ELKTON — Musician Pam Ortiz met her husband, Bob, on stage at a gig where they were both performing.
Pam was performing with a bass player that used to perform with Bob. Bob was performing with another musician on stage that day.
The pair had a mutual friend in common, so they knew of each other before that point. But Pam said that day was the start of several decades together.
“Not long after that, we began playing music together and he ended up joining the band that I had at the time … We’ve always performed together. It’s just part of who we are as people,” she said.
Pam, now the lead singer of the Pam Ortiz Band, will be playing alongside her husband and other bandmates at a show Feb. 16 at the North Elk Coffee House at St. Mary Anne’s Episcopal Church, located at 315 S. Main St. in North East. Doors will open at 6:45 p.m. and the show will begin at 7:30 p.m.
The suggested donation for admission to the event is $10 for adults and $6 for those under age 18. Proceeds from the show benefit Meeting Ground, a nonprofit organization that serves people experiencing homelessness in Cecil County.
Pam began playing music in churches when she was younger. By the time she got to college and beyond, she was playing with friends and performing in the coffeehouse circuit.
In the ’80s and ’90s, Pam played with a Baltimore band called Terra Nova, which Bob later joined.
The couple moved to the Eastern Shore in the mid-’90s and took a bit of a break from music to raise their children. By 2011 or 2012, they re-entered the music world when they formed the Pam Ortiz Band, she said.
Pam described the band’s music as singer-songwriter and acoustic music that draws from folk tradition, blues and other genres. But the common thread among all of their songs is the emphasis on story-telling, the lead singer said.
“There are a lot of stories built into the songs that we sing,” she said. “Oftentimes, the experiences that I’ve had or that others have had find their way into the songs … I have quite a few songs that I’m telling a story somebody told to me, something that was meaningful to me.”
Whether the inspiration comes from her own experiences or the stories that others tell her, Pam said stories in music help people relate to one another.
“I think as human beings we respond to story much more than we do to data or facts,” she said. “We’re drawn into a story. We understand the emotional impact of an issue when we hear a personal story or we hear how it’s impacted someone in particular.”
Some of the band’s songs draw on political issues and help people deal with those topics in a different, more creative way, Pam said.
“When you’re a songwriter, you have a vehicle for speaking what you think or sharing your thoughts … I have a song that we’ll do that’s inspired by DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) kids and the Dreamers. There are so many stories behind all of those headlines, and sometimes music is a good way to tell those stories,” she said.
Bob is a furniture maker who owns a shop called Robert Ortiz Studios in Chestertown, while Pam works as an attorney for the state of Maryland.
“I work in enhancing access to the courts for people who either don’t have the money to have a lawyer or have some barrier that keeps them from being able to participate effectively. We develop programs and resources to make that easier,” she said.
Pam said she actually sees some similarities between her day job and performing music.
“The law is all about stories,” she said. “Every court case you read about is a story. There are occasionally things [in my music] that were inspired by the kind of work I do … Certainly, the issues of justice emerge in my music. You can hear some of that in there.”
As the show will benefit Cecil County’s homeless population, Pam said she was excited to play a part in helping those in need.
“It feels great,” she said. “An awful lot of what we do, we’ve spent a lot of our musical lives performing for others or to raise money for others, so it fits very naturally for us.”
This isn’t the band’s first time giving back to a local community either. In 2017, they hosted a seven-part concert series called “Songs For Our Future,” according to Pam.
“We raised money for seven different organizations that either protected an important right or a vulnerable group of people,” she said. “We sold out every show and it really became quite a fun series of our friends and neighbors in Chestertown.”
That small community feel lends a certain intimacy and unity that Pam said she didn’t find as much of living in a bigger city.
“Especially on the Shore, there are a lot of artists and a lot of musicians,” she said, “They kind of cull from each other good ideas … I think sometimes in a small place, you can find one another. When lived in Baltimore, there were plenty of musicians there but we didn’t have nearly as many people that were available to perform with or share ideas with as we have in the last 20 years of being here on the Eastern Shore.”
One interesting endeavor the Pam Ortiz Band worked on was a collaboration with a playwright for a musical based on a 1923 novel by Jean Toomer called “Cane,” according to Pam.
“It touched on themes of the Great Migration and sharecroppers in a small, southern Georgian town,” she said. “We had the opportunity to take a concert version to New York a few years ago … We’ve had a lot of musical adventures together and that was sort of a special project.”
Pam said performing allows her and audience members to relate to one another.
“When you write, people really get a sense of who you are,” she said. “They get to know a great deal about you because you are telling your story up there, so people feel connected to you. That’s a really powerful feeling as an artist.”
For the people who come out to see her band perform, Pam hopes they come away with a fun evening and food for thought.
“They’ll hear something that they haven’t heard before because most of what we do is original and that’s a rare thing,” she said. “They’ll hear stories and they’ll feel good. Some of them will make them will make them think, some of them will make them reflect. It’s always a good time. We have a lot of fun.”
People can learn more about the Pam Ortiz Band at pamortizmusic.com.