Meet Fernando Ortega

“Sometimes it takes a storm to really know the Light.”

It can happen quite suddenly. Clear, sunny skies fill with dark, heavy clouds that unleash their fury and their fullness on the inhabitants of the earth. Some people dance in the downpour, while others run for cover. To the farmer a storm may be an answer to prayer; to the mountain climber, it’s a nightmare. The same storms that produce hail and lightening and tornadoes and devastating floods also provide the earth with what is necessary for the most basic elements of our existence. Water. Food. The growth of all living things. And regardless of how we perceive them, one thing about storms remains universally true: they are inevitable.

On his landmark 10th studio album, Fernando Ortega examines not only the beauty and the ire of storms, but also the resilient souls that weather them. As such, Storm is less about literal atmospheric disturbances and more a collection of poignant, artistic glimpses into the eye of the human condition. In the context of twelve new tracks, Ortega manages to plumb the depths of the fear, lamentation, reflection, meditation, prayer, faith, hope, gratitude and redemption that can characterize the journey of the saint.

“Though it’s not what inspired the entire album,” says Ortega, “I think one thing I’ll always remember about Storm is that I was still writing these songs on September 11th. There was such an anxiety that hit our nation – it seemed that even Christians were gripped with fear and panic. Throughout the writing of this record I kept thinking of I John 4:4, which says, ‘You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.’ It seems that the storms in our lives reveal the shallowness or the depth of our belief in that truth.”

Not that Ortega’s road has been plagued by constant bad weather. To the contrary, his musical career has flourished around the globe in recent years. Since 1998 he has received two Dove Awards, garnered six No. 1 radio singles, and made countless appearances at events such as Promise Keepers, the National Day of Prayer, and the crusades of Billy Graham and Anne Graham Lotz. He has shared the stage with some of the finest musicians around – Twila Paris, Margaret Becker, Andrew Peterson, Waterdeep, and Grammy Award winning artist Alison Krauss. But most telling, perhaps, are the thousands of fans who have found that his songs speak both to them, and for them.

Still, despite his critical and commercial success Ortega would be the first to tell you that sunshine doesn’t eliminate rain. “In my life I’ve experienced long periods of time where I thought I might not find my way through a certain set of stormy circumstances,” he confesses. Such experiences often find their way into his music – whether overtly or subtly – and Storm is no exception. New original tunes like “Light of Heaven,” “Storm,” “A Place on Earth,” and “City of Sorrows” all speak poetically to things in life that are beyond human control and understanding.

In addition, Storm continues Ortega’s career-long tradition of recording new arrangements of classic hymns – songs that have historically offered enormous peace and assurance in uncertain times. He has become known for resurrecting great hymns of the faith, a practice that not only reminds Christians of their theological wealth, but also makes the timeless classics accessible to younger generations. “I’ve had college kids come up to me and say, ‘I love that song you wrote, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,”’” says Ortega. “I’m glad that they like the song – and of course I correct them that I didn’t write it. But when things like that happen I also feel like I’ve accomplished something meaningful because someone has become aware of something so rich and powerful.”

The hymns on Storm include “Jesus Paid It All,” “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” and “Come Ye Sinners Poor and Needy,” the latter of which is a duet with label-mate Amy Grant. “It was a real honor to work with Amy,” says Ortega. “I have always found her to be so kind and generous. In the midst of a very hectic schedule she came in and totally poured herself into this song. I’m really happy with the outcome.”

Grant isn’t the only seasoned veteran to join Ortega in recording these songs that he cites as “…among the best I’ve ever written.” First and foremost, Ortega’s long-time producer, co-writer and friend John Andrew Schreiner once again brought the songs to life by assembling a stellar cast of players. Mandolin maestro Chris Thile (Nickel Creek) is featured throughout the record. Bass legend Leland Sklar (James Taylor, Celine Dion, Don Henley, Shawn Colvin), Fiddle player Luke Bulla (Ricky Skaggs), famed LA percussionist Michito Sanchez (Janet Jackson, Ricky Martin) and Jon Pierce (Huey Lewis & The News) are just a few of the pros who contributed to the record. And as always, highly acclaimed cellist Cameron Stone (Jewel, Tracy Chapman) returned to furnish a generous handful of deep, resonant string tracks.

While the recording process was often lively and exciting, Ortega’s songwriting sessions took place in a much more quiet setting. “I’ve been home a lot over the past year,” he reflects. “There’s something so grounding in being home for an extended period of time. Margee and I took a trip to a cabin in the Northern Appalachians; she stayed with me for a week and then I stayed on two weeks by myself just to write for this record. There was no television, there were no phones, and there was no cell phone service. I was by myself on 500 acres of old-growth forest with a lake and a boat at my disposal. I would routinely just row out to the middle of the lake and hang out there, or go out at night and just gaze at the stars. I was blown away at how much I enjoyed the solitude.”

Perhaps such sabbaticals are what keep Fernando Ortega writing music that resonates with the masses. He takes time to listen to the people around him, to himself and to God. It has often been said that his music appeals to an astounding cross section of music fans. Among them are young kids, college students, professionals, young parents and grandmothers. His records are frequently found in the collections of both pop/rock lovers and classical purists. “I’m glad that we’ve been able to do things that somehow speak to people,” says Ortega. “I’ve been afforded the opportunity to follow my heart rather than chase the latest trend, and I’m very grateful for that. Every time I walk out on stage or have the opportunity to play for people, I am reminded all over again how much I really love what I do. I don’t know that I could ever get tired of it.”

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