Ohio, this pre-Spring evening of 2024, can not decide if it wants to be hot or cold, which would make it a good candidate to be spat out. Thankfully, some authentic warmth and light came to bring some stability to the region’s soul, if not to the weather, in the form of Petra, Whitecross, and the somewhat new to the scene, Kimber.

Petra is one of those bands that, way back in 1972, started to bring rock n’ roll musicianship to the flock. Christians were not universally accepting of this (after all, “rock and roll” was slang for intercourse at the time), and this was particularly true of the leadership of many churches in too, to say the least.

However, as said during the show, fans stuck up for the band within the Christian community when not only did others doubt, but even when an angry believer took the mic from the band once and denounced the whole event, trying to get everyone to get up and depart!

In the end, though, the artform named after the hanky-panky did not stop the word of God, and Petra proved themselves worthy to open the songbook.

Not only via music, but they have assisted with schools in Pakistan (where they often had to “watch their back” along with those who they helped), and by helping the communities that they rocked, as well.

It was this band, the band who paved the way for others to emerge such as Stryper, Vengeance Rising, Mortification, Bride, Deliverance, and Whitecross that cruised into a gray colored Brunswick, Ohio, to show during their “Best For Last Tour” that even after 50 years, they are not missing a beat.

…speaking of the 'beat…'

Kimber opened the show with something unexpected

One would expect Petra to choose bands who are similar in nature to play shows with them… or would they?

After all, as just mentioned, Petra was almost drowned by people and artists and churches who did not want them because they sounded different from the then norm.

With that in mind, it isn’t as much of a surprise that Kimber sounded nothing like the rock driven sounds of Petra or the metal leanings of Whitecross, choosing to be far more pop oriented and mainstream during her set.

It also wasn’t expected Kimber’s set would be programmed as the breathtakingly pretty singer, clad in back with flowing blonde hair worthy of a supermodel, took the stage.

This was not due to any lack on the part of Kimber, however, as mentioned after the event whilst talking to Blasting News.

It turned out that she has a band, a very good one.

She even has her brother lending his many talents, and she is building the kind of following that will allow her to bring all of the that to stages every time that Kimber plays, but doing so takes time.

So, rather than looking at the stage with no faith, it was quite warming to look upon Kimber’s set as one would a flower (mustard seed?) sprouting up from the Earth, only to grow larger and more vibrant each time that it is observed.

Kimber’s voice is quite powerful, and she thankfully possess the ability to not feel the need to belt everything out like Beyonce’ or any of the over-reaching artists that sadly populate much of the pop music charts, both Christian and secular.

Instead, the depth is real, not forced, and Kimber’s vibrato, likewise, has feeling without pretentious vocal running that adds nothing to the song and simply shows off how many notes any given singer can force into a song.

Musically, Kimber’s style goes from mainstream pop to acoustic piano ballads, and songs such as “Nothing Without You” can move mountains both in the passion that she conveys as well as within the truthful lyrics that spill from her soul.

There are even elements of electro and techno in her music, which means that remixes may also hit one day. It isn’t out of the question to see her on Christian charts beside Phillips, Craig, and Dean as well as on the dance charts beside Moby.

Needless to say, the future is wide open for this wondrous artist who praises the narrow way.

Guitar greatness comes to church

Rex Carroll.

Say it again, Rex Carroll.

When Whitecross hit the stage, there was no question why that name is synonymous with a level of musicianship that can be spoken about in the same sentence as Steve Vai, Zakk Wylde, Glenn Tipton, and Eddie Van Halen. His style and tone are somewhat of a cross between Randy Rhodes and White Lion’s virtuoso, Vito Bratta. As such, both watching him tap with the accuracy of a marksmen and hearing the flawless sounds that emanated was an honor.

There is a reason why Rex Carroll’s music is not only the driving force behind Whitecross, but also is heard via his vast libraries on places such as E.S.P.N.

and, of course, in his own project which bares his name.

