Welcome Home, Cornerstone!

When people talk about Cornerstone, whether on Facebook or in blog posts or Flickr captions, a recurring theme is that coming here feels like coming home, whether it’s your first year or your fourteenth.  I haven’t even made it to the actual festival grounds yet, but being here still feels like a sort of homecoming.

This year’s drive up from Atlanta was long and gloomy, and things just felt kind of off-kilter.  Inconvenient “real life” things like hassles at work meant that things got off to a bit of a tired, underprepared, “I really hope I didn’t forget anything” sort of start.  The traditional lunch destination for my friends and I, a mall outside of Nashville, had apparently fallen prey to a Zombie Apocalypse, so we had to deviate from tradition and find food elsewhere.  Strange things were afoot at the Stuckey’s– they were SOLD OUT of Goo-Goo Clusters!  That’s like McDonald’s selling out of fries – it’s just not supposed to happen.

But eventually the clouds broke and the sun came out, and as we drove on into the Illinois corn fields between Springfield and Macomb, we burned through a great iPod playlist from artists ranging from The Choir to Pristina, from The Kicks to Over the Rhine, from the Juliana Theory to King’s X.  By the time we reached the “550 Friendly People [‘and Bob’ – an in-joke that goes back about 12 or 13 years]” sign welcoming us to the great town of Industry, “real life” was far behind us and everything felt right with the world.  (Well, mostly – our WIU dorm can best be described with words like “dank” and “moist,” which isn’t exactly what you might hope for, but what do you expect for $40 a night?)

Thompson Hall, room 704

So now I’m awake at a ridiculously early hour, and can’t wait to get to the fest to see all my old friends and meet some new ones, check out some new bands on this “pre-fest” day, and settle in for a fun week.  I’m even hearing rumors of an unscheduled bonus show by a legenDAry Jesus Music band on the Gallery tonight at 10:00 that I really hope comes true…

So welcome home, Cornerstone.  Whether you’re here for the hardcore music or the lemon shake-ups, have a great week.  If you’ve got any good stories to tell about your drive to the fest or anything else, leave a comment on the blog.  And if you’re in the dorms in WIU, come by room 704 and say hi!

Famous Last Words

Alright, it’s my last post of the year – let’s talk about bands!  As you’ve probably ascertained, I’m an old guy (39), but I come to Cornerstone as much for younger bands (Deas Vail, Seabird, Eisley, Paper Route) as I do for the older ones (The Choir, Over the Rhine, Lost Dogs).  I thought this year’s schedule was very strong in terms of Gallery bands (and Gallery-esque bands on other stages, like Deas Vail), but maybe a little weaker than usual in terms of newer melodic rock bands (Run Kid Run was a late addition and the Kicks were a fun new band, but in previous years we’ve had a lot more of that kind of stuff – Jonezetta, Capital Lights, Mae, and others of that ilk, many of whom have broken up in the interim).  It seems to me that a lot of bands that would otherwise sound pretty good (polished, capable musicians) are still doing the screamy hardcore thing, and I just can’t get into that stuff.  I’ll be kind of glad when the screamy stuff falls out of fashion a little bit.

I suppose at this point, the done thing is to list some superlatives.

