entire life,” beginning with her maid of honor, a best friend from childhood. Best man Russell and Ray’s five groomsmen are all “men that played a big role in making me who I am today,” he says.
Jake Owen, invited to sing for the couple’s first dance, and Lindsay Ell were perhaps the only names on the guestlist recognizable to most country fans.
“We tried to keep it really small,” Pearce says. “When you do this for a living, I feel like you either have to go big or go really small, and we really wanted it just to be about the people that know us as Carly and Michael.”
For the meal, guests grazed at food stations, catered by Chef’s Market in Nashville, that offered shrimp and grits, build-your-own burgers, Southern pies and Blue Bell ice cream. Keeping with the wedding’s rustic, bohemian theme, the couple served a “naked” wedding cake by CraziCakes; frosting was applied sparingly to the vanilla cake, which had a chocolate filling.
Music, of course, was an important element of both the wedding and reception. Songwriter Jordan Reynolds performed his song “Until You” during the ceremony. Songwriter Emily Shackleton, who co-wrote Pearce’s No. 1 hit, “Every Little Thing,” performed her song “I Loved You First” for Ray’s mother-son dance (which he says he “sobbed” through). For the father-daughter dance, Reynolds began with Stevie Wonder’s tender “Isn’t She Lovely,” but a recording of Blanco Brown’s rowdy “The Git Up” quickly took over.
The segue was Ray’s idea, Pearce says. “He was like, ‘Man, it would be so funny if you guys busted out into a dance,” she recalls. “I didn’t want to make one up, so I thought we would do ‘The Git Up,’ and it was just hilarious and funny, and nobody expected it. My dad is a very buttoned-up businessman, and so just to see him let go and do that with me was something that I’ll never forget.”
Ray reports that Owen “crushed it” singing his ballad “Made for You” for the first dance, which — Pearce reports — Ray also cried through.
The couple was especially thrilled that Owen accepted their invitation to sing. “I told him the date,” Ray recalls, “and he immediately went to his calendar, and was like, ‘I’m in. I would love to. I’ve never been a wedding singer before.’ So it all worked.”
After a night of dancing to DJ AYDAMN, who tours with Dierks Bentley, the party moved on to the Nashville Palace honky-tonk — the site of the newlyweds’ first date — where an old-school country band awaited. “Everybody got up and sang, and hopefully there are no videos, or I won’t have a record deal,” Ray says, laughing.
Because of touring schedules, the couple will wait until December for their honeymoon at Sandals Resort in Jamaica, where an over-the-water bungalow has been reserved.
In the meantime, Pearce and Ray are joyfully getting used to calling each other “husband” and “wife.”
“Since we got engaged,” Pearce says, “I would always say, ‘You got a woman.’ And he would say, “I got a fiancée.” And this morning he said, ‘I got a wife.’ It is so awesome!”
Savoring all these fresh memories, Pearce says, “I didn’t think that I could possibly love this person more, but this weekend, I feel like we got to reconnect and got to grow together at a deeper level of commitment.”
And “just seeing a ring on his finger is fine,” Pearce adds, drawing out her last word with matrimonial delight.
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