The term “legend” can be used in an array of circumstances, tagged to the world’s most notable places or associated with an illustrious list of people. When it comes to the history of Christian rock and roll, perhaps no band is more synonymous with the word than Petra. The band is one of the genre’s seminal starters, and it has left an indelible impact across multiple generations.
Petra’s story dates back to 1972, and it has developed throughout the last three decades to become one of Christian music’s most recognized, appreciated and influential testimonies. From its initial trend-setting status back in the ‘70s, to its evolution over the years to remain relevant, Petra has maintained an unwavering commitment to both ministry efforts and artistic interests. In the process, the group has sold nearly 10 million albums, racked up four Grammy awards, 10 Dove awards, and earned a spot in the prestigious Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
With such a wealth of experience, impact and accolades, the band is officially saying goodbye to fans with Farewell. The November 22nd release chronicles classic hits, fan favorites and worship standards.
“We said that at the end of this year Petra would come to a close, and we’re keeping our word,” says singer John Schlitt. “Everybody asks us about a reunion tour, but the closest thing to a reunion tour is going to be this CD and a possible DVD release next year,” he says.
Though Schlitt’s statement is sure to disappoint longtime fans, his words are backed by an unparalleled excitement for the forthcoming endeavors. Guitarist/songwriter Bob Hartman says the years past, however, have been unforgettable ones.
“There have been so many highlights, and I don’t even know where to start,” says Hartman. “One of the key memories is the tour we did with Josh McDowell back in 1990-91 when we released our first praise album, Beyond Belief. It was a tour that changed a lot of minds for the good of Christian music, and it was really effective in reaching out to people.
“Being inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame was also a big thrill because our peers were voting for us, and that made us feel very accepted,” he says. “The same can be said about winning the “Group of the Year” award at the Dove Awards, as we were the first rock group to garner such an honor. Winning our first Grammy was also unexpected,” Hartman recalls.
Continues Schlitt, “One of the cool things about this ‘Farewell’ tour is that we can do anything we want, even though we’ve done it a hundred times before. We’re taking all the material we love to do, and all the songs people want to hear and putting it together on Farewell.”
In addition to Schlitt and Hartman, bassist Greg Bailey and drummer Paul Simmons, Farewell features a few guests from the group’s past. Among the special contributors are vocalist Greg X. Volz (1979-1985) and keyboardist John Lawry (1984-1994).
“I think this is the finest lineup we’ve ever had live,” Schlitt says. “Guys like Greg, John and so many other players are amazingly talented, and there have been many wonderful collaborations in Petra’s history,” he says.
According to Hartman and Schlitt, 2005 will be Petra’s last year of operation in America, and next year will see the group parting ways with audiences overseas. By crossing the country, the group seeks to connect with every possible fan (better know as “Pethead”) to sincerely express gratitude for such a lengthy career. After all, says Hartman, those are the ones whose countless tales of conversion made each step of the journey worthwhile.
When asked what he hopes to leave behind, Hartman speaks of the group’s long-time mission to be “life-changing music ministers.”
“I hope people will say we were honest. Ministry has always been first for us. If that’s our legacy,” he says, “there’s no better thing we could’ve done.”
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