  • Best Generator Band.  The best band I saw exclusively on generator stages was Oh! The Humanity!, a duo doing autotuned dance pop stuff.  They did some nice covers (We the Kings, Owl City) and their original material was pretty good, too.  They were one of the most fun bands I saw all week.
    • Honorable Mention.  The Rendition, the first band I saw during the fest, were tight and polished.  It would be nice to see them graduate to a real stage next year
  • Dustiest Road.  Could the road between the big merch tent and the Rising Storm and Encore stages have been any dustier?  Possibly, but I don’t see how.  By the end of the week, there were stretches of that road that were nothing but an inch of fine grit.  Nasty!
  • Best Cover.  As I wrote earlier in the week, I LOVE cover songs, and it seemed like there were a lot more than usual this year, including two entire cover sets (from Ping and Lightshine Theater).  I think the coolest cover I saw all week, though, was Lightshine Theater’s cover of King’s X’s “Over My Head.”  It’s a great song, and the band did a nice rendition of it, adding in a three-way guitar shred-off in the middle.  I hope Lightshine Theater comes back next year – they’re a nice link to the old days of Cornerstone (REZ, Steve Taylor, Barren Cross, and stuff like that).
  • Best Food.  There were some new food options this year (a salad bar!?) that I didn’t get to try, because I stuck with some of the old standards.  I think the best thing I ate this year was probably the Cajun Alfredo from the pasta trailer.  That stuff is addictive!
    • Honorable Mention.  The $3 bag of like 100 chocolate and vanilla sandwich cookies from the grocery store is hard to beat.
  • Most Improved.  I think Quiet Science was probably the most improved band that I saw this year.  I saw them last year, and they were good (and fun to watch), but their live performance didn’t quite measure up to what I heard on their EP.  Even after seeing them a couple more times (once here at home, and once early in the fest), they didn’t quite reach their potential.  But on the Impact Stage on Friday, they finally played the set that I thought they were capable of, and they sounded great.  Hopefully that’ll become the norm for them, because I really like their music.
  • Best New (To Me) Band.  This one’s really hard to call, because I saw three very different bands that I’d never seen before, and all of them impressed me.  Lightshine Theater was nostalgic and a lot of fun, but I can’t go with a cover band as my best new (to me) band.  Campbell the Band had an impressive performance, handing instruments into the crowd and stuff like that, but I can’t really remember much about their actual songs, so I can’t say it was them, either.  I’m going to go with the Kicks as the best new (to me) band that I saw.  They play straightforward southern rock with a bit of a modern twist and some very nice Beatle-esque harmonies, and they’re very tight and polished.  They were very impressive.
  • Encore!  Seriously!  There were a couple of shows (from two of my favorite bands, Eisley and Over the Rhine) that ended up a bit shorter than they might have been for various reasons.  I saw Eisley’s setlist, and they basically knew going in that they couldn’t play the full headlining set that they’ve been playing on their tour, so they crossed off some stuff that happens to be among my favorites: “Come Clean,” “Ten Cent Blues,” “Combinations,” and “Go Away.”  Over the Rhine just ran out of time in their first set and had to cut “Poughkeepsie,” and skipped a planned 3-song encore in their second set, in what was a rather weird ending to their show.  I know it’s tough for the festival to balance cramming in a lot of bands with allowing bands time to spread their wings a bit.  There were a few shows that I saw this year that I wish had been a little more open-ended, time-wise.
  • Practice Makes Perfect.  It pains me to say it, but the Choir was a little bit disappointing (though I must make it clear that I was still very glad for the chance to see them again).  That’s mostly because my expectations were just so high, though – they play very rarely, and the last few times I’ve seen them at the fest and elsewhere, they killed it.  But Thursday, alas, just wasn’t their night.  They were pretty loose as they struggled through their set, the set itself was fairly short, and while it contained a lot of my favorite songs, it was also a little on the predictable side.  Hopefully they’ll find a way to do a little mini-tour in support of their new album (which is wonderful, by the way) to shake off the rust, and I’ll get to see them in better form down the line.
  • Loudest Band.  There’s a surprising winner in this category.  I figured the last night on Main Stage, with The Devil Wears Prada and others would be the loudest, anticipating that it would sound like (as Mike Roe once described a Stavesacre set playing on a stage near him) “they were raising the lid of hell over there.”  But actually, the Skillet set was far and away the loudest thing I heard all week.  I never got particularly close to the actual show, but it was freakin’ loud even as I was walking down the road over to the Chelsea Café.  They apparently also win the award for “most fire” and “most smoke.”
  • Sorry I Missed It.  Even with all the pre-fest planning that I do every year to try to find bands that I want to hear, there are always a few things that I want to hear that I miss out on.  This year, I missed the Lost Dogs, and I heard they did a really good show.  Thankfully, I got to see them here at home a couple of days after the fest, so that makes up for it a little bit.  I’ve heard good things about SHEL and The Farewell Drifters, but didn’t make it to either of their sets.  I’m bummed that I missed out on Run Kid Run, because their music is right in the wheelhouse of stuff that I enjoy.  Oh, well, there’s always next year.
  • Favorite Set.  There were a ton of great performances this year, so I’ll count down to the one I liked the best (a very hard choice).

8. Future of Forestry.  One of the most musically diverse bands I saw at the fest, Future of Forestry played as a 3-piece (drums, guitar, cello, augmented with harmonium and other stuff) but created a remarkably full sound nonetheless.

Future of Forestry

7. Jeff Elbel + Ping.  An underrated Cornerstone mainstay, Jeff and friends played a set of original stuff (new and old) that I really liked, and then played another set of covers that I may have enjoyed even more.  Make it a point to check them out next year.

6. Over the Rhine.  Two sets from Over the Rhine, with no repeats.  That’s an embarrassment of riches, and the band was wonderful as always.  They’d be higher on the list, but I’m getting just a little weary of this “mellow and sophisticated” phase that they’re in and wish they’d change it up a little (rocking it up a bit, or going full-on into a bluegrass album, or something).  I’m looking forward to hearing where their forthcoming album, The Long Surrender, takes them.

Linford Detweiler of Over the Rhine

5. Deas Vail.  I was worried that Deas Vail would get swallowed up on the Main Stage during the day, but they did an admirable job of expanding their stage presence to fill all the extra room, and they sounded great.  I’ve been listening to Birds and Cages a lot since it came out, so I was more familiar with the material this time around and really liked it.

Wes Blaylock of Deas Vail

4. The Kicks.  I mentioned this band above, so I won’t go into all that stuff again, except to say that this was the only band that I previewed before the fest (back in March or so) and then went and downloaded their album immediately.

3. Lightshine Theater.  Not many folks saw their set on the Sanctuary Stage, and it was mostly a bunch of old guys, but we really got a treat from this band.  It was a fun show all around, from the REZ songs, to the other covers they did, to seeing Glenn Kaiser enjoying their set, to watching some guys from other bands mimicking the dance steps from the awesomely cheesy “Love Comes Down” video backstage.

2. Eisley.  Simply sublime.  I’m amazed every time I listen to this band at just how mature beyond their years they sound.  The harmonies are beautiful, the songs are great, and they know how to rock.  I’ve been talking them up to my friends for a couple of years, and thankfully, they totally delivered, so I didn’t sound like an idiot.

