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Petra - Still Gathering No Moss

  • Updated Feb 01, 2002
Petra - Still Gathering No Moss

Few things are as transitory as style, as fickle as fashion, as ephemeral as fame. In the world of pop music, trends rise and fall like sandcastles on the beach. Built on the sand of public opinion, they wash away with the incoming tide, only to be rebuilt in a slightly different form, and then inevitably destroyed by the next wave. Few bands in any genre have had the ability to weather the ever-changing demands of time and temperament for more than a decade, much less for a quarter of a century.

Count 'em on your fingers; Dylan, The Stones, Clapton, Peter, Paul and Marysurely there are others?

Those who have survived the vagaries of the music industry have done so by one of two methods: they have ridden the waves of change, reinventing themselves with each shift of the wind; or they have built a lighthouse on a rock, and let the waves crash their fury below while they shine a light over the seas. For the past 25 years, {{Petra}} has opted for the lighthouse approach.

With 18 original recordings, a Spanish language album, and three "best of" collections, {{Petra}} is one of the most prolific bands in contemporary Christian music. And with more than 6 million albums sold, it is certainly one of the genre's best selling bands. Two Grammys, nine Doves, more than two dozen CCM Christian Reader's Poll Awards, and two Gold-certified albums attest to the band's popularity. But after 25 years in the industry, with not a single original band member still touring, the inevitable question arises: does Petra have anything left to say?

I posed that question to Pete Orta, the band's phenomenal guitarist, over breakfast at Shoney's. His answer, delivered over an entre of eggs, sunny-side up, was a resounding, "Yes!"

"Petra is a train," he explains. "It is a ministry that God put His hand on, and it just keeps rolling along. Nobody can explain it, but we have outlasted everyone that was supposed to be the 'next big thing.' And I predict that {{Petra}} will outlast 90% of the bands that are out there right now. Not because we are anything special, but because God has a ministry for this band."

And just what is that ministry?

"Salvation," Pete answers without hesitation. "The ministry of Petra is salvation. That has never changed. There has never been an attitude of, 'We need to be a little cooler, and not do alter calls.' We preach that Jesus is the Lord of lords; that He is the Son of God who came down to earth; that he died and rose again and if you ask Him into your heart your sins will be forgiven; that you can have a relationship with Christ and your soul will live eternally with Him. That has never changed. We don't try to come up with new ways to present the Gospel. We just give them the plain facts. It is simple. And it is the truth - the raw truth."

Pete points out that while the band has gone through its share of personnel changes during its remarkable career, two members of its current lineup, vocalist {{John Schlitt}} and drummer Louie Weaver, have been with Petra for more than a dozen years. These music industry veterans, he says, lend stability to the group, while relative newcomers like himself, bassman Ronnie Chapin, and keyboardist Trent Thomason bring a youthful enthusiasm that keeps the performances fresh.

"Every member of this band plays his heart out, every night," he says. "You will not come to a Petra show and see anybody slacking. And all the music is live - we don't use tracks. Because Petra records have such an expensive budget, and such a big sound, it is a challenge for five guys to recreate everything that has been done on the records. It is difficult to translate that sound into a concert setting, but I think we do. I don't think anyone walks away disappointed."

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