For so many of us, Petra was one of, or even THE very first band we saw live. The difference with me is that that first show for me was back in 1977, 46 years ago. Their “new” album was their second release, Come and Join Us, and Greg X. Volz was nothing more than a “guest vocalist.”
No one can argue the historical significance Petra has had on Christian rock. To call them “pioneers” is truly an understatement. Many of the other bands we call “pioneers” look to Petra as paving the way for them.
From that first show in 1977 through 2005, I saw Petra dozens of times with each of the two major lead vocalists. Sometimes I’d travel to several different cities just to see the same tour stop multiple times. I had every studio and live album and even the tribute album. I knew every lyric to every song. I could even hum every guitar solo. They have been a major influence in my musical taste.
But more important than that, God has used Petra lyrics to bring to mind certain truths at times when I needed them the most. Bob Hartman’s simple, clear, and bold lyrics were second to none.
So socially, musically, and spiritually, Petra was a huge part of my life for those 28 years.
But what about the 17 years since then?
Oh, I saw the Petra reunion with Bob and Greg around 2010, and last year I saw Greg with CPR at the Immortal Fest. But what about John Schlitt? I’ve not seen Petra with John since that Farewell tour in 2005.
And there has been one very significant difference between 2005 me and 2023 me.
I picked up a camera. I wasn’t photographing bands back in the day.
I don’t want to downplay the significance of getting to photograph CPR last year at Immortal Fest. It truly was absolutely amazing. But deep inside me I didn’t feel as satisfied as I thought I should. Petra without Bob is just not Petra, and I still felt the need to shoot a show with John Schlitt. I have never photographed John, and I think that was the root of the void I was feeling.
So when Petra announced that they were coming to Arlington last October with Bob and John, my excitement went through the roof. I asked my dear friend Cindy for a favor and she got me the right connections to submit for a media pass, and to my heart’s joy, they approved it.
I was in heaven.
But many of you already know how that went.
Three songs into the opening band, Millennial Reign, I suffered a major heart attack and was carted away by ambulance to the nearest cath lab where I had a couple of stints put in followed by a third stint a month later. It was pretty serious, over 200 on the Troponin scale.
Having a heart attack was a horrible thing, but missing Petra was even worse – well, for me anyway. I probably have some messed up priorities, but deep down, that’s how I felt.
Then came the announcement earlier this year: the Arlington show was so successful, they decided to come back. Same city, same venue, even the same opening band.
This time I knew the hoops to jump through, so getting the media pass was easier. But I won’t lie to you; I felt a lot of trepidation as I walked in that door. When I arrived I posted on social media a selfie in front of the venue marquee with the caption, “It’s happening,” and the first comment was my friend Russell posting a GIF of Fred Sanford doing his “I’m coming, Elizabeth” routine. His wife later apologized, but you gotta admit, that was funny.
But that trepidation quickly turned to joy as I watched the band do the meet-and-greet, followed by Millennial Reign (a truly wonderful band; check them out), then the show I’d been waiting for.
And it was indeed worth the wait.
I was reliving my high school and college days. I still knew every lyric and sang every song (which, in some cases, made taking pictures harder). In addition to Bob Hartman on guitar and John Schlitt on vocals, the band was rounded out by John Lawry on keys, Greg Bailey on bass, and Christian Borneo on drums. As you would expect of a band that’s been around for 50 years, they were tight and, for a bunch of old guys, very energetic. The sold-out crowd of more than a thousand ranged from 20-somethings, who had clearly been raised right, to 60 and 70 year old’s reliving their past. I didn’t write down the set list, but I do know it covered almost the entire Petra era, from the early days till those final albums.
If the show is coming to your town, go see it. If not, go to a town that has it. You’ll thank me later.