So, this master of the ax combined with Dave Roberts on vocals, drummer Michael Feighan, and bassist Benny Ramos, worked to make up Whitecross and they were easily the best music ride this side of the Pearly Gates!

Ramos was a bit louder on the bass than expected in the mix but it should also be remembered why. Like Pantera, there is no rhythm guitarist in Whitecross, such a creature does not exist. As discussed with the bassist after the show, “it is Rex out there and me keeping the drive behind him.”

This is a drive that he did without error as the band ripped into songs from their just released (days earlier), “Fear No Evil,” as well as classics from the past.

There was no questioning it, from the moment that they hit the stage, the frenzy was on.

“Who Will You Follow” opened the set, followed by “Enough Is Enough.” It should be observed that Roberts sounds quite a bit different than the former Whitecross singer, the now retired Scott Wenzel. Ever since the first days of Whitecross, the fact that Wenzel sounded like Stephen Percy of Ratt was lost on no one, even though Wenzel did not know who Ratt was when he started singing.

Let’s face it, no one sounds like Percy very often.

Clearly, there tend to be two ways that a band goes when a singer with a distinctive voice leaves the project; either they look for a person who sounds close, ala Journey or Judas Priest during the Ripper Owen’s years, or they do what AC/DC did and find a singer who simply rocks his own thing, though holding the ability to carry the classic music with conviction.

It is the latter that Whitecross has chosen to do and Roberts displayed, without equivocation, that he was a good choice for the spot. Roberts sounds a bit like Brian Johnson or even Steve Souza from Exodus, but with the ability to hit high nights with a lot more clarity than that, in the vein of Savatage.

This is why new songs such as “Man In The Mirror” moved the crowd as much as their older classics, such as “No Second Chances.”

One of the night’s highlights of the night(aside from Carroll’s solo break which defied words) consisted of an acoustic set of a different breed. This little deviation saw the mighty Carroll playing a mandolin… and nailing it!

The song that brought this revelation was “Blind Man,” a song that is as touching and honest as any song written in any genre of music, Christian or otherwise.

The song almost carried the humming of ancient knights kneeling before prayer in terms of the mood (not the lyrics) to the song.

“Wishing Well” was another powerful addition that Whitecross brilliantly delivered, one which showed that Carroll, the speed master of speed masters, could come forth with a solo so melody driven and pure that it could be hummed as its own song, thus dispelling the myth that shredders can not make a person weep.

At other points, the bass fretboard was left open and the keyboard was played at the same time (the good thing about knowing what key to write in) as the bass, something that this author has hardly seen done since Motorhead did it in 1991.

Whitecross releasing new music is another blessing that few expected in 2024, and if Brunswick was any indication, “Fear No Evil” is going to be another release that reaches the saved, rocks the unsaved, and does so with a power from on high.

Petra and the Rock

When Blasting News had the opportunity to ask a question during the pre-show meet and greet, Petra was asked what it is like today when it comes time to tour or to release new music. After all, gone are the days of a record label taking a band on, signing them for 5 albums, paying for their hotels, and selling 10 million copies of their new album for them.

What, then, is it like in today’s world of downloading and sharing?

“Painful,” replied Petra’s John Schlitt, after almost no pause.

He went on to say that there is, thankfully, a branding that helps Petra. After 50 years, a few people have heard of them, after all, but he doesn’t envy being a new artist today in any way. He is also grateful for the people who handle those kinds of details for him.

That about sums it up, as any artist can attest to, regardless of whether they have played for 50 years or 5 years.

When Petra did take the stage, comprised of Bob Hartman, keyboard extraordinaire John Lawry (who produced some of the orchestration of new Whitecross release), Greg Bailey, and Christian Borneo, it soon became obvious how, even with the wiles of the internet in the era of downloading, they had nothing to fear.

The fans were there, there was hardly seat to be found, and the house easily seated 800 souls.

“Whole World” started the night off and from there, it was Katy bar the door, because this night was going to feature Lawry behind a keyboard, a small Boss board on top, and a keytar that blurred the lines between what the guitar was doing and what was being given to the crowd by the flurry of fingers himself.

