Lee Brice feels guilty as heck saying this, but he's going to say it anyway.
"2020 has been a very good year for me," Brice, 40, tells PEOPLE in a revealing new interview from the barn where he's currently quarantined. "I don't want to take away from the hardships that so many people are going through with this pandemic. But for me, it's been this huge, silver lining sort of year."
Indeed, the towering country music artist hailing from Sumter, South Carolina, has spent most of this pandemic-smeared year on the charts with No. 1 hits such as "One of Them Girls" and "I Hope You're Happy Now," the latter alongside fellow country star Carly Pearce. He's on the cusp of releasing his much-anticipated album Hey World on Friday. And for the first time in a long time, he has been able to spend an extended amount of time alongside his wife Sara and their three kids.
But just when Brice was ready to ride off into the sunset of 2020, the country hitmaker was smacked with reality when he tested positive for coronavirus on Nov. 8.
"I was like, 'Well that sucks,'" explains Brice, who, as part of COVID-19 protocol prior to the CMA Awards, had been tested as he prepped to perform alongside Pearce last Wednesday. "I thought, oh well, I'll just go to the farm and quarantine in the barn. I've got my bed and my couch and my TV and my kitchen and a shower and I'm good. I didn't feel anything."
But that was the afternoon of Nov. 8.
By that night, things started changing. Brice thinks he began running a fever. His body began aching and he started to notice some pains that weren't there just hours before. He spent the night tossing and turning, trying to get the much-needed sleep his body was craving.
"I literally woke up all wet," Brice recounts. "I wasn't shivering and I don't think the fever got high, but I did wake up feeling like I sweat out a fever or something."
In the week that followed, Brice says he felt relatively "fine," describing the rest of his experience with the illness as similar to "a very mild cold or allergies." His sinuses were full, and he has felt congestion in his chest and his voice was a bit more raspy than usual, but he knows darn well he is one of the lucky ones.
"I've talked to some people that have had it really bad," Brice explains. "My manager had it a few weeks ago and he was down. He could not get out of bed, it hurt to breathe, he was down, down, down. I don't know if it was Halloween or the hot weather that came back in. All I know that this week, I've heard about more people having it compared to the last nine months. Everyone I know has had it."
On Nov. 11, Brice was forced to sit back and watch as Lady A's Charles Kelley stepped in to cover his part on the duet that would end up taking home the CMA Award for musical event of the year and the song that just might have cemented Pearce's place as a certified country star.
"For the most part, this is Carly's song," says Brice, who has snagged solo number ones on hits such as "A Woman Like You," "Hard to Love" and "I Drive Your Truck." "This is her story. This is what she wrote. This was her life. And honestly, she's the real deal. She's honest. And she's who she is. She deserves it."
"If you think about the female artists out there and you think about the ones who are really honest and do their thing and don't hold back, like Miranda [Lambert] and Ashley [McBryde] and Maren [Morris], they just do their thing and don't apologize for what they want to do. I'm proud of them."
He's also proud of his very own leading lady — his wife Sara.
"She's OK," he says with a laugh when asked about how Sara's been doing holding down the Brice family fort while her husband is quarantined. "It's a lot. Here I am, in the barn sitting around doing nothing and she's with all three kids all day. She is a rock and an angel. She has her moments. She gets frustrated because she doesn't have time for herself … She doesn't have time to take a bath. She just wants a bath! She wants five minutes. And I get it."
Indeed, while the physical ramifications of the illness have been manageable for Brice, the psychological effects of being away from his wife and their three kids — sons Takoda, 12, and Ryker, 6½, as well as daughter Trulee, 3 — has been quite tough.
"My barn is just down the road from the house, so Sara will bring them down here, so I can see them out the window," he says of his family, who have also been quarantining out of an abundance of caution. "I just need to see them. All I want to do is go hug them and kiss them."
And soon, he will be able to do just that — Brice's quarantine period ends Wednesday.
But until then, he's staying busy. He recently read for a Martin Scorsese film. He's been writing with the legendary David Lee Murphy. And on Friday, he will be hosting a Hey World album release livestream experience on Facebook Live and YouTube Live.
Brice is also counting his blessings.
"I feel fortunate," says Brice. "It'’s nice being out on my farm. It's been 75 degrees. The deer are walking, and the bass are biting. I'm one of the lucky ones. I guess, so far. I'm crossing my fingers."
For now, he returns to the solitude of his remaining quarantine.
"I'm more of a get-moving, stay-moving kind of guy," he admits. "It keeps me in a level place. If I sit around too much, I get anxious. And I know that's not a good thing. I'm doing my best."
Hey World will be available everywhere Friday.
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