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Santa Maria Sun / Music

The following article was posted on June 6th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 14 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 19, Issue 14

Dylan Ortega brings country sound to Santa Maria's Concerts in the Park


A smooth, deep country voice is something you expect from a bearded, whiskey-drinking, flannel-wearing, guitar-strumming dude singing under the lights at your favorite cowboy bar. But Dylan Ortega, the Santa Ynez Valley native with an album-ready voice isn't swigging Jim Beam or singing at saloons—he's only 19 years old.

Santa Ynez Valley-based country singer/songwriter Dylan Ortega will open Santa Maria’s annual Concerts in the Parks series on June 10 at Rotary Centennial Park.

Ortega became known locally after he was a finalist at the Teen Star Santa Barbara competition in 2014 and again in 2015, but a lot has happened since then. He graduated high school, recorded an EP of original songs, and opened for Billy Currington at a show in May. He's going to headline the first concert in Santa Maria's Concerts in the Parks series starting on June 10.

The booking came as a bit of a surprise, Ortega told the Sun, because he didn't apply to perform in the concert series like most bands. The city's Recreation and Parks Department reached out to his booker and asked him to open the series, he said.

"I'm actually not sure how they heard of us, but we actually received an email through our website one night and they asked us to play," he said. "That was kind of cool."

It's a far cry from his early teenage years, when Ortega didn't sing much, he explained. He grew up listening to lots of classic rock and Johnny Cash with his father, though, including while on a long road trip the two took to Wyoming.

On that trip, his father suffered a heart attack, and passed away within a year, Ortega said. His whole world changed after his father died, he said, and he turned to creativity for solace.

"I was in a pretty dark time in my life, and I actually had discovered music and started writing my own songs," he said. "I was in vocal ensemble in Santa Ynez High School, and from there it just kind of all flourished into what I do now."

Singing in a group helped Ortega come out of his shell, he said, and build his vocal skills.

Performing regular concerts also helped him get comfortable in front of crowds. The members of the ensemble also had chances to perform solo, he said.

"We actually had a solo night, and it was supposed to be a jazz solo night, and I ended up doing a country song and everybody was kind of shocked by that," he said.

Ortega wrote his first song when he was 15 years old, he explained, titled "I Still Love You." The song was about his "first love," he said. Later, a Nashville producer named Jeff Huskins, who played in bands like Little Texas, reached out to Ortega about cutting an album.

The result was a four-track EP named after his first song. They're working on a full-length album now, Ortega said, with his guitar player and collaborator Roy Bilke.

Bilke performs with Ortega locally, and will be at the Concerts in the Park performance in Santa Maria.

Dylan Ortega, 19, just released an acoustic single and has a full album in the works.

"I connected with him on Craigslist; I was looking for a guitar player at the time and he answered the ad and we became best friends," he said. "He's a super talented singer/songwriter and guitar player as well."

Most recently, Ortega and Bilke recorded an acoustic version of his song "I Still Love You," he explained.

"Originally we did the full production out in Nashville as a kind of rockin' pop song, and I was in the studio one night, and took everything else away and just left the piano, the acoustic guitar, and some slide guitar," he said. "I just really loved the way it sounded and made the song sound a lot more intimate. It's originally what I had pictured when I wrote the song."

Ortega and his friends also shot and edited a music video for the new version of the song. They used an iPhone and a drone to create a low budget but fun music video that's posted on YouTube.

"I love making stuff like that," he said. "I'm really not good with technology; I try to stay away from it as much as I can. But it's really cool when three hillbillies can get together and make something cool like that."

The sets that Ortega and Bilke prepare for local shows include originals peppered among a bunch of covers from the American country music songbook. From Cash or Dwight Yokam to more contemporary artists like Dierks Bentley or Alan Jackson, Ortega likes to explore music that fits his deep voice but also appeals to a wide range of country fans.

"We do a lot of modern stuff too," he said. "It's a good blend of new and old, and we try to keep it interesting for everybody."

They also have a regular gig at Flying Flags RV Resort for its Summer Concerts series. Ortega used to work there, he explained, and so has a good relationship with the owners.

Catch the show
The Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Department and People for Leisure And Youth present the 15th annual Concerts in the Park series beginning on June 10 with a performance by Dylan Ortega and an opening set by Karen Sweeney at Rotary Centennial Park, 2625 S. College Drive, Santa Maria. More info: (805) 925-0951, Ext. 2263, or

They have three shows left there this summer, from 6 to 8 p.m. on June 30, July 14, and Aug. 4. More information is available on Ortega's website.

"It's definitely cool when you're outdoors because you get the weather," he said. "I think the majority of our stuff is outdoor during the summer, and the summer is our busiest time because that's when people are throwing events."

Those outdoor events allow for bigger crowds, too. The Central Coast has a large population of country music fans, which was clear when Ortega opened for Billy Currington in May at the Avila Beach Golf Resort. He said the crowd had to be in the thousands.

Ortega was invited to open for Currington after the concert's promoters received a good word about him from Jay Turner and Jessie Chavez at Sunny Country 102.5 FM. Meeting Currington was a dream come true, he said, and after the show he got a boost in downloads for his songs.

"I've been so blessed, not only here in the Santa Ynez Valley, but now I'm starting to get a lot of friends up in the North County too," he said. "Everybody's just so supportive of my music, and they're the reason I'm doing what I'm doing, and I just can't thank them enough, for sure."

Managing Editor Joe Payne is a little bit country. Contact him at

Weekly Poll
How should the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District improve its A-G completion rates?

Align graduation requirements with university entrance requirements.
Ensure that students and parents are well aware of A-Gs and what they are before high school.
Improve support services and summer school classes for students who fall behind.
Completion rates are fine as is. Not everyone wants to go to a four-year college!

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