“Songs for Our Future” by Pam Ortiz


Pam Ortiz Band – Phil Dutton (keyboard), Ford Schumann (guitar), Bob Ortiz (percussion), Nevin Dawson (violin), Pam Ortiz (guitar & lyricist)           Photo by Jeff Gruber, Blue House Productions

It’s Fall, and Downrigging Weekend is right around the corner — with a featured concert by the Pam Ortiz Band at the Garfield Center at 8 p.m. on Saturday evening, Oct. 28. This has been a very active year for the band, and the Spy thought it would be a good idea to catch up.  Following the article is a photo and video gallery of the band by Jeff Weber. Here’s the story of this year’s activities in Pam’s own words.  — Editors.

It was three days after the election of 2016.  I had several friends who were showing clear signs of PTSD.  Beyond the kvetching and rending of garments, many people I ran into were staring blankly into one another’s eyes, googling “Sweden” or “Canada” and figuring out when and for how long they would have to go “news dark” in order to maintain their hold on life.

My husband, Bob Ortiz, and I play original music in a five-piece band.  After an interesting but exhausting year, I had suggested we take a bit of a hiatus.  We had done our annual show at the Sultana Downrigging Festival at the end of October, and, with that commitment behind us, I was looking forward to some downtime.  Then the election hit.

My immediate thoughts turned to those groups of people who would be vulnerable going forward.  And the critical rights, those rights that leverage other rights – the right to vote, the right of free speech, and others – all of which were now at risk.

On November 11th, I wrote the following to my band mates, Nevin Dawson, Ford Schumann and Philip Dutton:

I know I said I felt like I wanted to take a break, but the events of this week have caused me to reconsider.  I sat down after the election and made a list of: i) rights to protect; ii) people to protect; iii) people to support; and iv) people to challenge or stop.  I came up with 12 to start with and put organizations that do that work by each one.  So I have a list of 12 organizations I want to support.  I was thinking Bob and I would write some puny checks (which we will indeed do, which is about what we can do). Then tonight I thought about how everyone around us is anxious to DO something and thought:  we could host a series at Bob’s shop of monthly concerts and each one would be designed to address one of those issues and support one of those organizations.  

Within days, the group convened to plan what became the Songs for Our Future concert series.  Ultimately, we narrowed down the list of organizations to seven. We planned one concert each month, to be held between January and July, 2017.  Here’s what our final list looked like [with all proceeds going to the listed organization]:

JANUARY – A Concert to Protect the Right to Vote  – NAACP Legal Defense Fund 

FEBRUARY – A Concert to Protect the Rights of Immigrants  – National Immigration Law Center 

MARCH – A Concert to Highlight Climate Change & Clean Energy (2 events) – 350.org 

APRIL – A Concert to Protect the LGBTQ Community  – FreeState Justice 

MAY – A Concert to Protect Our Muslim Neighbors  – Council on American Islamic Relations 

JUNE – A Concert to Support Women’s Reproductive Rights  – Planned Parenthood 

JULY – A Concert to Protect the Right of Free Speech  – ACLU of Maryland 

My husband is a furniture maker.  His studio is a large, funky space in Chestertown, Maryland, a town in a rural county on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  Amazing things happen in that space.  People stop by all week for counseling, advice, help with a project, or just to check in.  We have hosted a myriad of concerts, parties and special events there over the years, so it seemed a natural place to host the series.  We initially planned six events.  When former director of The Mainstay, Rory Trainer, asked if they could participate, we added a final, culminating show to be held there in July.

We invited special guests to join us for each show — poets, artists, musicians and singers who had a connection with the group or right we were supporting. – Sombarkin, Meredith Davies Hadaway, Sue Matthews, John Schratweiser, Capt. Andy McCown, Howard and Mary McCoy.  Guest bassists Tom Anthony, Mark Dykeman, and Jeff Davis each joined us for several events.  Salvadoran songwriter and artist , Fredy Granillo, joined us for our show to support immigrants. Our friend and frequent collaborator, poet Robert Earl Price, became our “house poet,” but we had others too – James Allen Hall, Mary Azrael.  A high school friend and professor of Arabic read Arabic poetry at our event to support our Muslim neighbors.  And she helped us make a connection with a young Syrian immigrant who came and spoke eloquently about his experience – as a Syrian dissident, as a refugee, as a young man isolated from the community and far from his family.  He spent four years in a Turkish refugee camp. Of his family, he was the only one who got a Visa to come to the U.S.  His mother and sister are in Sweden; his dad remains in the refugee camp.  When asked if he could talk or Skype with his family, he said, “Of course.  But I can’t do this.” And he proceeded to come over to me and give me a big hug, like you might give your mom who you hadn’t seen for 3 years.  Our collective hearts broke.