Sherri DuPree of Eisley

1. Paper Route.  I’ve seen this band a few times in various settings, but there’s just something about playing at Cornerstone that seems to bring out the best in bands.  There was a small but fanatical group of fans standing down front at the Gallery, and I was right in the middle of them, enjoying every note this band played.  My only regret was that they couldn’t play longer.  I can’t wait to see them again.

Paper Route

 

So, that’s it from me on the blog this year.  Hopefully you’re stumbling across this post sometime during the Cornerstone offseason, and it can bring back some good memories of the 2010 edition of the fest.  Please jump into the comments and discuss what you thought about Cornerstone 2010, and then go buy your tickets for 2011 – it’s not the same without you!  (Yes, even you, Mr. Hardcore Singer, growling at me from afar.)  See you all next year!

Wrap It Up

Well, Cornerstone 2010 is in the books, and I’ve had over a week to ease back into the real world and process everything that I saw and heard during my favorite week of the year.  I wanted to leave a few (OK, a lot – brevity is not my strong point) parting words as we head into the long Cornerstone “off-season.”

Let’s start with the weather – it really couldn’t have been much better, could it?  It wasn’t too hot during the day, it was pleasantly cool at night (of course, I was in the dorm so I didn’t have to sleep in it…), it wasn’t humid, and it didn’t rain.  The only thing that’s possibly worth complaining about was that it was dusty, but the fest folks did a great job of keeping the roads watered to keep the dust down, and the dust we did have just made for some fun graffiti on car windows.

Smiling hot dog graffiti on a car window

The topic that was seemingly on everybody’s mind going into the festival was the effect that the changes to the fest layout (notably the relocation of Main Stage, and some other changes that followed on from that) would have on the “feel” of the festival.  If you’ve been following the fest blog, you know that I was a bit worried about the changes going in, but in the end, I’m happy to say that I didn’t really mind them all that much.

  • Main Stage looked pretty cool in its new location (especially with the two big video screens flanking the stage this year).  From most places on the grounds, you could see it looming in the distance (especially at night) – at one point, I was on the far side of the Gallery, and if you bent down a bit, you got a clear view of the stage and the video screens off in the distance, and it looked pretty impressive.  We didn’t get one of the truly glorious sunsets that you sometimes see at Cornerstone this year, but if we had, it would have made an epic backdrop for the stage.
  • The new location meant that it was less of a commitment to sample shows on Main Stage.  That’s a good thing, although I think I actually spent less time at the evening Main Stage shows than I usually do.  My Main Stage attendance tends to vary year to year based on who’s playing, and this year, the only full set I saw was Switchfoot, but I was able to get a taste of some other things I might not have seen otherwise, like the Almost, Toby Mac, Phil Joel, and The Devil Wears Prada.  Being able to sample Main Stage bands and then go to other shows is pretty cool.
  • With bands playing Main Stage during the day (a new thing for Cornerstone), it did occur to me that if the weather had been hotter, sitting out in the midday sun to watch bands might have been a problem.  Thankfully, none of the bands I saw on Main Stage in the afternoons got swallowed up by the giant stage, although some of them would have been as good or better playing Gallery or Encore sets where the crowd was a bit more packed in and the band was a bit closer to the fans.
  • The Gallery actually didn’t feel much different in its new location when you were inside the tent.  It was a bit less convenient to hike back over to the food court for a quick dinner between sets, but otherwise, the Gallery move was barely noticeable.  One thing I did miss, though, was having the Gallery and other covered stages near the food court to provide a centralized, shady place to hang out during the day.  A covered place to sit and eat would be a nice thing to add if Main Stage stays on the midway next year.
  • I didn’t see many bands on the Encore Stage this year, but it seems like that stage got demoted a little this year.  The fact that there weren’t that many bands on Encore that I wanted to see this year (several that would have played Encore were on Main Stage instead) might be coloring my perception.
  • The new layout for the generator stages worked about as well as it could.  The schedules were kind of mixed up on all the stages, and adjacent stages stomped on each other’s sound occasionally, but overall, the quality of the generator stage experience was much higher this year.  I would like to see all the generator stage schedules posted (and updated) in a location closer to the rest of the grounds so I didn’t have to go all the way out to the stages to find out that the band I wanted to see wasn’t playing after all.

 So, how was your Cornerstone experience this year?  Have you gotten all the dust out of your shoes and off your car?  Are you working through your post-fest depression?  I think I’ve got one more blog post in me – I’ve got to talk about the bands that rocked my face this year, so stay tuned for that.  In the meantime, if you need EVEN MORE photos of the festival, go check out my Flickr Cornerstone set.

JRjr

Day 4 – The Final Countdown

Well, I’m back at home in suburban Atlanta (with a post-fest day off for the first time I can remember, thankfully – the first day back is always rough), and like most of my fellow bloggers, some post-fest wrapup posts are forthcoming, but I wanted to go through the final day of the fest for the sake of completeness.

Unfortunately, the Godfathers Pizza in Macomb has closed.  It’s a bit of a tradition among my circle of friends to hit up the pizza buffet at least one day of the trip, so without it, we were left a bit adrift, trying to fill a Godfathers-shaped hole.  There’s probably a tortured metaphor to be had there, but I’m not the guy to write it, so everybody fill in your own.  Anyway, we ended up at Jimmy John’s, which was probably marginally more healthy and significantly less satisfying.

