Valerie Ponzio press photo
Hannah Burton

El Paso Made Valerie Ponzio Who She is Today. Now She's Singing its Praises

This article is part of Wide Open Country's ongoing series Where I Come From, which explores how artists' hometowns have shaped them.

Valerie Ponzio goes home again in the video for her song "Just a Bordertown," a heartfelt tribute to her hometown of El Paso, Texas from her forthcoming debut EP FRONTERA (out Sept. 30).

"Just a Bordertown" is firmly rooted in country music's lengthy history of praising the roots of our raising, from "My Tennessee Mountain Home" to "The House That Built Me," and, like all great songs, it shares a universal truth while showcasing Ponzio's singular point of view.

"My roots run deep in this dry desert ground," Ponzio sings. "It's where I learned to pray and never be ashamed of the people who raised me, and it makes me proud/ No, I couldn't see it before/ But this place is so much more than just a bordertown."

Ponzio, who turned heads (and chairs) with a show-stopping turn on season 12 of The Voice, is part of the inaugural class of CMT and mtheory's Equal Access program and a pioneer for inclusivity in Nashville.

Below, Ponzio shares the impact El Paso has had on her as a person, her favorite local spots and why a now defunct basement venue will always hold a special place in her heart.

Your song "Just a Bordertown" celebrates your hometown of El Paso. How did El Paso shape you as a person and as an artist?

I find new ways that [El Paso] made me who I am everyday.  People are hard working there. There is a beautiful relationship between El Paso and  Juarez it's "Sister City" in Mexico that made such an impression on me growing up. The incredible stories of people making life work from both places is so special and has  played an inspirational role in my life. I try to sing and tell as many stories about that profound dynamic as much as I can. The music that comes from the city is very eclectic  and I feel like I was able to grow and explore so many different styles and find my place in country music because of the artistic freedom I felt there.

What do you find most inspiring about your hometown?

The sense of togetherness is what inspires me. It's such a beautiful desert community.  You can drive and just see out for miles and miles. There's a mountain top called Mount Cristo Rey where you can actually see Mexico, New Mexico and all of El Paso. I love breathing in that connected perspective, that kind of insight and point of view definitely goes with me into writing rooms in Nashville.
Valerie Ponzio

Hannah Burton

What are some of your favorite places to visit when you go home?

I love to drive out to New Mexico when I go home. There's a little town called Old Mesilla, one of the many southwest towns that Billy the Kid was arrested and jailed in that I love to visit. It's so quaint and the Mexican food is so delicious! I also love to go to  downtown El Paso and have a fun night out there. Downtown is actually right on the border so it has so much unique character that I love to soak in while grabbing a margarita and beer at some of my favorite restaurants down there.

Who are the local artists and performers you grew up listening to?

There are so many amazing artists from El Paso. I would have to say my sister, who was busy on the indie folk scene in New York in the late 2000s, was influential for me on so many levels. From when we were young kids to adults I basically just loved any of the music she and my brother liked. My late brother who passed away in 2011 was also extremely influential for me, he basically taught me how to song-write. He literally just sat me down one day and said ''Bubbs, (that was his nickname for me) we're going to write a song now" — and we wrote a song. He was a star, such an incredible performer and artist. I try to remember and emulate many of his amazing performance tactics to this day. They also both taught me a lot of ins and outs of the music business. I would not be where I am today without them.

Did you grow up performing in local venues?

I did a lot of church performing growing up. I definitely was lucky to be able to try out a lot of my material there when they'd have acoustic youth coffee events. I also performed at a ton of local coffee shops, pizzerias, bars and restaurants. One of my favorites was a  place called Moontime Pizza. It was basically the downstairs basement of a fancy restaurant. The lineup was usually an interesting mix of local bands and really cool  touring punk bands who would stop over and play there. I really felt like I was putting on  a "show" when I first played at Moontime. There was a lot of heart and magic in that  place. Sadly, it's no longer there; it's pretty much the parking lot of a CVS now, but every time I go back home I pass by it and I smile at the good memories. I'm so grateful I was able to pound the pavement and learn so much about performing and music at these little spots around town. They all truly hold a very special place in my heart.

?READ MORE: 10 of the Best Small Town Rodeos in Texas