Who is Chris VonBartheld?
ApologetiX keyboardist Chris VonBartheld played his first concert with the band in Cherry Tree PA on June 22, 2013, although he actually started traveling with us on May 17, 2013.
After a brief internship, during which he got to observe and spend quality time with both of his predecessors (Todd and Hubie), Chris became an official member in July 2013.
Born and raised in Long Island NY, Chris has lived in the Pittsburgh area now for over eight years. He and his wife, Danielle, have two sons, Jon and Zach.
When he's not on the road with ApologetiX, Chris has been a worship leader at a number of churches, most recently Word & Deed Ministries in Upper Burrell PA. In addition to keyboards, he also sings and plays guitar.
Here's an interview we conducted with Chris shortly after he joined the band:
How and when did you first get started playing keyboards/piano?
As long as I can remember I could play. I was one of those children you read about in the paper, you know "six year old plays with symphony" kind of thing. I do remember playing accordion because my grandmother asked me too. All that made life way too complicated for a kid that just wanted to play baseball with his friends.
How has your experience been "interning" with the past two months with ApologetiX?
It has been a lot of fun. I have to admit I was never a big fan of the band (before) but after seeing what the guys do and the passion in which they do it, watching them interact with the fans, it's all been quite humbling. I can tell you that so far I haven't found a single thing about it I haven't liked.
Can you tell us about your early influences (artists/groups) in music?
Funny thing, the first musical experience I remember is watching the Partridge Family on television. I mean, who didn't want to be Keith, if we're being honest? My parents were older, so I think that's where being having a wider knowledge base of music came in. Elton John was the first for me. I remember seeing a magazine with him on the cover as the "pinball wizard." And then I saw the cover to Kiss Alive.
Who are some of your favorites/influences as a keyboardist/pianist?
At that time growing up there were only so many choices: Elton, Stevie Wonder, Barry Manilow and to a lesser extent Billy Joel. As I got older I remember hearing "Smoke on the Water" and saying, what's that? Being the right age at the right time, bands like Styx, Journey, Reo Speedwagon, Kansas all started to come into the picture. I love guys like Dr. John and Rick Wakeman, but i can't play like either of them.
You also play guitar. When did you start and who/what influenced you there?
Guitar is much more fun to play. It's may not be the best reason, but as I got older and started to realize girls like musicians. I thought they'd like a guitar player better then a guy hidden behind a piano. I was the lead singer in most of the bands I've been in and it's a lot easier to be "fronting" the band on guitar. Like I said, I love Kiss, so those guitar players. My mom listened to John Denver so I grew up with that.
What have been your favorite things about playing with ApologetiX?
These guys are all passionate and professional. It isn't like these guys know a few chords so they play some basic songs. There is some serious musicianship in this band. I hadn't played any of these songs (original versions) in10-15 years, and some I'd never played. How painstaking the attention to detail is. I'm still trying to get some of the things right. But the guys, the travel, the fans, so far it's all been spectacular.
How have the ApologetiX fans been treating you?
So far they've been really nice and supportive. I spent most of the time so far as the "mystery new guy," so no one really knew who I was or anything about me. Now that the word is getting out about me, they have been very friendly and welcoming both in person and on the social media sites.
How and when did you you first become a Christian?
It was July 4, 2005. A good friend of mine had a near-death experience and saw the hand of God wipe death away. Needless to say, he became a believer. Soon thereafter he had a dream/vision that he was to save me. I hadn't seen Rich in 10 years maybe. We had been on the road together and he'd partied worse then I did. I wasn't trying to hear about it, but Rich is my friend, so I enjoy his company. After a few months of being "dragged" to churches, etc, the seed got planted. And on that day at a firework display, he led me to the Cross. That's the quick version anyway.
What's your home church?
It's funny -- as a worship leader for several churches I try not to think of any one church over another as my "home church," but there is one that if I have a Sunday off I prefer, but I'm going to keep that information to myself in fairness to all the churches I work for.
Tell us about your wife ...
Danielle is and will always be "the one." We were high-school sweethearts more or less but in 1985 I had to choose her or music and the life, and I picked music. We were kids. Over the years I told people that she was the one, but came along at the wrong time. I never backed off that statement. We we're both married and for one reason or another both of our relationships fell apart. I never thought I'd ever hear from her again and thanks to social media we got back in contact. I moved here in 2006 to be with her and on April 4, 2009 we were married. God gave me the chance to do it all over again, this time i didn't screw it up. She is my world. She had to sign off on this before it even mattered. I get her, she gets me and after that there's no looking backwards. She is working on her masters program for Christian Counciling, she'll be really good at it. I could talk about her all day.