Several of the bands I wanted to watch on Saturday were daytime Main Stage bands, which points out one deficiency in the new Main Stage location – it’s hot and sunny in the daytime, and there’s almost no shade to be had around Main Stage.  People were crowding into the wake of the sound tower and under the spotlight platform to get out of the sun, and this was a very mild weather year.  When another of those 100+ degree days hits in the future, I don’t think you’ll find me watching any bands at Main Stage.

The first band I saw was the Glorious Unseen (who gave us a very “Cornerstone” moment – a guitarist playing worship music in an Anthrax t-shirt – just a funny visual).  They were good, but by that point, my attention span for unfamiliar stuff was pretty short, so I didn’t get as much out of it as I might have.  After a brief diversion to see Tonight Tonight on the Encore stage (a set marred by sound problems and a struggling vocalist early, but both got better by the end), it was back to Main Stage to see House of Heroes (better than I remembered, and good fun to watch) and All the Day Holiday (not very well suited for Main Stage – they’d have gone down better on Gallery or Encore – but they did a good set, nonetheless).

My friends and I headed out to the generator stages to try to catch some hip hop acts, but as is the generator stage custom, the schedule was completely destroyed, and none of the acts we wanted to see were actually there.  Instead, we caught another set from Oh! The Humanity! (a synthpop-and-guitar duo that I saw earlier in the week).  They had a better crowd this time, people that were actually up and dancing, and they seemed to feed off the energy and put on a very good show.  They were one of very few new bands that I saw and enjoyed this year.

I hitched a golf cart ride down to the old Main Stage bowl area, just to see what it looks like.  It looks kind of sad without a stage down there – it’s all grown up with weeds and  a JPUSA vegetable garden, and the buildings (the t-shirt shed and what I assume is the artist hospitality trailer) look pretty decrepit.  I’ve heard that the artist hospitality area (now located in the former dance barn building, a bigger, better space) was improved this year, so I imagine that was one change that the bands playing on Main Stage appreciated.  Still, it was kind of sad to see the old place in that condition.

Running low on energy, I parked myself at the Gallery for the rest of the night.  The first band I saw was O’Brother, playing music that’s dramatic but hard to really find a hook into (stuff my friends and I have dubbed “projector band” music, after bands like Ester Drang that used to play similarly hookless music).  I didn’t mind them, but I don’t particularly get the style – I tend to like stuff you can dance to or sing along with.  I’d love to hear a fan of that style describe to me what they hear in it, though – I’m genuinely curious.

Future of Forestry were next.  I was marvelling at how full their sound was with only three people in the band (they were multitasking, but still…), and the singer mentioned that they normally play with 5 or 6 people on the stage.  I was quite taken with their set, enough to spend most of the rest of my cash on their three Travel EPs.  I kind of get the feeling that their music is the sort of stuff that I’ll find less interesting on my iPod in the car than I did live, but their live set was good enough to convince me to take a shot on it.

I was looking forward to seeing Ivoryline, who I’d missed a couple of times in years past.  They’re a little heavy for some of the Gallery crowd, but I don’t mind seeing rock bands.  I didn’t love their set, though – it was a little rawer than the studio stuff I’d heard before.  It’s also possible that I was just tired enough that I wasn’t going to particularly enjoy anything at that point.

The final band of 2010 for me was Seabird.  I really like Seabird, though I kind of overdosed myself on their music after the 2008 fest and haven’t really fully recovered.  They sounded great, though, and were a nice fit at the Gallery, with a very respectable crowd (many of whom were probably there to avoid The Devil Wears Prada on Main Stage, but you play the hand you’re dealt).  They probably won over some new fans.

Aaron Morgan of Seabird

Speaking of Seabird fans, though, there was one small irritation.  Last year, my friend and fellow Blogger Becky wrote about a group of kids that were “living the dream” at the Seabird show, standing down front to see their favorite band.  That bunch was back again this year, but it really wasn’t quite as cute this time around.  The Gallery tends to be a sitdown sort of venue (with rare exceptions – I was part of the bunch standing up for Paper Route this year, for example), which inevitably leads to come conflict when “younger” bands play the stage (hence the dueling cries of “stand up!” and “sit down!” during Eisley – I was in the front row, so I merrily stayed in my seat and enjoyed the show).  I understand the appeal of standing up, but I also understand the appeal of sitting down, and my general philosophy on the matter is to either follow what the majority are doing, or find a spot where I can do whatever I want without bothering anybody else.  It’s all about empathy and consideration for your fellow concert-goers.  So when you’re the only people standing in front of a stage that’s about 18″ tall, with a few hundred people sitting behind you to watch the show, that’s kind of a jerk move.  (To be fair, a few people eventually joined the standing crowd- mostly kids that were sitting directly behind the standers and couldn’t see anything otherwise, plus photographers.)  When 2 or 3 people ask you (not yell at you, but come up and ask you personally) if you’d please sit down or move so people can see, and you continue to stand, that’s kind of a jerk move.  And if you’re just going to stand there and not dance or jump around, there’s really no reason TO stand other than to stand for the sake of standing.  It kind of does a disservice to the band, too – people that can’t see the band are more likely to just say “forget it” and leave, or get ticked off about the situation and not really be in the right frame of mind for the  show.  So I guess what I’m saying is “don’t be a jerk” and “have some empathy with other people.”  Next year, I’m throwing bottles. :-)

So that’s it for Cornerstone 2010 for me.  I’ll take a bit of time to digest everything I experienced and put it all together into some wrapup posts in the next few days, so keep reading!