There are industrial bands that don’t accomplish this keyboard style as well as Petra does, and likely never will.

That isn’t to imply that this is always the case. At other times, the keys are as crisp and pure as Schlitt’s vocals, which is saying a lot. His range was on full display, immune to the 50-plus years of work already put in, and when he sings lyrics such as, “I believe in Jesus Christ,” “I believe in the Resurrection,” one could almost feel as if they were watching the saving of the thief beside Him.

The other thing that makes the music of Petra so timeless is how carefully it is crafted. “Just Reach Out,” for example, has the most subtle but necessary key change that works to really elevate the whole feel of the song.

While the singer said that, after 50 years, “we can’t play ‘em all because we are, well, too old,” the crowd clearly wanted them to attempt it. This led to a medley that, while perfect in execution, included at least song that seemed deserving of its own full play; “This Means War.” It was quite odd to see one of the most well-known and loved songs from Petra put into a medley, but then again, Metallica does it to “… And Justice For All” all of the time, right?

One of the best parts of any Petra performance was soon to follow, the blessed hands of keyboardist John Lawry was about to take his solo. The only keyboard solo breaks that come to mind which are even comparable to Lawry come from Don Airey (Deep Purple/Ozzy Osbourne), Derrick Sherdidan (Alice Cooper), or Dizzy Reed (Guns N’ Roses).

Lawry sampled, as he is famous for, “Jesus loves you” and plays with such speed and acuity that it isn’t clear what the note is (the first syllable of the name “Jesus,” spoken) until the note is fully held down. The scales and styles chosen for the solo blend and bleed from more genres than most people know, much less can play to a crowd. This performance also included Lawry showing his shredding skills as he used his keytar in such a way that if one were a blind man, he or she would conclude that a guitar was playing.

It was simply breathtaking.

This skill was also shown outside of his solo flurries when the band harkened back to their earliest of days and played some traditional Christian bluegrass, something that the crowd was told started out as a joke. When it came time for a banjo during ”Lucas McGraw” (which a fan held a sign for that got praised by the band and their ever-moving singer), it was Lawry and his keyboard which supplied the sound.

Sure, anyone reading this can find a keyboard that had the sound needed (perhaps) but to then make the synth actually sound like a real banjo in terms of attack, approach, decay, and feeling is another matter entirely. During the whole country tinged section of the show, tracks like “Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows,” “Road To Zion,” “More Power To Ya,” and “The Coloring Song” sounded superb.

Then again, that isn’t what Petra is best known for. They are known for belting out that “the road to Zion is in your heart,” and they left no one in attendance wondering who the founders of feast were. “Judas Kiss,” famously covered by One Bad Pig, made the set, as did the blistering “Jekyll And Hyde” as the rock rang loudly and proudly.

When asked if it would be “you, you or,” pointing elsewhere, “you?,” Petra roared into “Somebody’s Gonna Praise His Name,” and this, too, was a point where the crowd refused to sit.

Hartman’s solo was a strong point in the night which left nothing to be desired, adding heavily to the musicality of the whole evening.

The Maranatha Singer’s cover, “Lord, I Lift You Up,” and a cover of Handels “Hallelujah Chorus” ended the show before a stunning encore brought perhaps their best song of the night, “He Came, He Saw, He Conquered.” The latter platter saw the whole place erupt with dancing, jubilance, and, yes, headbanging.

Like all good things, this too came to an end, or did it?

When leaving, there at the shirt venders was Whitecross, taking to everyone. There was Kimber, looking as radiant as God’s sunlight, talking to everyone, … and look, over there, Lawry!

Maybe that, as much as the music, is also why those of ages ranging from children to grandpas showed up. There is a goodness in these bands, an authenticity that can not be faked, and a message that talks about the truths of the next life as opposed to only the fickle concerns of this one.

If so, then we pray that Petra gets another 50 years, because we still need them.