As we put these shows together, over and over again, people came out of the woodwork offering to contribute or participate in some way.  Everybody wanted in.  Our friend and potter, Marilee Schumann, made “Resist” mugs which folks could have for an additional donation.  Her daughter, Brooke, made “Resist” soap.  Volunteers came forward to help set up the shop, transport chairs, carry equipment, help at the door.  When we celebrated women and raised funds to protect women’s reproductive health, Marilee and her sister-in-law, Jamie, made pink pussy hats for the audience. Videographer, Jeff Weber, set himself up to film most of the shows.

And we sold out every show.  We ended up raising over $18,000.  All this from our small town of 5,000 people in a county of fewer than 20,000.  Not everyone thinks the same in our small town. We have people from every walk of life and point of view.   I’m sure not everyone agreed with what we did.  But we did it in a way that was inclusive.  We framed these events as celebrations of what we stood for and who we are – not what we hated or who we were not.  And I think that is what made the difference.  Folks who came to these events – and many old friends came from far and wide for every show – told us time and again how powerful it was to be a part of this effort.

I had a sense that we were building community through art.  The arts provide us with a language when we do not have the words to express how we feel.  The arts give us a way to voice our discontents without being mired in despair.  Under the armor of the arts we have the courage to fight for something that seems impossible.

I am sharing this because it is my hope that as a nation we can find a way to reclaim who we are and what we stand for.  Maybe your community will host a concert series, or maybe you’ll gather people for a special exhibit or theatrical performance that allows people to feel they are part of building something new – something that challenges the diminished vision of America we see in the mirror of the media —  and in our leadership.

I leave you with these words, which I hope will inspire you as they have guided us. When we launched our series my husband read this to the audience.  It is a framed quote we have in our house, from Spanish cellist and composer, Pablo Casals.

“I am a man first and an artist second. As a man, my first obligation is to defend human dignity. As an artist, I will fulfill this mission through music — the unique weapon which God has given me – and that which transcends the boundaries imposed by language, politics and national borders. My contribution to world peace will be humble, but at least I will have given all for this ideal which, to me, is sacred.”

Pam Ortiz,      Chestertown, MD

Photo & Video Gallery Below by Jeff Weber.  Video is from the final “Songs of Our Future “concert at the Mainstay in Rock Hall, MD last summer.

Phil Dutton, Marc Dykeman, Nevin Dawson, Pam Ortiz, Ford Schumann, Bob Ortiz         Photo by Jeff Weber

Pam Ortiz           Photo by Jeff Weber

Bob Ortiz                  Photo by Jeff Weber

Phil Dutton                   Photo by Jeff Weber

Ford Schumann                   Photo by Jeff Weber

Nevin Dawson                 photo by Jeff Weber



Letters to Editor

  1. Margery Elsberg says:

    There are no words we could use, Pam, to describe how much your music does for this community. It heals and soothes, gives hope, inspires and makes us strong.
    Thank you Pam, Bob, Ford, Nevin, Philip and everyone else who packed every concert and who made these concerts such a spontaneous and important success.
    Margie Elsberg

  2. This wonderful article is a delightful critique and an homage to the talented Pam Ortiz Band. Their music is uplifting and high spirited. There is a serious message in each song and every concert. However, the sharing (including proceeds to designated organizations for each performance) is heartwarming in a time of the opposite. May they continue to sing and play and write songs which make all of us feel valued. What a gift.

  3. Wonderful words. True sentiment. Great music. Fantastic photographs. The Pam Ortiz Band shows are truly moving and heartwarming. I leave each show feeling energized and more hopeful. What a gem POB is. Keep on….

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