JRjr

Day 3 – Just What I Needed

At this point in the festival, I really needed a day like Friday – lots of good bands (including some of my favorites) and not a lot of running around.  Checking out unfamiliar stuff is great, but it’s also great to settle back and listen to a bunch of songs that you know by heart.

I started the day with a few unfamiliar bands that sounded promising.  Oh! The Humanity, a duo playing autotuned synthpop with live guitars, were playing on a generator stage.  I’m kind of a sucker for that kind of stuff, so my friends and I wandered in.  Initially, the crowd was kind of small.  It must be disheartening as a young band to start your set in front of nothing but a few dudes old enough to be your dad, but the band gave it their all, and eventually a pretty decent crowd wandered in.  Their cover of “Check Yes Juliet” from We The Kings was especially fun.

In terms of promoting their set, Campbell the Band had to have been one of the hardest working bands at the fest, and that’s saying something.  They played impromptu acoustic sets all around the grounds during the week, and their efforts seemed to have paid off – the New Band Showcase tent was packed out for their set on Friday.  Their set was cut a bit short due to an extra-long soundcheck (sometimes you just have to plug in your stuff and hope for the best…), but what I heard was pretty good.  They really engaged the crowd (including handing instruments to the crowd to hold while they played them) and gave a high energy performance, even though their music is a on the more mellow end of the spectrum.

Deas Vail (playing on Main Stage) was up next.  It’s been fun watching that band come up through the ranks from the smaller stages to the larger ones over the last 3 or 4 years.  In all fairness, they probably would have been on the Gallery or an Encore stage in years past, instead of in one of the newly-created daytime Main Stage slots, but regardless, there they were, up on the biggest of Cornerstone stages, with a respectable and enthusiastic crowd.  Playing on that giant stage has swallowed up a lot of bands over the years, and the Deas Vail I first saw a few years ago probably wouldn’t have fared very well up there.  But their music and performance has matured a lot over the years, and they really held their own with a set that drew from both of their albums and their White Lights EP.

Then it was time for an epic run of bands on the Gallery Stage (with a side trip to see Quiet Science on a generator stage, a set in which their live show finally lived up to the potential that I hear in their music) that are the reason I keep coming to Cornerstone after all these years: Over the Rhine (twice), Paper Route, and Eisley.  Three very different bands, but all great.

Over the Rhine’s first set was a relaxed, mostly-acoustic set that featured a number of songs from Good Dog Bad Dog, an album they recently performed in its entirety in a special concert, and a handful of new songs from an album they recently finished recording.  The performance was great as always, and it was a nice way to ease into the afternoon.

After an interesting set from Dignan and a long break to set up their ridiculously complicated equipment, Paper Route brought a bit of a clash of cultures to the Gallery.  There were a bunch of older, mellower folks sitting in lawn chairs (as is the norm at the Gallery), probably holding a place for the Over the Rhine show later in the evening, as a bunch of younger fest-goers crowded down front to stand and see the band.  I kind of bridge the gap between the “old people sitting down” crowd and the “standing up and rocking” crowd, so after the band’s first song, when it became clear that standing was the norm (at least down front), I gladly folded my chair and stood up to rock out with my younger fellow Paper Route fans.  The band sounded great, and their set tended toward the more energetic side of their music.  It was a top 5 show of the year for me – really great.

Eisley continued the culture clash, as competing shouts of “stand up!” and “sit down!” were heard between songs.  I love Eisley, but they weren’t rocking quite as hard as Paper Route and most of the people behind me were sitting, so I was happy to enjoy their set from my chair.  They played a nice, long set (about an hour), drawing from both of their albums and some of their EPs, as well as from their long-awaited, forthcoming album (no news yet on exactly when we should expect to see it released).  I was nervous that their set wouldn’t be good, since I was talking it up to anybody that would listen, but they didn’t disappoint, and it was great to see them playing Cornerstone for the first time in 8 years.  Hopefully now they’ll settle in and become regulars.

Over the Rhine closed the night with their traditional midnight (well, 11:30 this year) Gallery set.  The second set wasn’t greatly different in tone from their first in style, but was a completely different set of songs.  New songs again featured prominently in the set, and from what we’ve heard of their new material, it’s not a large departure from what they’ve been doing for the last couple of albums.  It sounds funny to say about a band that’s as low-key as Over the Rhine, but the set seemed a little subdued compared to their sets of the last few years.  There were some great moments throughout the set, though, including the opener “Born,” new song “The Laugh of Recognition,” and oldie “Professional Daydreamer.”  Unfortunately, the set ended kind of awkwardly – the band left the stage and the house lights and music came on, even though there was a 3-song encore listed on the set list.  Not sure what happened there, but more Over the Rhine is always a good thing.

Karin Bergquist of Over the Rhine

Today it’s mostly back to sampling new stuff, with the exception of Seabird and All the Day Holiday.  Tonight Tonight sounds promising, as do Highland Fall and At Cliffs End.  Plus, there seems to be a lot of hip hop on the schedule today, so I might check out some of that for something a little different.

