Runaway June Talk Personal Paths to the Loves of Their Lives: 'The Pandemic Sped Things Forward'
In a world filled with so much anger and hate, there is a comfort in knowing that love not only still exists but is absolutely alive and well, especially within the personal lives of the members of country trio Runaway June.
Not only is the band's newest member Natalie Stovall celebrating 12 years of wedded bliss with hubby James Bavendam, but Naomi Cooke is also currently planning an "early summer" wedding to Boys Like Girls' frontman Martin Johnson, whom she got engaged to last December. And if that wasn't enough, bandmate Jennifer Wayne and fellow country artist Austin Moody got engaged late last year and married just a couple weeks later.
But make no mistake — a couple of these love stories could have turned out completely differently if it wasn't for the pandemic.
"I absolutely know we wouldn't be engaged right now," reveals Cooke, 31, in a recent interview with PEOPLE. "Had the pandemic not happened, we wouldn't have had the time to really bond like we did in the last year. I just think the whole pandemic and the fact that we were off the road just sped things forward."
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Indeed, after spending much of 2019 on the road opening for country music powerhouse Carrie Underwood, the "We Were Rich" hitmakers found themselves unexpectedly off the road in 2020, leaving them a plethora of time to put love first for a change.
"Love takes the backburner when you are gone so much," explains Cooke, who says she knew she wanted to marry Johnson soon after their first in-person meeting a couple of years back. "Especially when you travel for work, your relationship really suffers. Sometimes you make it through and sometimes you don't. I think Martin and I were made to be together, so I definitely think we would make it through it, pandemic or not. But the time off certainly allowed us to really get to know each other like never before."
The same happened with Wayne, who first met Moody five years ago at Ocean Way Studios in Nashville, but didn't reconnect with him until last year.
"I have been through a lot of relationships and I just thought that whole 'love at first sight' thing was never going to happen," remembers Wayne, 38, who battled COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic. (Stovall also caught it later in the year.) "But ever since our first date, we haven't been apart. And that is so unlike me because I like my space and my alone time," she admits with a laugh.
She adds, "Honestly, it still hasn't sunk in that he is my husband now. I keep still calling him my boyfriend."
Stovall was in fact on hand to watch the love between Moody and Wayne bloom over their six months of dating, and also got to witness the moment when Moody popped the question.
"To get to be a bystander to and witness that kind of joy and commitment between two people is so special," raves Stovall, 38. "It was a moment of pure joy."
It's a love that Stovall herself has experienced firsthand with Bavendam, whom she first met in college when she actually had a crush on his roommate.
"He loves to tell that part of the story," the Tennessee native says with a laugh. "But even after all these years, the pandemic essentially put a magnifying glass on what's important in life, and that's not necessarily just one's career."
Indeed, Runaway June finds themselves in this unique moment when they all have found bliss in their personal lives, but also bliss in their professional lives, as they continue to nurture their relationship with Stovall, who joined the band following the departure of former member Hannah Mulholland in early 2020.
"It's yet another love story, because everyone who has ever been in a group knows it's like a marriage," says Wayne. "But it really has been so special to us to have the time to get to know each other and write. If it wasn't for the pandemic, we would have been right back on the road making music together."
And write they did, with love serving as a constant thread connecting the new music that Runaway June has been working on over the past year.
"At a time when we didn't know what was going to happen next, we concentrated on what we knew, and that was the fact that we loved each other and we absolutely love making music together," Cooke concludes. "So, we put our heads down and got to work."
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