Although Grove City native Lee Gantt spends about half his time recording and playing music in Nashville, he maintains a strong connection to his hometown.

So when it came time to film a video for the single from his debut EP, Gantt could think of no better setting than the Grove City Homecoming Celebration.

"No matter what happens to me in music, Grove City will always be a big part of who I am," Gantt said.

After studying economics at Ohio State University, Gantt spent three years at Huntington Bank, working full time and playing musical numbers when he could.

"I'd take personal days and spend weekends to play shows and work on my music," Gantt said.

About seven years ago, Gantt, 31, decided to focus entirely on a career in music.

"Some people thought I was crazy to do it, but I knew I had to give it my all," he said. "I'm able to make a living and pay my bills doing what I love."

Playing around 150 shows a year, Gantt has opened for many country music stars, including Chris Young, Easton Corbin, Neal McCoy, Phil Vassar and Love and Theft.

"It's a grind. It's a show just about every other day," Gantt said. "But I love it. All the travel and getting set up is worth it for the time on stage. Playing music is a joy."

Gantt said he developed a love for country music as a teen working at a restaurant in Grove City.

"I was a typical teenager. I liked rock music and hip-hop," Gantt said. "They would play country music at work and I found myself liking it more and more. The music spoke to my life and the experiences I was having.

"I starting liking country music, then I starting singing along with the songs, then I was hooked," he said.

Kenny Chesney's music particularly inspired him.

"I'd have to say he's probably been the biggest influence on my songwriting," Gantt said. "It's about writing songs that touch the heart of people, that tells stories that reflect the ups and downs and joy and sorrow of their lives."

Gantt's first EP, "Casa Boulevard," will be released in mid-September on HH Entertainment, a label created by Heidi Hamels.

Hamels, who is married to major league pitcher Cole Hamels, was a contestant on "Survivor: The Amazon."

"They met when she was at a minor league ballgame to throw out the first pitch," Gantt said. "She was more famous than he was at that time."

The title track reflects on Gantt's experiences growing up at his family home on Casa Boulevard in Grove City, he said.

Two years ago, Gantt may not have believed it if someone told him a record was in his future.

"Things didn't seem to be going anywhere a couple of years ago, and I was beginning to wonder if I even wanted to continue in the music business," Gantt said. "But I grew up wanting to work hard, so I didn't give up.

"If I had stopped at that point, I never would have met Heidi, I wouldn't be releasing these records and I wouldn't be shooting a video in my hometown," he said.

"In the music business, if you believe in yourself, you have to keep pushing forward," he said. "Because you don't know when things are going to break for you. It always could be just about to happen for you."

Gantt travels back and forth to Nashville, Tennessee, twice a month. He has been writing and recording with producer and songwriter Zac Maloy. Maloy's credits include co-writing and recording a No. 1 single "Temporary Home" with Carrie Underwood and producing albums by Blake Shelton and Chris Daughtry.

"We've been recording over the last several months and probably have 15 or 16 songs already completed," Gantt said. "I'll be releasing a series of three EPs every four months or so, staring with 'Casa Boulevard.' "

Hanging out in Nashville has been an invaluable experience, he said.

"You get the chance to meet and play with the greatest musicians in the world, and not just country musicians," Gantt said. "Most of the singers and songwriters in Nashville come from elsewhere -- New York, California, Florida, Alabama.

Playing and writing with musicians from so many different backgrounds and perspectives, it really raises your musicianship," he said.

Gantt's first single, "Ruined This Town," written with Maloy, offers insight on the end of a romance.

"You know, after you break up with someone, everywhere you used to go with her, you're reminded of her," Gantt said. "It ruins the town for you."

The first portion of the related video, with actors portraying the song's story, was shot in Buffalo, Missouri, Heidi Hamels' hometown.

For the section shot in Gantt's hometown, the singer- songwriter performed to a pre-recorded track on the stage at the Homecoming Celebration. Grove City residents were invited to participate in the video by bringing signs expressing how someone ruined their town or expressing their love for their hometown.

"I'm really excited about having Grove City included in my first video," Gantt said. "With Heidi and Cole's connections, I'm really hopeful that our town's going to be seen soon on CMT."

More information about Gantt, including a list of local dates on his tour schedule, is available at leeganttband.com or at facebook.com/leeganttofficial.

afroman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekAfroman

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Country music artist and Grove City native Lee Gantt performs his debut single, "Ruined This Town," during the Grove City Homecoming Celebration on July 28. This performance also was being filmed for the song's video.