Day 2 – To Cover You

Thursday, as things turned out, seemed to be the unofficial “day of the cover song” at Cornerstone.  I love covers, especially when bands are playing live.  It’s interesting to hear different takes on songs, the songs that bands choose to cover often give you a little insight into a band’s influences (or at least into what kind of stuff they like), and when you’re watching an unfamiliar band, a cover provides something familiar to draw you into the set.  That said, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a day at the fest with quite so many covers, so I had a great time on Thursday.

I spent the afternoon wandering around to see various bands, most of whom were new to me: The Clutter, News From Verona (very high-energy and fun), Don’t Wake Aislin (better than last year, when the singer had worn out her voice from too many generator sets), Divided By Friday (who had a go at covering “You’ll Be In My Heart” by Phil Collins, of all things), and others.

One highlight of the afternoon was Crosswire, a young band playing on the New Band Showcase.  They play old-school 80s hard rock, a la AC/DC (the singer does a pretty dead-on impersonation of Brian Johnson at times), and they’re a lot of fun.  The guitarist was particularly impressive – he had some nice, shreddy chops (using all of Eddie Van Halen’s tricks), and a good start on learning some crucial rock clichés like Angus Young’s stage hop, splits, jumps, and holding the guitar aloft in various ways.  You don’t see that sort of stuff much anymore, and as a child of the 80s, I enjoyed it quite a bit.  They also covered Collective Soul’s “Shine” and Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

Completely different but also very nice was Brooke Waggoner, who played piano-driven pop songs accompanied by a drummer and bassist (and joined by harpist Timbre on a couple of songs).  Her stuff was quirky and fun, and her piano playing was enthralling.  I really enjoyed her set, and bought a couple of CDs that will hopefully represent her live set well.  No covers, though.

Jeff Elbel + Ping played their second set of the week at the Jesus Village, and as it turned out, it was an all covers set where Jeff got to pick some stuff he really likes, and have some fun with it with a bunch of talented musicians, including Harry Gore, Maron, and Mike Choby, and Andrew Oliver.  I had a blast listening to it.  They covered “Nod Over Coffee” by Mark Heard, “Violent Blue” by Chagall Guevara, “The Whole of the Moon” by the Waterboys,” and songs by the Magnetic Fields, Bob Dylan, and the Kinks.  Good fun.

I caught a bit of Phil Joel (he was a member of the Newsboys, so I’m not sure his versions of “Entertaining Angels” and other Newsboys songs count as covers, but they’re close enough) and The Almost (who covered Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’”) on the Main Stage.  Then I remembered that I was late for a set that I was really curious about, Resurrection Band tribute band Lightshine Theater.

I’ve never seen a tribute band (and it’s especially odd to see one playing Cornerstone), and I love REZ, so I was intrigued by this set.  As it turned out, it was probably my favorite thing that I’ve seen all week.  The band is made up of 5 “old guys,” including three guitarists that can really shred, and a singer that does a credible impersonation of Glenn Kaiser.  They ran through a number of REZ songs, including “Waves,” “Colours,” “Military Man,” “City Streets,” and “Alienated,” but they also mixed in a few other fun things like a Barren Cross song (“King of Kings,” as I recall), a Steve Taylor song (“I Want To Be A Clone”), a killer version of “Over My Head” from King’s X, and a very nice song  (“Vision of Perfection”) from a band called Legacy that two of the guys in the band were in back in the 80s.  The biggest highlight, though, was when the band closed with REZ’s “Love Comes Down,” and various stage hands and members of Leper (who were playing on the stage next) started mimicking the dance moves from the famously cheesy video for that song.  This set was made of win all around.

I caught a bit of I’m Not A Pilot, a very interesting band made up of piano, bass, drums, and electric cello.  Very pretty music, including a nice cover of the Cure’s “Lovesong.”  I wish I’d been able to stay for their whole set, but I had to run off to my final show of the night, the Choir.

The Choir is one of my all-time favorite bands, and they’ve just released a new album, Burning Like the Midnight Sun.  They don’t play much anymore, and they almost never play with bassist Tim Chandler anymore, so I was very excited to see them and took up a spot right down front.  They played a lot of my favorite songs from Chase the Kangaroo and Circle Slide, plus selections from some of their other albums and 3 new songs.  As Steve Hindalong described it, the set was “a little rough.”  The band was a little rusty, and it showed, but I was still happy for the opportunity to see them play again, and I’m excited to hear the new album.  (It’s available in the merch tent, but my preordered copy is probably sitting in my mailbox in Atlanta currently).

Derri Daugherty of the Choir

So, lots of covers and then one of my favorite bands.  That’s not a bad day.  Today, though, promises to be even better, with a great lineup that includes Deas Vail, Paper Route, Over the Rhine, and Eisley.  I can’t wait!

JRjr

Day 1 – Swing, Swing

Wednesday was the first full day of Cornerstone 2010 proper, with all of the stages getting into full swing.  Thankfully after an exhausting Tuesday, I was finally getting into the swing of things as well – my body finally clicked over to “Cornerstone time.”

The day started with one of the bands that I was most looking forward to seeing after previewing them pre-fest, the Kicks.  They’re a 4-piece from Nashville that plays southern rock with a modern slant.  They’re tight, and their harmony vocals are great.  I really enjoyed this show – my favorite of the fest thus far.  You can download their album for free at TheKicksRock.com.

