Close your eyes during the concert Sunday night at Hamilton High School, and you'll think you're back in the '80s.
“We get to rockin' for old guys,” Bob Hartman, one of the founding members of the pioneering Christian rock band Petra, said in a phone interview.
Hartman and the group perform now as Classic Petra, and the Hamilton concert brings them back to where the band got its start.
Hartman, a Bryan, Ohio, native, and other area musicians formed Petra in 1972 after playing together during a jam session in the basement of an early location of the now-dissolved Calvary Temple Church.
“We felt there might be something there for us,” he recalled.
They all had been influenced by the ministry taking place at the Adam's Apple, a Christian coffeehouse that Calvary Temple opened in 1970 on The Landing in downtown Fort Wayne. Christian coffeehouses were also opening around the country.
Petra's first gig was at Hartman's high school in Bryan, Ohio, where they performed with fellow young local musicians John Lloyd and Nancy Honeytree, Hartman said. Members of Petra, which means “rock” in Greek, then began playing at Christian coffeehouses in the Tri-state area.
“Sometimes we would go in a place, set up and blow the doors off, but it was fun,” he said. “It wasn't very glamorous, but it was doing ministry.”
At its peak in the 1980s and early 1990s, the band played to packed arena audiences around the world. Its driving Christian rock paved the way for many of today's Christian rock and pop performers.
Petra disbanded in 2006, but members gathered occasionally to play reunion shows. Band members from the '80s — Hartman, Greg Voltz, John Lawry, Mark Kelly and Louie Weaver — reformed in late 2010 as Classic Petra.
The band started touring again and released the CD “Back to the Rock,” which includes several songs from the band's past as well as two new songs, Hartman said.
He's always kept the songwriting process simple, he said, believing God's words in their music will not return empty.
“It will accomplish what he wants,” he said.
The ride has been “amazing,” Hartman said, and he still loves it.
“I enjoy playing in a band, making music, playing guitar, the way a guitar sounds through an amp (amplifier),” he said. “I've never outgrown that.
“But, beyond that, I have a love of communicating God's truth,” Hartman said. “That is why we have lasted. We hear all the time from people how influential our music was in their spiritual life at an early age.”
He's also looking forward to performing near his hometown and where the band got its start 40 years ago.
“Expect to have a good time,” he said. “There will be people from all around (the Tri-state area) who will be coming that I know.”