Firefighter Turned Country Artist Tyler Braden Reflects on Grand Ole Opry Debut: 'Moment I'll Never Forget'

"There are so many dreams and goals we all strive for in this industry, but that was it," the rising star tells PEOPLE. "That really was the one that now, no one can take away."

There are roughly 871 miles from Slapout, Alabama to the backstage doors of the Grand Ole Opry. And on a good day, one can make it by car in just under 13 hours. But in a way, it took a lifetime for rising country star Tyler Braden to get from there to here.

Or at least it sometimes felt that way.

"All I know now is that I was there," reflects the still somewhat overwhelmed Braden, 32, mere days after his Jan. 8 Grand Ole Opry debut. "I felt overwhelming support like never before. I felt the spirit of country music. I cried. I had a moment I'll never forget, and I got to share it with everyone I love."

It's not surprising that Braden is still catching his breath following the moment that, in many ways, serves as a culmination of a dream that the former firefighter once doubted could ever come true.

"It's really impossible to say how it feels to get to stand in that circle," says Braden, who is snagging some much-deserved attention at the moment for his emotional single "Try Losing One." "I'd like to hope I'm close now, but maybe in years to come I'll really learn to properly appreciate it and be able to put it into words what it felt like. There are so many dreams and goals we all strive for in this industry, but that was it. That really was the one that now, no one can take away."

Tyler Braden
Tyler Braden. Marisa Taylor

The news that the singer/songwriter was going to play the legendary venue came last year when Braden was in the middle of announcing raffle winners at a local golf tournament.

"I went to pass off the mic and they told me to hold on," Braden remembers. "They had put together a framed picture that said I was going to be making my Grand Ole Opry debut on Jan. 8. And to say that it was overwhelming would be quite the understatement."

Soon after, Braden called his parents to tell them the news, and that news quickly spread around town about the Alabama kid who spent his high school years playing baseball and football when he wasn't spending time singing.

"I've gotten to hear from so many people that I've known over the years," says Braden, who is engaged to fiancée Marisa Taylor. "It's just been an incredible time in my life."

It wasn't so long ago that Braden was just a kid in college, playing in a rock band, trying to do his best to score some gigs around town. And for a handful of years, it was working. But on every ride home, he would listen to country music. And soon, that country music began to seep into his setlist.

But so did reality.

At 23 years old, Braden joined the fire service in Montgomery, Alabama, and would spend the next four years serving his community while also playing a few music gigs here and there. But after winning a local singing competition in 2016, Braden made his first trip to Nashville.

And he never left.

Tyler Braden
Tyler Braden. Marisa Taylor

Soon, Braden found himself working with the Brentwood Fire Department for three years, three days a week, leaving him the remaining four days of the week spent getting his songwriting feet wet in Music City. And it was the drive and perseverance that helped him excel in the fire department that eventually had him taking the country music industry by storm.

Just last November, Braden released his debut EP What Do They Know and toured the west coast alongside Brantley Gilbert last year. And yes, he's the first to admit he couldn't have made this dream come true without the time he spent at the fire station.

"The fire service made me kind of who I am," he stresses. "It settled me down. I don't react over the top emotionally to anything. I'm pretty calm and laid back through most situations. And I attribute that to the fire service and how I learned to remain calm under pressure. Obviously, nothing will ever happen in the music industry that puts more pressure on you than what can happen in the fire service."

Tyler Braden
Tyler Braden. Marisa Taylor

But does he miss it?

"Oh absolutely," he admits. "I miss the camaraderie and brotherhood and just being with the guys."

He pauses for a moment.

"I've been blessed my whole adult life. I've been able to have a rewarding career in the fire service where I would've gladly spent two or three decades. But now, I also get to watch my ultimate dream come true, which is to play music for many years to come."

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