Tell us about your kids …
I have two sons, Jon and Zach. Jon is 14 and Zach is nine. Jon is a "techy" kind of kid. I go to him when I have trouble with my iPhone. He started showing an interest in photography, he took a class over the summer so you know he must mean it. We just bought him his first "decent" camera, so we'll see. Zach is my troublemaker (just like me). He's nothing but a ball of energy.
Was it hard to learn so many songs so quickly as Todd's successor?
At first it was a little overwhelming for several reasons. Not the least of them, I haven't done this in a while. But, as time went on, it started to occur to me that being a "parody" band, I've played most of the original versions of the songs before. The hardest part was going back to the actual recorded versions of the songs and not what I and my memory have morphed them into over time. There are some big shoes to fill between Hubie and Todd. Two totally different approaches to playing, but both just as valid as the other.
What other hobbies and outside interests do you have?
I guess I'm a history buff. Watergate, Gettysburg, and the Kennedy assassination are my favorites. But really I'll watch any of those documentaries on the HIstory Channel. I think my favorite is the Decoded series by Brad Meltzer.
Can you tell us the names of some bands you've been in before?
The J.D Rebel Band, Fizzbin, Lipsi Stew, The Elements of Sound, Kornerstone, and, most recently, The Renegades 4 God.
You grew up in Long Island, New York. What was that like?
When I was a kid, it seemed perfect. Quiet small towns, school yard, backyards -- everything a kid wanted to either be active or get in trouble (I did both). As I got older I had the beach on one side and NYC on the other. I didn't think it would ever get any better then that. No matter how much I traveled, Long Island was always "home."
Are you excited about playing in a nationally touring Christian band?
You know, when I did this in the 80's I fell prey to all the desires and temptations that we're available to me. And even though I didn't realize it, God's hand was protecting me because, as bad as I was, I still came out of it relatively unharmed -- unlike some of the people I ran with at that time. But we serve a generous God, and He is a God of second chances, and He gave me another chance to get out and travel, perform, and do it for the right reasons this time -- to bring Glory and Honor to His Kingdom.
One of your previous bands did a national tour back in the 1980's. What was that like, and what other secular bands did you tour with?
Lets see, The Outfield, The Hooters, I believe we did a stint for Molly Hatchet, I think it was Molly Hatchet, we did a quick go-round with Grinderswitch. It's hard to remember; there were some very hazy years. We never reached that level, so the band's we toured with tended not be "A list." Oh, we went round and round with Zebra. They were Long Island based but had some national flavor.
You have other experience in music (i.e. recording, music stores, etc.). Can you tell us more about that and about how you wanted to learn all aspects of the music industry?
I worked in every aspect at one time. From retail to recording to imports -- you name it, I did it. I wanted to learn about everywhere my money could wind up. I didn't want to be a statistic; I tried to be very business minded. As an artist that's not always easy to do. When the bands stopped, I did a lot of session work, commercials, etc. Looking back, the sad truth is I didn't know how to do anything else.
What are you favorite foods?
Depends on where I am. But I can tell you I'd rather be having the steak at the Texas Roadhouse then anywhere else.
Who were the first groups and/or musical performers you ever liked?
Elton John, Kiss, The Marshall Tucker Band.
What was the first album you ever owned?
Besides the Partridge Family albums? (laughs) It was One of These Nights by the Eagles.
What was the first 45 rpm single you ever bought for yourself?
Wow! I don't remember if it was the first one, but I have the most vivid memory of buying "Rock and Roll All Nite" at a small local record store. I also remember having "Smoke on the Water" and "Eight Days a Week." I know I didn't buy it for myself, but I remember having "The Flying Saucer" by Buchanan and Goodman. That was the first novelty record I ever heard.
What was the first album you ever bought for yourself?
Not to sound redundant but I think It was Kiss Alive.
Who are your favorite secular groups and performers?
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra to me defines what music should aspire to be about. Well written, dramatic, a positive, uplifting story. I wear a star tattoo on my left arm from the first CD because it spoke so loudly to me. I like Dr.John down in New Orleans. I still enjoy the singer/songwriters: Elton, Michael McDonald, Howard Jones. There's an irony to me because I studied the works of John Lennon and Brian Wilson for all the accomplishments and innovation they brought into pop music, but for two of the top influences, I only like a handful of their songs as solo acts.
Who are your favorite Christian groups and performers?
My favorite Christian artist is Jason Upton. I know not many have heard of him. He's a talented piano player, singer, and songwriter. I believe him to be an anointed man of God. His music is actually what sealed the deal and brought me to the Cross. I was hesitant and although it sounds ridiculous now I didn't want to accept Christ, because I didn't like the music. That was my vanity showing and God knew what He had in store for me and soon a friend gave me his Faith CD and said, "This guy reminds me of Elton John." I was sold. I can still listen to that CD for hours. I had the honor of meeting him this year at a worship concert he gave and was able to spend some time talking with him and telling him that same story.
