Petra Rocks My World!
Concert Review
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Oct. 4, 2005: At The W in Franklin, TN.

Reviewed by: Josh Renaud

To see some concert pictures, click here.

In choosing to go to the living taping of "Petra: Farewell," my wife Yoli and I traded one kind of noise for another.

We left our baby girl, Jadzia, to share her screams and grunts with her grandparents. Then we set out on the long drive to Franklin, Tenn. to hear the screams and cries of hundreds of Petra fans, spurred on (and recorded) by the event's host: Inpop Records.

The decision wasn't hard to make. Our expectations for the event were high, and we knew the same would be true of all the other fans. This was our chance to say not only "goodbye" to Petra, but "hello again" to former members Greg X. Volz and John Lawry. This would be a once-in-a-lifetime event. The fact that it was free made it even better, and even more un-missable.

Friends (all in the family of God)

We arrived at The W in Franklin and found fans waiting outside in something of a line, congregating, swapping Petra stories, talking memorabilia, and having friends hold spots in line so others could go on food runs. Some folks were outside nearly all day waiting to get in. And they came from all over; a quick walk around the parking lot turned up license plates from multiple states and countries.

There were star-sightings ("Look, it's Peter Furler driving away in his sweet ride!"). There were VIPs who got inside while the fans stood in line. The only thing missing was a red carpet.

Then the moment finally came and we were ushered inside.

Enter in

The setting was perfect. Music memorabilia of all sorts covered the walls of The W. The side of one hallway was dedicated to the Beatles. Gold records plastered another. So, walking in, we were inundated with a sense of history.

The concert area was slick, state of the art, and small. There were a few token chairs on the fringes, but mostly it was open. The area was dark and black. Fog was spewing from grates, filling the room. The lighting set-up was elaborate; at the back of the stage there was a central arch with lights lining the inside of its curve. These lights would illuminate the drummer. Flanking the arch on the right and left were similar half-arches of lights that would shine on the guitarist and bassist.

We pushed our way to the front, eager to see more. Studying the stage gave us clues about what was coming. We saw Paul Simmons' red drum set with "Petra" stenciled on the front. We saw Bob Hartman's acoustic and electric guitars in the back, Greg Bailey's bass and his cello. We also saw a keyboard rack for John Lawry, as well as his portable guitar-style keyboard. There was a computer monitor, lit-up with a multi-colored screen of information, including the words "NEW JESUS LOVES YOU." The more we saw, the more our anticipation rose.

High on the wall at the back of the room was a large screen for displaying concert lyrics. We all had a laugh about that -- John Schlitt is famous for forgetting lyrics.

After another extended period of milling around, it was time to get things started. Rob Poznanski, general manager of Inpop Records, came on stage to explain the ground rules of the event. Then he asked fans to help him record three levels of clapping and crowd noise. The fans delivered, and like everyone else, I got really into it, yelling with all my strength when it was time. But I wasn't able to do much pretty singing the rest of the night!

Then Rob introduced John Styll, the president of the Gospel Music Association. He gave a short introduction to the show, putting Petra into its appropriate place in Christian music history. His description of his reaction on first hearing Petra's music: "It rocked my world!" Now, Mr. Styll, that's something we know all about at this website.

Then the stage was cleared, and Petra came out.

Shakin' the house

The band launched into "All About Who You Know" from Jekyll & Hyde. Everyone went nuts, jumping, screaming, singing, and enjoying the rock. The execution seemed flawless.

They proceeded to rock out with "Dance," "Amazing Grace," "Test of Time," Creed," and "Judas Kiss." I was extremely impressed with John Schlitt. I have seen him perform many times, but this was definitely the best. Through the early songs, he got all the lyrics right, though he did begin to make some mistakes later. He hit every note all night. There was no hint of strain or weakness in his voice. It was flawless.

It's hard to describe the concert in a linear way, because the concert wasn't exactly linear. It was more like a movie shoot. The producers wanted multiple takes of certain songs, so if there were mistakes or problems, they could edit them together to make a perfect whole. The band played some songs over again, and the crowd did not mind one bit.

All the while, John and Bob were making asides and jokes about the process of the recording. They were very playful with the crowd, and Paul joined in the banter from time to time. In the moments between songs, the concert became less of a performance, and more a family affair.

After blazing through the opening songs, Bob took the mic to introduce what he called some "old stuff." He also took a minute to thank everyone for coming out and for their support.

"Old stuff" turned out to mean "old ROCK songs mostly from the Schlitt era" performed as a medley. Among the highlights were "Sight Unseen," "I am on the Rock," "Midnight Oil," "Mine Field," and "This Means War." I hadn't heard any of those songs live in a long time. "I am on the rock" is an incredible song live, and it was also exhilarating each time the crowd punctuated the chorus line of "This Means War" with upthrust fists.

