"I just feel like I finally found the right town and the right song," Morris tells PEOPLE of getting her shot in Nashville

By Nancy Kruh
Updated April 12, 2016 08:15 PM
Credit: Rich Fury/Invision/AP

Yes, Maren Morris, this really is your life: getting a call to tour with Keith Urban, getting texted by Dierks Bentley with an invite to duet, sharing the ACM awards red carpet with your hero, Dolly Parton.

“It seems like almost every day I’ve been able to cross things off my bucket list,” Morris, 26, tells PEOPLE of the opportunities that have come her way since her self-penned “My Church” has caught fire.

It’s a lot to take in for the Texas native, who thought she was moving to Nashville three years ago to build a songwriting career. All that changed as the town took notice of the voice that was pitching those songs. Morris’ name has since taken up residence on practically every “new artists to watch” list.

“It was March of last year that I wrote ‘My Church,’ and that’s what set a lot of this in motion,” she said. “I don’t think anyone could have known that just a year later this would be my Monday.”

“This” was a rehearsal session to get ready for another career highlight: sharing the star-studded bill for Tuesday’s All for the Hall concert, Urban’s sixth benefit in Nashville for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Urban and Hall of Famer Vince Gill both play in the backup band – a mind-blowing fact not lost on Morris.

During her rehearsal, “I’m just singing, but looking back and seeing Keith and Vince both singing harmonies to lyrics I’ve written,” she said. “It’s just so, so crazy. It’s like a dream.”

Morris began performing on the Texas music circuit when she was just 11 years old, but in 2013, she was determined to reinvent herself as a songwriter with her move to Nashville. Fellow Texan Kacey Musgraves, a friend since their teens, helped with introductions, and Morris eventually turned in co-writes recorded by Tim McGraw and Kelly Clarkson. But she also began writing for herself, singing those songs with a voice that’s been compared to Bonnie Raitt‘s, and testing the waters on the web.

Out of the blue she got the call to join Urban’s upcoming tour. “It felt like a prank just for a second,” she said. “I didn’t even have an EP out yet on iTunes. It was just on Spotify. I think he listened to ‘My Church’ and ’80’s Mercedes,’ and he was like, who wrote those songs? And they’re like, she did!”

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Her self-titled EP debuted in November, and her debut album, Hero, is set for a June 3 release, the same week she starts the tour with Urban and fellow opener Brett Eldredge. The past year has also brought her opening slots with Chris Stapleton, Little Big Town and Sam Hunt, among others. She was floored when a sellout country festival crowd at London’s 20,000-capacity O2 Arena sang along with her to “My Church.” And then there was that fateful text: “Hey Maren, this is Dierks Bentley. I hope you don’t mind me texting you, but I have this song that I would love to have a female voice on and I want it to be a duet.”

It turned out to be “I’ll Be the Moon” on Bentley’s upcoming album – a song, co-written by Morris’ friend Ryan Hurd, that she “had sort of obsessed over” since she’d first heard it a year before. Incredibly, Morris received the text while sitting with Hurd in a bar, where they’d been commiserating over the “bad day” each was having.

Obviously, bad days don’t seem to be in the cards for Morris’ near future, and she’s determined to appreciate her success.

“I want to be as gracious and thankful as I can because it has been a long road,” she said. “I’m young but I’ve been doing this a long time There’s obviously a lot of hard work that goes into it. It’s a hard town. There’s a lot of talent here. It’s all about timing, too. I just feel like I finally found the right town and the right song.”