What are your favorite secular albums?
Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (Elton John), Paradise Theater (Styx), Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd), Dream Into Action (Howard Jones), Destroyer (Kiss), Million Mile Reflections (The Charlie Daniels Band), Misplaced Childhood (Marillion), and anything by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
What are your favorite Christian albums?
Faith (Jason Upton), Our God Saves (Paul Baloche), The Renegades 4 God's second CD.
Who are your biggest influences as a pianist/keyboardist?
Well, Elton John showed me how the piano/vocal can be the lead guy. Jon Lord taught me how to rock. Jason Upton showed me I can still be that guy as a Christian. But there's a guy named Chuck Leavell who's been the piano player for the Rolling Stones for 25 years or so. He played with the Allman Brothers for 10 years before that. There's always a part of me that wants to be up front, but I wanted to be the guy in the band.
Who are your favorite pianists/keyboardists?
Dennis DeYoung (ex-Styx), Howard Jones, Rick Wakeman, Chuck Leavell, Jon Lord, Dr. John, Paul Shaffer.
Can you tell us more about the secular bands you've been in?
There were so many -- the only one really worth mentioning was Kornerstone. And that was from 1985 until 2000, more or less. We did get together in 2006 for a benefit. It was the first time some of us had seen each other since the beginning. Funny thing is just recently I heard from two of the guys, asking me if I was interested in recording again. The one thing I learned is you never say never.
Can you tell us more about the Christian bands you've been in?
The only other Christian band I've been in was the Renegades 4 God. We got together in 2009 and have been playing together ever since. We still get together when everyone's schedule allows it. We put out two CD's, both self released. We played all through the Pittsburgh area. Well, I guess we ventured out further too -- we even ended up in Ohio a few times.
How did it come about that you tried out for ApologetiX?
A friend of mine (actually the manager for R4G) saw ApologetiX was auditioning for the keyboard spot. She called me and said, "You should do this." I knew who ApologetiX was, but I didn't have any idea of the extent of the band's ministry. So I sent J. an email, we spoke on the phone, two days later I was having dinner with J, Keith and their families, and by that weekend I was on the bus going to Maryland (to meet the guys and observe Todd in action).
How has your experience been playing for ApologetiX thus far?
The guys have been great to me so far. What a difference doing this now as opposed to before. We all have our differences, but we're a "team of rivals" in that sense. No one has any agenda except giving 100 percent to this ministry.
What have been your favorite things about playing with ApologetiX?
To mem the best thing is being back out there, playing, singing, all for the Glory this time. I always loved to travel, and God is giving me a second chance to do it all over again without all the distractions that followed me in the past.
You've been a worship leader at quite a few Pittsburgh-area churches. Which ones?
Radiant Life Christian Community (Tarentum), Bellevue Gospel Chapel (Pittsburgh), Sons of God MC (Harmar), Christian Fellowship Center (Pittsburgh), Center Ave UMC (Pitcairn), and Bread of Life Tabernacle (Uniontown). There's a men's ministry I'm involved with at Valley Gospel Chapel in Harmer. That's not including any special events or short- series sermons.
How did you become a worship leader?
I gave my life to Christ just before I moved here, but in New York, I still wasn't walking the walk right. One of my first trips into the Pittsburgh Mills Mall, I saw they were building something called the Radiant Life Christian Community. I went in to check it out, and this guy walked up to me and asked "are you a musician?" I said yes, and he said "we've been praying for you." He introduced himself as the pastor and then brought me in back to introduce to me to the people who were just praying God would send them a musician. I wasn't very good at that one -- I didn't understand the difference between being a musician and being a worship leader. That's something I still had to learn.
What are your favorite books?
The Art of War by Sun Tzu, A Renegade's Guide to God by Dr David Foster, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, the Bourne series of novels. I just finished Brad Meltzer's series of books. I highly recommend them.
What are your favorite movies?
Number one would be Arthur with Dudley Moore. I don't even acknowledge the remake. Then in no order, Dead Poets Society, The Sting, V for Vendetta, The Last Samurai, Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, Ocean's 11 (that's one of the few that I enjoy the original and the remake). I guess I have to say Despicable Me; I love Minions.
Who is the biblical person you'd most like to meet (besides Jesus)?
I know this is not going to be the popular answer, but I'd like to meet Judas. I'd want to know what happened, what his thought process was, what the relationship was between Jesus and Judas. We all have our own thoughts on that and that to me would be the best way to find out.