Petra: Homegrown band reunites to deliver a classic performance

HAMILTON — In the 1970s, a Christian rock band was being formed around the Fort Wayne and northwest Ohio areas. Little did these holy rock-n-rollers know, their music would strike a resounding chord for future Christian musicians. Having performed in iconic Fort Wayne venues such as Adam’s Apple, the group recorded in the Fort Wayne area during its early years.Today, after decades of hits, the 1980s classic group, Petra, will have a homecoming of sorts, performing Sunday at Hamilton High School, 903 S. Wayne St., Hamilton.Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. with a pre-show featuring Christian radio WBCL’S Jim Barron at 6:30 p.m. Pre-sale tickets are $15 and $20 at the door. This unique Petra tour consists of Gospel Music Hall Of Famers Greg Voltz, Bob Hartman, John Lawry, Mark Kelly, and Louie Weaver. The group has won 10 Dove Awards, four Grammys and had 13 Grammy nominations along with 10 million albums sold.Hartman, the group’s guitar player, was an original member and remembers the early days of Petra.“We were all bible students in Fort Wayne and loved to play rock-n-roll music, “ said Hartman. “We saw there was a need to take the kind of music we loved and put a message to it that delivered the gospel.”But the group went through many growing pains before making a national name for itself.Hartman said the venues Petra played in weren’t always churches. In fact, churches didn’t understand what the group was really about.“We would get some flack from churches,” Hartman said. “I remember one time we were doing a concert and someone told us that a church across town was praying against our group. They just didn’t get what we were trying to do. We were reaching a group of people that traditionally might not be reached. It was a prejudice against the music style, not us.”The group did get “beat up” when they were out performing, but Hartman said the support of their church made the difference.“The church we came from believed in us and supported us. We would get discouraged, but then they would tell us they were praying for us and we would be reminded of why God had given us this opportunity.”Slowly, the Christian music scene evolved and other groups like Petra started to lay the foundation in creating the Christian Contemporary Music market which is popular today.Petra’s current concert tour, “Back to the Rock,” will keep the same sound that made the group successful for so many years.“We’re not trying to sound like most modern bands. Our style was ingrained in us as we were growing up. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks,” quipped Hartman. “We are just taking what was good then and making it better.”The band has a new album out entitled, “Back to the Rock” which is available in stores. Hartman said new technology allowed the group to take classic Petra favorites and give them a fresh sound. It is that classic sound that has defined Petra all these years. Hartman attributes the band’s success to a steadfast commitment to the group’s identity and mission.All the fans, albums and awards did not exclude the group from member turnover and changes. “I was actually out of the band for seven years,”Hartman said. “I was still involved with recording and such, but I saw all the changes the group was going through. I didn’t like it, but that happens. People’s lives change and things come up that just make it hard to make a long-term commitment to a band. Now it’s amazing that we are all free to play. Some of us haven’t played together in 25 years, but we found out that once we started playing, it was like no time had passed.”As the band grew in popularity, Hartman said there were opportunities for the group to step out of the Christian music genre and venture into secular territory.“A secular label told us they could do something if we were less gospel. To us that meant, they wanted us to take Jesus out of our music. It was a temptation to get that kind of success, but we knew we had to represent God and Jesus in our music,” said Hartman. “Now, I can look back and say I have no regrets in any decisions we made. Our success was achieved with integrity and honoring what we thought God wanted from us.”Hartman said concert-goers will experience a “historical perspective of the early days of Petra.” He also said that for new and old Petra fans, he hopes curiosity wins out as they come to see what the band is like now.“It’s gonna be a great show. I am excited to be back home and see people I haven’t seen in a while.”The band has had a busy schedule with tour dates in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Hungary, Norway, Canada and across the U.S. As far as the future, Hartman said, “we are just taking it one day at a time. We’ve had great times in each and every concert and we are looking forward to what God is going to lead us to next.”For more information on Sunday’s concert contact 488-2719. Visit the band online at