Petra Waves Farewell

Petra
Canada Christian College
October 14, 2005
They came to bid farewell to the legendary band Petra and packed out the concert hall at Canada Christian College on October 14th in Toronto. Thirty-three years ago Petra emerged as a rock band at a time when rock music was considered evil in most church circles. This is their farewell tour. On this night the fans came to pay tribute to Bob Hartman the only original member of the group and John Schlitt who has been the lead vocalist for the past twenty years.

In what easily was the best Christian concert to be staged in southern Ontario during 2005 Petra played many of the songs that firmly established rock music as an acceptable genre in Christian circles. Performing before a stoked full house the band members watched middle aged adults join teens and generation X types rush the stage and jostle for a position.

As Schlitt's raspy voice belted out the first familiar words of the gritty "It's All About Who You Know" the crowd pumped fists in the air to signal their approval. The anthem was recorded on the group's last album Jekyll and Hyde (2003). Schlitt demonstrated the charisma and vocal excellence that made him a gold record artist prior to joining Petra. This energized dynamo from Illinois combined with Hartman's guitar wizardry to demonstrate once again why Petra should be considered as one of the best rock bands of all time.

To put into perspective the longevity of Petra's career Hartman's first recording really was on a record. He has witnessed the evolution of cassettes, eight tracks, CDs and DVDs since the band's formation.

From the 1991 CD Unseen Power and the CD Double Take (1999) they moved quickly into the second song of their set "Dance". The words echoed throughout the concert hall, "Dance with the one who brung ya / Dance with the one you know who got you there / Dance with the one who brung ya / Don't change hats, you know it's the one you wear /."

With the beautiful ballad "For Annie" from their 1981 album Never Say Die Petra proved once again that they are much more than a collection of rock artists only capable of performing hard edged guitar driven songs. The tender cello strings provide a thoughtful backdrop for lyrics that reflect what both Schlitt and Hartman hope is Petra's legacyˇa call to ministry. The singer weaves a story of a lonely child whose family is simply too caught up and busy in their own lives to notice her needs. In desperation Annie commits suicide. The song speaks to lost opportunities to comfort those in need whether they are our own children or people we encounter as we go through life. In the final verse Schlitt sends a musical missive to all of us cautioning followers of Christ not to miss out on the opportunities that present themselves daily. "And it's not too late for Annie, she could be next to you / Don't miss the chance to tell her before her life is through / We gotta' tell her Jesus loves her, tell her Jesus cares / Tell her He can free her, and her burdens bear / It's not too late /."

There have been so many good songs down through the years leading the primary songwriter / guitarist Bob Hartman to joke that often at their concerts fans would begin yelling out names of their favorite tunes and as he says, "As if we would actually remember them." Well Bob your fans do recall them and sang along to "Rose-Colored Stained Windows" and "Road to Zion" (More Power to Ya' album-1982), "Love" (Beyond Belief-1990), the reworked version of "Amazing Grace" (Revival-2001) the aforementioned opening number "It's All About Who You Know" from Jekyll and Hyde the band's last album released in 2003.

Towards the end of the concert the soft spoken Hartman recalled when as a teenager he decided to put God in charge of his life. So often the focus on testimonies is on the ones that are more dramatic and it is difficult for a lot of people to identify with people who came out of a life of substance abuse or other tragic environments. Having said that nobody should ever diminish the miracle that has taken place in those lives but you had to appreciate Hartman simple story. He was simply reclining on the sofa in the living room of his parent's home. He was calm and it simply seemed the right thing to do.

Before bidding Toronto farewell with one final song Hartman gave an invitation to those in the audience who are not followers of Jesus and led the crowd in a prayer of commitment.

Writer: Joe Montague

Photo:Joe Montague

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