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In less than seven years, country music singer and Kelso native Cort Carpenter has released three albums, amassed 23,000 fans on Facebook, and opened for country music titans like Blake Shelton and Carrie Underwood.

“I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far, not being a singer from a young age,” Carpenter said. “I fell into it, and it exploded for me. It’s a long, hard, grueling ride. I’ve seen people come and go out of Nashville — I’m continuing to put my foot down and grind.”

But as he builds his career in Nashville, Carpenter hasn’t forgotten his roots. On Thursday, he released the music video for his April single “Holy Ground,” depicting his visit to his home on Walker Road, local businesses and sights, and the Red Devils’ baseball diamond at Lower Columbia College in a nostalgic drive through Kelso and Longview.

“(Those) local businesses had an impact on my life at some point, whether it was making our pizzas or writing articles about us,” he said. “... This is a special place. I wouldn’t want to have grown up anywhere else.”

“Holy Ground,” Carpenter said, is about the special places people reminisce about or cherish living in now. “Everyone has their own holy ground.”

Yan’s Chinese Restaurant and Lounge, the first business featured in the video, is where it all began for Carpenter, who hadn’t seriously pursued a music career until after he graduated from Lower Columbia College.

“They used to have karaoke three or four times a week,” he said. “After my senior year of college, we’d go down and sing all the time for fun. People started recognizing and enjoyed my singing, so that’s when some folks gathered us together in a band and that’s how it kinda started.”

Filming in Longview and Kelso for the “Holy Ground” music video, which has reached almost 10,000 views in one day, “just felt right,” Carpenter said.

“It just felt like the video needed to be done about the area,” Carpenter said. ”It’s a beautiful place to grow up, to live, but often it’s forgotten because it’s such a small little area. … The local businesses, the people, the community itself comes together and gets behind people, and that’s what special about Cowlitz County.”

Country music, Carpenter said, isn’t limited to the south.

“I don’t have a Southern accent like a lot of these guys do,” he said. “A lot of people, when I tell them where i’m from, they say, ‘Oh, you listen to country music out there?’ Well yeah, country music is not just a Southern thing. People love country because they can relate to the songs. Guys like me appeal to those folks who were scared to get into country but are now more comfortable with it.”

He’s recently entered in Nash Next, a competition among aspiring country artists to win national radio play and a coveted record deal with Big Machine Records, whose roster includes artists like Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, and Cheap Trick.

More than 100 artists have entered in the contest. Carpenter asked fans on his Facebook page to vote for his song, “Let Me See Your Koozie,” to help him get through the contest’s first round.

Winning Nash Next would be “huge,” he said, but the road ahead is tough.

“I haven’t entered it before,” Carpenter said. “I usually stay away from contests. But my fans said, ‘You gotta do this.’ ... Maybe the right person is sitting behind the judges’ table at the Nash Next finale. It’s just fun to be in the contest finally and see how it plays out. If nothing comes from it, no harm, no loss. I’ll just keep grinding.”

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