One of the largest rock events this year was the Salt Box Tour. Joining Whiteheart and their co-headliners Petra for the tour were newcomers Grammatrain and johnny Q. public. If it hadn't been for a freak Easter weekend winter storm at Six Flags over Texas, I would have seen the tour three times. I did get to see the show twice, though, and the first just happened to also be the first official date in the tour.
On April 1st, at the Mabee Center at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa OK, the tour got under way. I was joined that evening by a few cyberfriends, and we made a very geographically diverse group of Whiteheart fans. Margaret Vitalis (center of pic) drove from Minnesota and met up with myself (far right in pic) and family friend Sarah Crawford (2nd from right) here in Wichita (my family was unable to go because of school). We drove to Tulsa and met up with Brian Jarrett (2nd from left) and his friend, Lee Davis (far left), who both drove in from Memphis.
We got a chance to visit with Whiteheart and johnny Q. public before the show. I had asked Dan Fritz, lead singer with johnny Q. public, what was coming up next for them. He said as soon as the details of a deal pending with a major mainstream label were worked out, they would be working on a new album and video, as well as sort of re-releasing their current album, Extra Ordinary.
As usual, all the latest Whiteheart news is on The Official Whiteheart Page. One recent inquiry, however, was when we might expect another album. Rick Florian said they're writing now, but not focused toward an album. If they end up having enough stuff they could go in to the studio as early as this summer or fall. But it will probably be the winter, which means a new album by early next year. Watch the Whiteheart Page for developments.
We missed part of Grammatrain's set, but what I heard was good, tight bass/drum/guitar energy. Next was johnny Q. public, and having heard their album, I was anxious to hear them live. They sounded good, and got pretty rowdy. At one point, one of the guitarists splashed his water bottle into the front row. One girl didn't seem too happy about that. Dan Fritz later said, "I know we're probably scaring some of you, but we're all here for only one reason." He went on to express their desire to be witnesses for Christ in their music. I was inspired by their song, "As I Pray", which is a very emotional and profound depiction of Jesus' trip to Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion.
Grammatrain and johnny Q. public played for about 25 minutes each, and then Whiteheart took the stage, which until now had been mostly concealed by a large black curtain. The open curtain now revealed at the center of the stage a large framed 15 foot cubical structure flanked by two smaller risers (where the drums were). There were stairs winding from the top around the side risers to the floor. When the lights came up, Florian was on the top platform singing "Pride (In The Name Of Love)". The U2 song is one they've been using in live sets for a while. What I didn't realize before was that there is actually a reference to Jesus in the song ("One man betrayed with a kiss..."). They cruised through the first three songs without a breath, paused for a brief greeting, and then right into "You Can't Take What You Don't Have (You Don't Have Me)" from the latest album, Inside. Later during "The Flame Passes On", they had a special guest on stage. Kevin Mills, Whiteheart road manager and former Newsboys' bassist, came out with bongos and shades, took a seat on the steps right next to the drums, and "grooved."
Click here for the Whiteheart/Salt Box Tour set list in Tulsa.
In addition to Rick's soaring vocals, Mark's keyboards and vocals were powerful, Brian's guitar solos sizzled, Billy's guitar and vocals resounded, John's bass pumped, and Jon's drums cooked! All in all a very high energy set - They Rocked! I only had two complaints; whoever was in charge of the follow spots had a lot of trouble following the action (on Petra's set, too), and there were only two songs from Inside. I knew that Inside would be an awesome sound live, and I was right. I only wish they had done more selections. Billy told me later that they were still working with the set list, after all, this was effectively opening night. They closed with a favorite of many, "Morningstar". Many people are still unaware that this song, which was originally included on Tales Of Wonder as an after thought and an incomplete bonus track, was later released complete on Nothing But The Best - Radio Classics.
If there was any doubt in any one's mind about the purpose and mission of these musical ministers called Whiteheart, there certainly wasn't much room for misunderstanding after Mark Gersmehl shared a powerful message half way through the set. It was a very compelling, evangelistic message. Every time I hear Mark share, I can't help but think of all those kids that will hear this tour, especially the ones that don't know Jesus. It becomes clearer to me why, with the help of the writing talents of the rest of the band, they continue to produce Christ-centered and relevant music.