After the Kicks, I did a little stage surfing, because several of the bands I wanted to see ended up not playing.  Then I headed over to the Gallery stage to catch a couple of sets from some long-time Cornerstone vets – Terry Taylor of DA (with Mike Roe of the 77s and Steve Hindalong of the Choir backing him on bass and drums, respectively), followed by a set from Roe and Derri Daugherty of the Choir.  Their set was surprising – I expected it to focus on stuff from Derri’s solo EP, but instead they played a couple of Roe songs, some Lost Dogs stuff, and a couple of Daniel Amos songs.  Good stuff, and they’re working on an album together, as well.

Next, Jeff Elbel + Ping played their annual Gallery set, with a wide array of musicians on stage (drums, percussion, more percussion, organ, violin, and more besides).  It was great – they played some oldies from Elbel’s previous band, Farewell to Juliet, some older Ping songs, and some brand new material from Ping’s forthcoming CD.  If you like straightforward rock and roll, well-performed by a bunch of solid musicians, come check out Ping on the Jesus Village tonight at 6 PM.  Also, visit MarathonRecords.com to download a free Ping record.

After Ping’s set, I was adrift for a couple of hours once more, as a couple more bands that I wanted to see were no-shows.  I had dinner and checked out a few different stages, up until the hard choices began around 10 PM.  At 10, there were three bands that I specifically wanted to see: tobyMac on Main Stage, the Lost Dogs on the Gallery, and Quiet Science on the Jesus Village.  I eventually settled on starting out with tobyMac.  His set was very much like what I’ve seen from him in the past, but he does what he does so well that I don’t mind seeing it again.  With a 9-piece backing band flying all over the stage, and a couple of big LED-curtain backdrops that were a first for Cornerstone as far as I can recall, this was a band that was perfect for Main Stage.  I enjoyed about 30 minutes of the set, and then moved on to Quiet Science.

I first saw Quiet Science at Cornerstone last year, and I’ve seen them once more since.  Their songs are quite good, but it’s been my experience that they don’t completely come across live just yet.  Last night’s set was hindered by some technical problems (the singer broke strings on both of his guitars), but in some ways, that just made the set cooler.  The band soldiered on sans-guitar for a song, and then a guy showed up with a rockin’ Gibson SG for the singer to borrow, which he seemed excited to play.  So, although it wasn’t the most polished set, it was one of the most fun that I’ve seen this year.

I missed the Lost Dogs (but then found out that they’re playing in my hometown next week, so that worked out), so I ended my night at the Gallery with Iona, a Celtic progressive rock band that’s been around for a long time but apparently doesn’t make it to the States very often.  I’d never seen them live, so although I never got into their music, I was curious to give them a listen.  The individual performances were outstanding (as befits prog rock) and the Gallery sound was pristine, so they sounded really good.  I wasn’t as into it as I might have been had I been more familiar with their music, but it was good stuff that I’m glad I got a chance to see.

So, that brings us up to today.  There are only a few “must-see” things that I’m scheduling my day around (Ping, the Choir), so I’ll be spending a lot of time checking out new-to me stuff like The Clutter, News From Verona, Bleach, The Almost, and Lightshine Theater (a REZ tribute band, of all things).  Should be a fun day, and thankfully devoid of hard schedule decisions.

JRjr

Day 0 – All Mixed Up

The “start” of the festival is a little fuzzy anymore, since a lot of bands played on generator stages on Monday and early Tuesday.  Let’s call Tuesday “Day 0” since there were at least a handful of bands on the actual festival stages.  The weather was beautiful – sunny, dry, not too hot – and looks to continue that way for the rest of the week.  I’m loving that, though I could do with a bit less dust.

As my blogging compatriots have already written, the schedules that are published before the festival for the generator stages are suggestions at best, and between that, some technical problems on a couple of stages that put them behind schedule and a few last-minute cancellations, we had a bit of trouble actually finding the bands that we wanted to see.  That’s par for the course, though, so you just have to be flexible and try to keep up as best you can.  It does, however, seem like some sort of centralized way of distributing schedule information (Twitter?) would be handy (“Pilate Error starts in 5 minutes on the Impact Stage”) if the technical details could be worked out.

I started the day wandering amongst the generator stages and saw a handful of good bands, including the Rendition, Sleep For Sleepers, Rodent Emporium, and bits and pieces of Men As Trees Walking, Preson Phillips, the Wayside, and Breille.  Breille was playing an old-school (and unauthorized) generator set on the side of the road, just 3 guys and a minimal amount of gear, but they sounded pretty tight until they got shut down.  There were a few other impromptu side-of-the-road sets around the grounds, too, but they were mostly acoustic things, including a guy with an accordion trying to make enough tips to pay off a speeding ticket.

The main thing that I took away from my experience at the new generator stage layout was that trying to stagger things so that stages aren’t playing at the same time right next to each other would be nice.  Given the fluid nature of the schedules for those stages, it’s probably not possible, though.

