Rising country star Mo Pitney first met his soon-to-be wife when they were both 15 years old. But while the attraction was instantaneous for Mo, that wasn’t the case for his now-fiancée, musician Emily Bankester.

The couple, who will wed March 5 at Emily’s hometown church in Carbondale, Ill., met as teens at a bluegrass festival where both were performing with their family bands.

“I went home [to Rockford, Ill.,] and told all my buddies, ‘I just saw the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen in my life,’” the now 23-year-old Mo recalls.

They continued to run into each other at more festivals over the next several years, but while Mo says, “I found myself always kind of chasing her around,” Emily didn’t exactly welcome the attention. “Her mom had advised her to stay away from me at the time,” Mo says with a laugh. “Her mom said she thought I was way too full of myself back then. Her words were that I was ‘really fond of myself.’ And she was right, too. I was pretty arrogant back then.”

Their relationship changed two years ago. “I struggled my whole life with depression and anxiety, for as long as I can remember,” Mo reveals. “I had a lot of personal issues. God really changed a lot of that when I was 21. It’s kind of amazing, but about a week later Emily had a very similar experience with God, where in a moment her life just kind of flipped around.” They reconnected by phone, and bonded over their shared experience.

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Over the next few months, they talked regularly. By then, Mo had signed with Curb Records and was out on his first radio tour. They found themselves FaceTiming every night, and Mo says, “All of a sudden we both kind of realized that we weren’t just friends anymore. We realized we wanted to be more than just friends.”

They began taking turns making the three-hour drive between her home in Carbondale and his new home in Nashville to spend time together. From there, he says, “Things moved pretty quickly.”

Ten months into their romance, Mo had purchased an engagement ring, but still wasn’t sure when he’d pop the question. That finally happened last September, but not before Mo engaged in a day full of subterfuge, despite having the ring in his pocket the whole time.

The couple spent an afternoon walking around Nashville’s Opry Mills mall, followed by dinner at the nearby Opryland Hotel, where they had also had their first date. While still at the mall, Mo pulled Emily into a ring store and asked her to point out what she liked, informing her not to get her hopes up since he believed in dating for a long time before getting engaged. When a store employee asked if he could assist them, Mo remembers telling him “Naw, we’re just dreamin’ right now.” He says, “I was just throwing all of that out to throw her off.”

Over dinner, he laid it on thick, speaking again about his belief in dating as long as two years before becoming engaged. “I could tell she was getting frustrated,” he recalls with a chuckle.

Knowing he wanted to propose privately, their next stop was a 180-acre property in Ashland City, Tenn., where the couple is renting a cottage they will live in after the wedding. “We drove back into the woods to one of my hunting spots,” Mo says. They then walked to a spot he knew of where a creek formed a waterfall. There, on a big rock overlooking the waterfall, he dropped to one knee, pulled out the ring he’d been carrying around all day and asked her to spend the rest of her life with him.

Their wedding, which will be attended by about 170 guests, will be filled with music special to the groom and the bride, who sings and plays fiddle and clawhammer banjo with The Bankesters.

Mo’s brother, sister and father will sing the hymn “Be Thou My Vision.” Emily’s two sisters and brother-in-law will perform a song by Andrew Peterson called “My One Safe Place” that is very special to the couple. Then Mo will perform a song he penned with Nashville songwriter Wil Nance called “You Touch Me,” which Mo says is “one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. It’s really about Emily, but it’s also about God. I’m excited to sing that.”

From there, the couple will honeymoon at a mountain cabin in Colorado before returning to the Ashland City property that Mo says Emily has been working hard on during her visits, “making it feel like home.”

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