During a ninth-period science lab at Toledo Christian High School, Matt Hammitt leaned over to Chris Rohman and said, "I'm thinking of starting a band. I play drums a little bit."
The next day, the two aspiring rockers set up their instruments in Matt's basement and jammed on a few songs, marking the humble beginnings of what would become Toledo's most successful Christian rock band ever.
Tomorrow, the Dove Award-winning group, Sanctus Real, will celebrate its 10th anniversary by performing two shows in the Maumee Indoor Theater followed by an acoustic set in the Mill.
"We wanted to throw a special party for our friends and family who have been supporting us all these years," said Rohman, the group's lead guitarist.
Although Hammitt had been a drummer, he switched to guitar and vocals right from the start, handing the drumsticks to Mark Graalman, another TCS student and founding member of Sanctus Real.
After a decade of traveling the country, playing for audiences ranging from 2 to 40,000, the three high school pals remain committed to a singular vision: creating top-quality music with lyrics that express their heartfelt feelings, including a foundational Christian worldview.
They've since been joined by Dan Gartley, Sanctus Real's third bassist following the departures of Matt Kollar and Steve Goodrum.
Sanctus signed with Sparrow, the world's largest Christian music label, and released its national debut, "Say It Loud," in 2002. That was followed by "Fight the Tide" in 2004 - earning the Gospel Music Association's honors for Modern Rock Album of the Year - and "The Face of Love" last April.
A cover of U2's "Beautiful Day," released on an all-star Christian compilation disc, earned Sanctus Real its first No. 1 single on the Christian rock charts. The group has since released three more No. 1 hits, "I'm Not Alright," "The Fight Song," and "Everything About You."
It hasn't always been an easy road for the Toledo rockers. In an interview last week in Toledo, they laughed about some of their early tours where they "showered" in Wal-Mart restrooms, were forced to drive incredibly long distances between gigs, and battled through van breakdowns and equipment malfunctions.
One particularly tough time came when their van broke down in San Francisco. They rented another van and drove 20 hours to Albuquerque, N.M., to play in the Festival Con Dios Tour, then drove back to San Francisco to pick up their van, then drove another 20 hours to Denver, where they played a concert that The Fray opened for them.
All three original members credit Toledo radio station YES-FM (89.3) as playing a big role in their success.
"YES-FM is the biggest factor by far," Rohman said. "There are very few radio stations that will cater to local artists."
They also credit their former manager Jessica Lardinais, who handled business and promotion for the band during its first five years.
"She helped us keep going and made it possible to continue through a lot of hard times," Graalman said.
The band members laughed about their first public performance - in a back room of Rohman's father's photography studio. They set up a stage using plywood atop milk crates, and about 50 friends jammed into the room for a free concert.
"Dec. 28, 1996," Rohman said. "I was so excited and nervous."
"It was not bad for our first show ever," Graalman added.
Tomorrow, Sanctus Real plans to play a lot of its older songs, and Rohman is dusting off the guitar he used that first show, a Fender Squier Stratocaster.
Opening will be This Beautiful Republic, another Toledo Christian rock band signed to a major label. Its debut disc for ForeFront Records is due for release in the spring.
As Sanctus plays in the Maumee Indoor Theater tomorrow night, an after-show party will start at 8 p.m. in the Mill featuring an all-local lineup of Pawn, Indy United, Strikeout Pro, and Shane Piasecki.
Sanctus Real's 10th Anniverary Celebration concert will be at 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. tomorrow in the Maumee Indoor Theater, 601 Conant St., Maumee. Reserved tickets are $15. The After-Show Party in the Mill, 5115 Glendale Ave., starts at 8 p.m.; admission is $5 or free with a ticket stub from one of the Maumee Indoor Theater concerts. Information: 419-389-0893.
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