Two are better than one

After playing "Jekyll & Hyde," it was time for the moment everyone was waiting for. John Schlitt took the mic and said "I'd like to introduce one of my heroes … Greg X. Volz!"

It was "slow medley" time. Bob switched to his acoustic guitar, and Greg Bailey brought out his cello and sheet music. Paul played on a small drum set. Greg Volz and John Schlitt sat next to each other on stools.

Greg looked good. He was clean-shaven, in good shape, and he had a full head of hair! More than that, though, his performance was anointed. He sang a medley of slower songs pulled mostly from the albums "More Power to Ya" and "Never Say Die." John Schlitt sang backing vocals on Greg's songs. John and Greg switched roles on a couple songs from the Schlitt era, like "No Doubt" and "Love." They were warm and friendly with each other. There was no awkwardness or competition.

Then came a surprise: The band played "I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N," a popular song from Sunday school days. The crowd really seemed to like it!

After the medley, John left the stage, allowing Greg to perform "Graverobber." This has always been a powerful song lyrically, but Greg's performance was outstanding. He did it more than once (like most songs that night), and each time he sang it, he got stronger and bolder.

Magic words

John Lawry was also on stage during "Graverobber" at the keyboards. Man, was it cool to see him! After the song was over, he transitioned into a keyboard solo. The first times through there were some technical problems, but he got to perform it again at the end of the night, and it really rocked. He started on the stationary keys and then switched to his "key-tar," which was set up to sound like a guitar. He finished up with his famous "Jesus Loves You" song, which brought the house down.

John Lawry stayed on the stage as the band performed "Beyond Belief." Afterward, they transitioned to an extended guitar solo from Bob. As usual, he did not fail to deliver.

Petra closed out with two more songs. On the first, "Lord I Lift Your Name on High," Paul would lift his drum sticks and make a cross each time John would sing the word "cross" during the song. Very impressive! The final song was "He Came, He Saw, He Conquered."

Thankful heart

Bob closed out that portion of the show by talking about how Petra was bigger than everyone in the band. He said Petra was something GOD did. "I'm thankful we could be part of it and see what God has done. We're humbled we've been a part of it," he said. "God did exceedingly and abundantly above all we could ask or think."

Bob also pointed out three former road managers to thank them for their contributions to Petra: Mark Hollinsworth, Paul Jackson, and Devin Donaldson.

At this point, the show was technically over, but the band was going take an extended break and come back out to redo a bunch of songs. Some fans left, which was too bad because they missed what I considered the highlight of the night.

Secret weapon

As Bob was performing his solo a second time, he broke a string. John Schlitt exclaimed, "Bob never breaks a string!" Bob left the stage to go fix his guitar, and Paul filled the void by beginning an impromptu drum solo. The crowd was quite happy about this. Several people had shouted "Drum solo!" earlier in the show. The solo was a rhythmic delight, causing my body to bob and jump in time. Paul was extremely expressive as he pounded away. At one point in the solo, he lost a stick. After that, he just tossed away the other stick and continued to hit the drums and cymbals with his bare hands. He kept going while someone picked up his sticks and brought them back so he could finish it. The solo was really incredible, and I hope they include this moment on the DVD.

It is finished

After all the retakes were finished, fans were able to meet and greet all the Petra guys, including Greg Volz and John Lawry. They were all very humble and spent a good deal of time with each fan who came. It was extremely special.

And, as I said before, in many ways this concert was something like a family gathering. Many of the fans who attended already knew each other from prior concerts, or had some contact over the internet and were able to meet in person for the first time. It was so cool to be approached by several people who recognized me from my website. Petra has truly reached people for Christ across the world.

In all, the concert last nearly four hours. Four solid hours of PETRA, no opening bands! Everyone was sweaty, especially John Schlitt, but their level of excellence never dropped.

Parting thought

I am sad that Petra is ending, but this is absolutely the highest note on which they could go out. The "Petra: Farewell" CD and DVD are going to be amazing!

Set List

  • All About Who You Know
  • Dance
  • Amazing Grace
  • Test of time
  • Creed
  • Judas' Kiss
  • Right Place
  • Rock Medley
    • Sight Unseen
    • It is Finished
    • Think Twice
    • I am on the Rock
    • Midnight Oil
    • Mine Field
    • This Means War
    • It is Finished (reprise)
  • Jekyll & Hyde
  • Slow Medley (with Greg X. Volz)
    • Rose-Colored Stained Glass Windows
    • Road to Zion
    • More Power to Ya
    • For Annie
    • No Doubt
    • Coloring Song
    • Love
  • C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N
  • Graverobber (with Volz and John Lawry)
  • John Lawry Solo
  • Beyond Belief (with Lawry)
  • Bob Solo
  • Lord, I Lift Your Name on High
  • He Came, He Saw, He Conquered