This tour was my first opportunity to see Petra since Bob Hartman retired from performing. However, I must say, I really enjoyed watching Hartman's successor, David Lichens. He was a good guitar player, but even more so, a good entertainer. He had a great smile, and was very comfortable roaming the stage. Petra's set (as did Whiteheart's) covered a good range of their albums. I particular enjoyed the Petra "unplugged" set. Louie Weaver had a smaller trap set concealed under the large cubicle, brought it up front for an acoustic sampling of Petra classics. At the end of their set John Schlitt stood alone, except for Lichens playing some supporting worshipful keyboards, and shared his heart for the youth of today. While he spoke, members of the rest of the other bands began to filter out and sit on the steps and stage. After an opportunity to pray the sinner's prayer, Schlitt led us all in singing "I Stand In Awe Of You" to close.
The next show I would've seen was at Six Flags on Good Friday, April 5th. When we got up that morning, I knew we were in trouble. Just an hour west of Fort Worth they were getting almost a foot of snow, and the Dallas/Fort Worth area had freezing rain all day. We thought we'd head out anyway, and see what was happening. We got to the park and I went to find Kevin Mills to see if either of the two scheduled shows were canceled. As I got to the stage area (outdoor theater), stage crew were frantically scurrying around trying to protect lights and sound from the persistent freezing rain. I found Kevin and Billy, and they said the 4pm show was canceled, and they assumed the 8pm show soon would be. We visited just long enough to find out they would be spending a day off in Wichita on Easter (and subsequently got a chance to visit Easter weekend when we got home). As it turns out, not only was the later show canceled, but the whole park was closed early. It was the first time in a long time (if ever) that has happened. Luckily KLTY-FM in Dallas (a close cousin to our own KTLI-FM Light 99) was sponsoring a meet-and-greet later that evening at Joshua's Christian Bookstore in Arlington, and we got to see the guys after all. We had brought a birthday present for Rick, as his birthday was the following week (you can see the bag on the table in the picture below). Scott Wilder of KLTY was there giving away a bunch of prizes.
(back row, l to r) Jim Cooper, Petra keyboards; David Lichens, Petra guitar; Rick Florian, Whiteheart lead vocals; Ronny Cates, Petra bass; Brian Wooten, Whiteheart lead guitar; John Thorn, Whiteheart bass; Mark Gersmehl, Whiteheart keyboards/vocals; (unknown patron); Jon Knox, Whiteheart drums (front row seated, l to r) Louie Weaver, Petra drums; John Schlitt, Petra lead vocals; Billy Smiley, Whiteheart guitar/vocals
Even though my wife and daughters missed the Salt Box Tour in Tulsa because of school, and Texas because of weather, they were certainly rewarded for their patience in Kansas City on Mother's Day weekend. Whiteheart's performance Saturday night at Worlds of Fun was easily the best performance I've ever seen or heard. The crowd was excited, the sound was superb, the players were on, the action was exhilarating, and Florian's voice was very strong. Not that Tulsa sounded bad, but the all other groups also sounded better than in Tulsa because of the superior sound mix. We had a big surprise when we saw Rick before the concert; he got his hair cut (actually I didn't notice until my daughter exclaimed, "You cut your hair!").
The stage was too small at Worlds Of Fun's outside Forum Theater to accommodate the normal setup, but it didn't seem to matter. It was an awesome concert. The weather had threatened earlier in the day, but ended up absolutely gorgeous. The only awkward incident came when the bottled water splashing motif continued, only this time it was someone in the front row accidentally splashing Brian Wooten and his guitar with water. Wooten was obviously upset, but handled it well, after leaving temporarily to dry off his guitar and get another. The sets were almost identical in all cases. Of course, I noticed the slight differences in Whiteheart's set, the most noticeable being the addition of another song from Inside, "It Could Have Been You", and the moving of "Pride" from the opener to the encore.
Click here for the Whiteheart/Salt Box Tour set list in KC.
The Whiteheart news flash of the day was when Kevin Mills told me he was leaving his road manager duties to pursue an acting career in New York. He said his first part is in an upcoming movie called Goddess.
If you missed the Salt Box Tour, you missed a classic. I highly recommend at some point catching johnny Q. public, and of course, Whiteheart is still one of the best rock bands in the history of Christian music, and my personal favorite.
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