"When you hear that sort of news about someone, it solidifies everything you feel for that person," Jenny Tolman tells PEOPLE

By Tricia Despres
May 05, 2021 08:50 PM
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jenny tolman
Dave Brainard and Jenny Tolman
| Credit: Molly Stevens/West and Wild Photography

Back in September of 2015, Grammy-nominated producer Dave Brainard and a friend were brutally attacked and left for dead on the streets of Nashville. As Brainard laid in a hospital bed with a broken jaw, a mouth full of shattered teeth and multiple facial lacerations, aspiring country music singer Jenny Tolman's phone began to ring.

And in that moment, both of their lives changed forever.

"When you hear that sort of news about someone, it solidifies everything you feel for that person," exclusively recalls Tolman, 25, to PEOPLE in a recent interview about the phone call she received on that fateful morning. "It was a moment of epiphany for me. It was like, 'Oh my God, I am in love with this person, and someone has hurt him, and I need to be with him.' That's when I realized that he wasn't just a good friend. He was my person."

jenny tolman
Dave Brainard and Jenny Tolman
| Credit: Molly Stevens/West and Wild Photography

And it is that person that, after more than four years of dating, got down on one knee last fall and asked Tolman to be his wife as the couple were hiking in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

"We came upon this opening right at the base of the Grand Tetons and the edge of Jenny Lake, and it was just so beautiful," Tolman remembers of their October 28, 2020 engagement. "The crazy part is that a professional photographer happening to be hiking and saw the proposal and started taking pictures of us. It was such a dream."

Indeed, much of Tolman's and Brainard's relationship has felt somewhat dreamlike from the very beginning, starting from when the two first met during a writer's round being held at Nashville's Dawg House Saloon back in January of 2015.

jenny tolman
Dave Brainard and Jenny Tolman
| Credit: Molly Stevens/West and Wild Photography

"It's funny because I wasn't even old enough to be in there, but I just happened to be playing there that night," remembers Tolman, who was just 19 years old at the time and coming off an "extremely abusive and dangerous relationship" in high school. "Dave happened to be there, and I guess he liked what he heard because he came up to me afterward and told me that he loved my voice and that we should get together to write sometime."

Tolman lets out a laugh.

"At first, I thought he was a creeper," the Nashville native says of Brainard, who is best known for his work alongside country greats such as Brandy Clark, Jamey Johnson and Jerrod Niemann. "I mean, there is a 20-year age gap between us."

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Jenny Tolman and Dave Brainard
| Credit: Molly Stevens/West and Wild Photography

Yet, the very next week, the two met for coffee and while Tolman's parents looked on, the two found themselves connecting, despite the obvious age difference.

"In that conversation, it was obvious that everything lined up between the two of us, both spiritually and morally," remembers Tolman, who released her debut album There Goes the Neighborhood last year. "I mean, we talked about all of these things you usually don't talk about in a professional relationship."

The two soon wrote a song together and would spend their weekends recording demos for the songs they had written throughout the week. And then, soon after Brainard's attack on the streets of Nashville, there were hints that the well-known producer was beginning to have new feelings for Tolman too.

jenny tolman
Dave Brainard and Jenny Tolman
| Credit: Molly Stevens/West and Wild Photography

"I wrote him two songs that I sent to him while he was in the hospital," says Tolman of Brainard, who continues to undergo an onslaught of dental work as a result of the September of 2015 attack. "I remember that he sent me a text message basically saying, 'This is so beautiful' and 'Gosh, you are so beautiful,'" she recalls with a laugh. "That's a text I hung onto."

Soon, the tragedy that could have forever broken them apart led them to finally come clean about their true feelings for one another in January of 2016.

"It had just started snowing in Nashville that night, and we had gone to dinner, but I wasn't 21 years old yet, so we couldn't go to a bar," she remembers. "So, we were driving, and he was like, 'Please know that this was never my intention, and I don't know how this happened, but I think I am in love with you,' and I said, 'I'm in love with you' and we went back to his apartment and from that night on, I stayed with him and I never left. We have been together ever since."

jenny tolman
Jenny Tolman and Dave Brainard
| Credit: Molly Stevens/West and Wild Photography

Now, five years later, the couple finds themselves busy planning a wedding scheduled to take place next March in Jackson Hole.

"For the next year, we will be planning a wedding and making an album, and I couldn't imagine anything better," concludes Tolman, who is also set to appear in a future episode of Say Yes to the Dress. "Gratitude is my big thing, and I am so thankful for Dave and the man he is. And while it's a terrible thing that happened to him, I'm grateful that it was that moment that taught me the lessons I needed to learn."