Through Christian music, Dave Pettigrew offers his message of ‘hope’

— From Dave Pettigrew 

Contemporary Christian artist Dave Pettigrew’s nephew was just 27 years old when he died of a heroin overdose in Pettigrew’s home. From that tragedy, Pettigrew started the “There Is Hope Movement,” which acts as a conduit to connect people with substance-abuse problems to people who can help them. Pettigrew will be performing at Saint Matthew’s Church in Voorheesville on Nov. 10.

VOORHEESVILLE — Ryan Lamb was just 27 years old when, two-and-a-half years ago, he died of an accidental heroin overdose in the basement of his uncle Dave Pettigrew’s New Jersey home.

“That is one of those moments in life when you ask God, ‘What does this mean? Why did this happen? Why do we as a family have to go through this?’” said Pettigrew, a contemporary Christian musician. “Ryan,” Pettigrew said, was a “good kid.” 

“He just had a disease he couldn’t beat,” Pettigrew said; his nephew had been using for about eight years. 

Ryan had been clean for 90 days, but when he went to shoot up after three months of sobriety, Pettigrew said, he thought Ryan had done so with a quantity similar to what he used before getting clean and his body “just couldn’t handle it.”

Pettigrew remembered sitting on the deck of his New Jersey home with his sister, Ryan’s mom, two days after Ryan died, and coming to a conclusion: “There’s two things that can happen,” Pettigrew said, recounting the conversation with his sister. “One — we can get completely lost in the grief,” or, “Two — we could somehow use this for God’s glory,”

“We opted for the latter,” he said. 

It took some time, Pettigrew said, but eventually he started the “There Is Hope Movement,” which, he said, acts as a conduit to connect people with substance abuse problems to those who can help them. 

On Sunday, Nov. 10, at 6 p.m., Pettigrew will bring that message of hope to Saint Matthew’s Church in Voorheesville. And opening for Pettigrew will be the Youth Praise Band from McKownville United Methodist Church. 

The concert will benefit local addiction and recovery agencies, including: Hospitality House TC Inc.; Hope House Inc.; Saint Peter’s Addiction Recovery Center; Capital District Recovery Center; and Bethlehem Steps for Strength, Hope, and Healing Al-Anon Group.   

“Our goal is to represent all stages of recovery and how people can succeed,” Peggy McQuade, the pastoral associate for hospitality at Saint Matthew’s, said in an email to The Enterprise.

The Youth Praise Band — which is made up of students from Voorheesville’s high school, Colonie Central High School, The Doane Stuart School in Rensselaer, and Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons in Schenectady — won a singer-songwriter competition put on by Saint Matthew’s teen Helping Out People Everywhere (HOPE) Club. 

The competition, dubbed “The Sound of Hope,” invited teens from around the Capital Region to submit their own original hope-themed songs to a “panel of distinguished judges,” who, according to McQuade, “had a challenging task in selecting the winner.”

“Born and raised” on Christian music

“I was born and raised in a Christian home; my grandmother was the organist at our church until she was 94 years old,” Pettigrew said. “I took piano lessons from her when I was a kid.” 

Not to mention, growing up, Christian music was the only music Pettigrew’s parents would let him listen to. 

“I was born and raised on the founders of Christian music,” he said; it wasn’t until he was 17 or 18 years old that Pettigrew discovered bands and artists like Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Elton John, and AC/DC.

To this day, Pettigrew said, he still loves rock and roll, and has come to appreciate the musicianship and songwriting abilities of the genre’s greatest artists. He added that he’s been influenced by rock and roll “in the back half of his career.”

But, he said, when someone comes up and says to him: “Hey, you know, I see a lot of Keith Green (considered a pioneer in Christian music and ministry) in you,” that’s “the greatest thing that somebody could say to me.” 

For the layperson, Pettigrew described Green as a Christian Billy Joel, a singer-songwriter with serious piano chops.

