It was supposed to be just another lunch spent schmoozing with some industry folk in Nashville, celebrating a year that finally found Frank Ray getting the attention he has long deserved.
But there was so much more to celebrate.
“We were just hanging out, eating lunch, having some tacos and drinking some beer, and I ended up getting some of the best news of my life,” recalls Ray, 35, during a recent interview with PEOPLE of the moment he was formally invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. “I could not believe it.”
And in November, mere months after signing his record deal, Ray made his Grand Ole Opry debut.
“I felt like I finally got to sit at the cool kid’s table,” the Texas native says with a laugh. “I feel like that it’s the pinnacle of any country music artist’s career to be able to step into that circle where so many iconic artists have played. And now that it’s happened, it’s incredible.”
Nevertheless, he admits he was nervous.
“Seconds before I stepped on stage, I was slamming a bottle of water because I had the worst cotton mouth ever,” chuckles Ray. “They called my name, and I was literally still trying to swallow the water as I was stepping out on stage, praying to God that He would keep me hydrated for two songs.”
Joining Ray on the momentous occasion was a slew of family and friends in the audience, eager to take in the moment right alongside him.
“I’m Mexican … we roll deep,” jokes Ray, who kicked his career off last year with the Latin-infused song “Streetlights.” “I asked how many tickets I could get and then I asked, ‘Can I get more?’ I mean, I had cousins and uncles and aunts and my mom and dad and my wife and my daughters and my in-laws and a bunch of people from my label. Everybody was there. It was so great to share that moment with the people that helped me get here. Without their support, I would not be doing what I’m doing right now.”
Indeed, playing the Grand Ole Opry was once just a dream that had little chance of coming true for the former cop turned country star.
“Back in April of 2017, it was my first time visiting the Opry, and Patty Loveless was the headliner and Bobby Osborne was playing ‘Rocky Top.’ It was during that performance that I leaned over to my manager, and I was like, ‘This is where I want to be,'” remembers Ray, who proposed to his now-wife Emily the very same week. “And my team made it happen.”
And he has the pics to prove it.
“We were on our way to an interview a few days before the show, and I saw my picture up on that big Grand Ole Opry billboard,” remembers Ray. “We pulled over and we were as close as we possibly could be to the billboard. I stepped on top of the pickup truck and got a picture as my face flashed up on the screen. It probably wasn’t very legal, but it made for a cool picture!”
Of course, all these momentous occasions might just be the beginning for Ray, as he preps to head out on tour with fellow country music hotshot Elvie Shane next month while also watching his fresh-sounding debut single “Country’d Look Good on You” make its way up the charts.
“With this song, we wanted to introduce myself as a country artist who happens to be Hispanic, and not the other way around,” the bilingual entertainer explains of the song which is already reached the top 40. “And that song has already taken off more than anybody could have ever predicted. I can’t even imagine what I would do if that song really started creeping up towards the top of the chart. It would be unreal.”