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1983 Petra promotional materials
Lee High School
Petra

It was 1983 and I had just graduated from high school when I discovered that my favorite band Petra was going to be playing in nearby Montgomery, Alabama. There was plenty of time to get tickets because the ad for the concert was in the June Contemporary Christian Music magazine and the concert wasn't until September. I called the number in the magazine ad and spoke with a person named Linda Hayes, the promoter for the Montgomery show. Linda asked me if I was a Christian, if I had some friends who could help with a big job, and if I wanted to help crew the concert. I had no clue what any of this meant and really just wanted to get tickets but I went ahead and said yes to all of her questions.

Flyer from the concertFlyer from the concert

I didn't know it at the time but Linda was the owner of Praise Productions, the powerful concert production company that did all the huge Christian concerts up north in Birmingham. She explained that Petra wanted to play Montgomery but no one in the band or Praise Productions knew anyone in Montgomery who could help. They'd rented Lee High School's auditorium and the only advertising had been Petra's 1983 tour listing in the magazine. I was the first person to call for tickets and that made me the only person they knew in Montgomery. That was enough for Linda and she offered me the concert.

In a single phone call I had gone from a guy who wanted tickets to the guy in charge of that concert. I knew nothing about producing a concert but Linda told me she'd walk me through every step. A couple of days later several large boxes stuffed with Petra flyers, posters, and press packs arrived on my doorstep. Praise Productions was taking care of the radio and mail advertising for the show and my job was to distribute the flyers to area churches and Christian bookstores. I would also be dropping tickets at those stores because this was more than a decade before the Internet and the only way to sell tickets was to put them in the bookstores. The other part of my job was to recruit people for stage crew, tickets, merchandise sales, and other concert jobs. Linda offered to pay me for my efforts but I refused because I was pretty sure I was going to mess things up and because Petra had an evangelistic ministry that I wanted to support.

Over the next several months my friends and I visited Montgomery churches, all four area Christian book stores, and Lee High School.  That's when we discovered we were evil. In 1983 modern Christian music was new to most churches and some leaders had taken stands against it. The general feeling was anything with a synchopated beat or electric guitar was bad. There were stories of backward lyrics hidden in Christian rock songs that would turn teenagers to a life of sex and drugs. This new music had to be fought and we met many, many church leaders who were serious about keeping it out of Montgomery. The large Christian bookstore at Montgomery's Eastdale Mall refused to promote the concert or sell tickets because they heard that Petra used a strobe light and smoke machine in their show and anyone who used equipment like that was evil. Seriously, that is what they told me.

1983 Montgomery poster and ticket1983 Montgomery poster and ticketNone of this nonsense was true and none of it was supported by anything in the Bible but they stood their ground and treated us like we were selling drugs. This was my first real exposure to false beliefs and hysteria running through the Christian community and ever since then I have taken a hard line against those who stir up trouble becuase they don't like something instead of standing on what the Bible says. Like most things within Christianity it's pretty simple:  If you can't back up your beliefs with Scripture then you are wrong and you need to reevaluate your position. Unfortunately we still see this behaviour today; but with different bogymen now.

Despite the trouble we did manage to promote the concert and I was able to put a production team together. Petra's people patiently explained what needed to be done and ended up teaching me project management and how to run an effective concert. By the concert date I had all the people I needed and every task had been completed. We were ready for the concert.  Petra's equipment truck showed up at 9am and we met Woz, the stage manager, and a couple of other roadies. We had plenty of people and load-in went smoothly even though it was a Thursday and the school was full of students. Some of them came into the auditorium to study and Woz eventually told us we needed to clear the room so there wouldn't be any injuries if something fell over. We closed the doors and finished setup of all the sound and lighting equipment, regularly telling new interlopers that they could not enter the auditorium.

Tickets from the concertTickets from the concertSound check was scheduled for 3pm but we hadn't seen the band all day. When it started to look like they were going to be late for their sound check I asked Woz where Petra was. He replied that they had arrived a couple of hours earlier but I had asked them to leave when they walked in to the auditorium. I had never actually seen the guys in Petra before and hadn't recognized them when they were standing right in front of me. I had just kicked my favorite band out of the building they were supposed to be playing in. Not a good way to meet the band! I later found out that they thought the whole thing was funny and had actually left to get something to eat.

Petra on stagePetra on stageThe concert itself went very well. We only had around 300 people there but they were excited and Petra played their hearts out. The Gospel was presented and several people walked down the aisle at the invitation. I had a good discussion with two of them. I talked to the band for awhile and load-out started after that. We had enough people to cover every job and finished all tasks on schedule. The band drove to their next gig and the tired crew went home. It was a great evening even though we had a few protesters out front. A few months after this concert Petra became hyper-popular and went from small concerts like ours to arenas and festivals.

I thought this had been a one time deal but this was the first of many concerts I would be producing.

Got a Dragonslayer or No Name concert memory? Tell us about it here.

Evil Equipment

Petra's smoke machinePetra's smoke machineThe Christian bookstore at Montgomery's Eastdale Mall refused to support this concert because of Petra's smoke machine.  This was a common complaint from those who did not like Contemporary Christian music's dark auditoriums, loud music, or lighting.  They decided these things must somehow be wrong.

 

We actually heard this complaint a lot and smoke machines became a running joke within Dragonslayer.  The stage crew routinely referred to the devices as satanic smoke machines, often announcing the evil machine's entry onto the stage during load-in.  We've never had any problems with the things...

Sometimes change is not appreciated and the church is no exception to this problem.  In the 1960's people started creating Christian music similar to the music they were already listening to and this music started making it's way into the church.  Most newer Christians saw the new music as just music and had no issues with it but many older Christians saw it as an unnecessary change and resisted it. 

 

Some felt the new music was cheapening the Gospel and dumbing down the message while others felt it was a way to connect to a younger generation.  This disagreement continues today but the controversy peaked in the 70's and 80's.  Some people liked the new music, some hated it, and in the early days it was not unheard of to have protesters out front at concerts.

Typical bookTypical bookIn the 80's many books were written about the dangers of Contemporary Christian music.  The explanations were varied but basically all boiled down to not liking music that included drums.  This was ridiculous but where there is controversy there is money to be made, and the books kept coming. 

 

I was one of THEM during the worst of the controversy and worked directly with the evil bands in question.  I saw first hand that the negative claims had no merit and also saw people coming to Christ at the end of every concert, something the protesters never bothered to see for themselves.  Today's church has mostly moved beyond these arguments. 

Scary bookScary bookBackmasking is a message recorded backward into music that sends subliminal messages to listeners.  It could turn any song into a dangerous message about sex, drugs, or worse.  The anti-Contemporary Christian music crowd cited backmasking a major reason it was bad and listened to a lot of songs backwards.  They found nothing but they made a good living writing scary books.

 

In response some bands recorded backmasking parodies.  One famous example was Petra's Judas Kiss, which features an obvious backmasking clip at the beginning of the song.  If played backwards it says "What are you looking for the devil for when you ought to be looking for the Lord?"

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