Growing up, Pettigrew said, he played the alto saxophone, which eventually led him to Berklee College of Music in Boston, and following graduation he moved to New York City and began to play in bars and at local weddings — all very secular. 

By the time he hit his early 30s, after playing in the city’s bars and making the rounds on the local wedding circuit, Pettigrew decided he was ready to record his first album. 

“We had 10 songs written; we were ready to roll,” but then Pettigrew started to think. “And I said to myself, ‘Geez, I’m going to go out and be Dave Pettigrew in the world, I want to go out and stand for something that I believe in.’”

So, he cancelled the studio time he had booked and restarted the entire writing process with an eye toward making his first Christian record. As he tells it, he went from making great money playing weddings to playing church basements — losing money.

Eventually, he said, “Pounding away and playing church basement after church basement” paid off, because, slowly, he and his band began to receive more opportunities to play — opportunities that, by his own admission, Pettigrew said, “We probably shouldn’t have gotten just because we were an independent Christian recording act.”

But perseverance paid off, and soon Pettigrew and his band were opening for Lincoln Brewster, a contemporary Christian artist who has had his fair share of Billboard success. And soon, success begat success, and Pettigrew found himself opening for bigger names in the world of contemporary Christian music.

“Over the last five or six years, this thing has really just started going up in the right way — I still can’t completely explain, but it’s been amazing,” he said.

In just the past few weeks, Pettigrew was finally able to make playing music his full-time job. Previously, for over 20 years, his day job was as a music supervisor at a major record label in New York City, placing songs into commercials. 

So, how does a married 49-year-old man with two kids leave a good-paying job with benefits? 

“To be 100-percent honest with you, I’ve been praying about it for years and finally got an answer from those prayers that was just like, ‘You know what, this is it.’ And I just decided to stop the gig and do this,” Pettigrew said. 

A tragedy that has saved lives

 Pettigrew had a lot of questions when his nephew died of an overdose —  two-and-a-half-years later, he said, he still has questions. Ryan was a person of faith, he said, “a believer.” But, Pettigrew said, he’s working with the hand he was dealt. 

“That was a hard day,” he said of the day Ryan died; five police cars and two ambulances showed up at the house that day. “We’re just a small town, an affluent community in New Jersey; this isn’t supposed to happen here — but it did.”

Now the goal is to tell as many people as possible about what happened that day, Pettigrew said, so that other families aren’t waking up to the scene — tragedy, really — that he and his family encountered the day Ryan died.

Ryan, his uncle said, “[was a] really good kid, big heart, loved to hang out and play with kids — avid fisherman, like a professional fisherman,” 

Ryan loved hockey and played it growing up; it’s also what led finally to his April 2017 overdose. 

“He hurt his knee and was prescribed opioids to deal with the pain,” Pettigrew said, which led to taking more of the legalized narcotic, which led to using illegal heroin. 

“And that’s a story I hear all the time,” he said; legal opioids are the gateway to illegal heroin use. And, although Ryan’s story had a tragic ending, Pettigrew said, to now know that his story is affecting, changing, and saving peoples lives, “is an incredible thing.”

Ryan’s mother made up bracelets that say, “There Is Hope.”

Pettigrew said he gave a bracelet to a woman who was in recovery and a few months later, she came to one of his shows and told them the bracelet “literally saved” her “life one night.”

She was about to shoot up, Pettigrew said, and, when she tying off, she saw the bracelet around her wrist that said, “There Is Hope.” She put the needle down, he said, called her sponsor and was able to get out of the situation. 

Since Ryan’s death, Pettigrew has spent a lot of time with people in recovery for whom sobriety is a daily battle. He said that he’s “certainly, come to understand [addiction] more,” because he had been previously been someone who was of the mindset: “Just stop; just stop using.”

But now, after spending time with recovering addicts, he understands that it’s not like flipping a switch. 

More New Scotland News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.