The stars were out and shining bright on the night that country music songwriter Drew Holcomb fell in love with his wife Ellie all over again.
"We went on this hike to this beautiful scenic overlook, and I happened to have my mandolin, so we just started writing a song like we used to, and all of a sudden, it just became this magical experience where I remembered our days at the University of Tennessee, when I realized she could sing and we would play these little bars and clubs and music venues," Drew, 38, recalls in a recent interview with PEOPLE. "It took me all the way back to those early moments with her. Ellie is just so talented, and sometimes I think I would forget that in the busyness of a normal day."
Granted, after nearly 15 years of marriage and the birth of three children, their love had never really been in question. But like many couples who found themselves trudging through the uncertain waters of the pandemic last year, the Holcombs had found the noise of the world a little too much to bear last fall, so they made the decision to embark on a trip in which they would drive over 1,600 miles in an Airstream in an effort to not only discover all that Tennessee had to offer, but discover one another again.
There was just one tiny problem — the kids were coming with.
"We have an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old that are pretty easy to travel with, but the 2-year-old throws a wrench in everything," laughs Holcomb of children Emmylou, 8, Huck, 5, and Rivers, 2. "But they're at this fun age where everything is a discovery to them. So, we were game for giving it a go."
So, in October, the family of five embarked on a trip that would have them doing everything from picnicking while overlooking the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains to howling with the wolves at Bay Mountain Park and Planetarium in Kingsport to taking a canoe ride at Big Hill Pond State Park.
Filmed as part of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development's "For the Love of Tennessee, Travel Safe" campaign, the trip also had the musician best known for serving as the bandleader for Americana act Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors finally taking the time to discover some of Tennessee's hidden gems.
"I was born in Memphis and went to school in Knoxville and now I live in Nashville, and I honestly thought that I had seen all that I needed to see, but the real takeaway was just how much of the state I hadn't seen," reminisces Holcomb.
"For instance, when you are heading out of Knoxville and going north on I-75, there are all these billboards for the Museum of Appalachia, and in all my 38 years, we had never stopped there. We just thought it was a tourist thing, but we went there, and we were just blown away. We spent six or seven hours there, but we could have stayed for three days."
What made the road trip even more interesting was the fact that the peace and solitude of the entire experience resulted in a number of song ideas for the couple, who would carve out time each night of the week-long trip to sit by the fire and do some songwriting.
"The kids would always peek out of the Airstream to ask what we were writing about," says Holcomb with a laugh. "But we couldn't help it. We traveled during the day and then would put together the pieces of the day into these songs."
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Two songs that came out of the trip were the sentimental "Feels Like Home" and the touching "Hey Rivers," both written by the Holcombs and recorded in Sound Kitchen Studios in Franklin, Tennessee.
"Not everyone is a songwriter, but what everyone can do is journal or take pictures just for the posterity of it all," remarks Holcomb. "If COVID has taught us anything, it has taught us to not only cherish the relationships we have with family and loved ones, but to never stop exploring the places we are from. Sometimes, it's as simple as leaving your home to find it."
And now more than ever, Holcomb feels time passing rather quickly.
"Everyone has all of these things they want to do, but next thing you know, the kids are grown, or your time is gone," he says quietly. "This trip was a great reminder of how important it is to continue to make memories with your family. And sometimes, that just means getting away for a little while."
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