The centerpiece of the evening took place on the new centerpiece of the festival grounds, Switchfoot on the relocated Main Stage.  The stage looks kind of cool in its new location – it kind of looms in the background of most of the places around the grounds now.  Seeing the right band play on that stage when one of the occasional glorious Cornerstone sunsets is going on behind them will be pretty awesome.  As for Switchfoot, they were better than I expected them to be.  I saw them a couple of times way back in the day and didn’t much care for them, but their newer material comes across better live, and the band (with Jon Foreman in the lead) does deliver a good rock show.  Foreman takes a lot of cues from the Bono school of performance – climbing stage scaffolding, jumping into the crowd, slinging his guitar behind his back, pulling out a harmonica – but Bono’s not a bad guy to emulate if you’re trying to put on a big rock show.

I was dead tired by the end of the night – apparently I’m getting old, and it takes me a bit longer to switch over to “Cornerstone time” than it used to – so I ended my musical evening with Nitengale (who are apparently down to just the singer playing piano or acoustic guitar).  Unfortunately, I only caught the last 3 or 4 songs of the set, but they were quite good.  Playing solo, the singer’s voice really shines – I never realized what a good singer he is from seeing the band live and listening to their first album.  I’m going to try to catch more of the set tonight at 9 on the Jesus Village.

Today: the Kicks (a straightforward rock and roll band that I’m really looking forward to seeing live), perennial fest favorites Terry Taylor, Mike Roe, and the Lost Dogs, Jeff Elbel + Ping; and too much other stuff to choose from.  It should be a good day for music!

JRjr

Drive, He Said

Thirteen hours of driving behind me, 5 days of music and fun ahead of me – that’s a good place to be. (Yes, technically there are also thirteen more hours of driving ahead of me, but let’s not talk about that right now.)

In my last post, I talked about being a creature of habit, somebody who enjoys it when certain things stay the same. The drive up seemed to be sending the message “get over it,” as there were a few things that, by choice or necessity, diverged from the usual pattern. We had lunch in a different place. (Chuy’s, a Texas-based Tex-Mex chain that’s expanded into Tennessee – my Austin friends encouraged me to try it, so I did. Good burrito.) We drove a different route. (Well, barely, but there was a detour that had a favorite backroads bypass around St. Louis partially blocked off.) We stopped at different places for food and gas. (I’ve gotta say, I was impressed that my rented, heavily-laden, enthusiastically-driven Ford Escape got 25+ MPG on the way up here.) But also for a change, we left Springfield, IL to drive on the backroads to Macomb just as the sun was setting, so we got to drive directly into a beautiful sunset for an hour, with a pilot doing aerobatics in a plane over our heads for part of the drive. That was really cool – it’s surprising how often something like that seems to happen when I’m driving up here.

Since I haven’t seen any bands yet, I’ll give you a few of the musical highlights of the drive.

  • Eisley, Combinations. Eisley is playing Cornerstone on Friday night, and I couldn’t be more excited. That’s probably my #1 most anticipated show. Combinations is a great album – lush, well-produced, sonically diverse, with beautifully harmonized vocals from the Dupree sisters. Buy the CD, come to the show Friday at 10.
  • Muse, Black Holes and Revelations. Yeah, they’re not a Cornerstone band, but when I saw them open for U2, I became a fan instantly. This CD is all over the map, with influence ranging from Queen to New Order and a lot of other places besides. Good stuff.
  • Paramore, Brand New Eyes. Paramore has matured musically with each release, and with Brand New Eyes they’ve produced a CD that’s good from start to finish, with hooks galore. Good steering wheel drumming music for road trips.

Today looks to be an interesting one at the fest musically. There aren’t many bands playing that I’m familiar with (until Rodent Emporium, Switchfoot, and Nitengale tonight), so it looks like I’ll be sampling a lot of new stuff. A few bands that particularly caught my ear:

  • Karina Mia (Impact Stage, 12:45) – a singer with an acoustic guitar (and maybe a ukulele). She had a cover of “CrushCrushCrush” on her MySpace page that sounded pretty good, so I’ll give her a shot.
  • Great Awakening (Anchor Stage, 1:30) – melodic, well-performed modern rock.
  • The Frozen Ocean (Anchor Stage, 3:00) – Gentle, mellow, and kind of ambient. A nice break from being pummeled by hardcore.
  • Sleep for Sleepers (Encore Stage, 6:00) – Mae-ish poppy rock, fairly polished and catchy.
  • Send Out Scuds (Chasing Canadia Stage, 7:50) – Ska, in case you want to party like it’s 1999.

JRjr

Roll With The Changes

Ahh, change.  It’s been kind of a theme for the last couple of years, hasn’t it?  Personally, I’m a creature of habit and I love my “rituals” - once I get used to something, I kind of enjoy the sense of familiarity that I get from its sameness.  That’s why, for example, I tend to stop at the same gas stations every year when I drive to Cornerstone (Pelham, TN Stuckey’s, I know you have a root beer and a Goo-Goo cluster waiting for me…).  All things being equal, I usually like things to stay the way they are.

Now, Cornerstone has seen its share of changes.  The band lineup, of course, changes every year.  There’s a crazy amount of turnover in the schedule from year to year, and bands that stay together and become regulars for more than a couple of years are the exception.  Bands like the Choir, who played the first Cornerstone and are playing this year’s model as well, with their original members, are REALLY the exception.  The big change came in 1991, when the fest packed up and moved from its original Grayslake, IL location to its present location on the farm outside Bushnell.  (I’ve only experienced the Bushnell version, but from what I’ve seen, I’d say that was a change for the better. But I probably wouldn’t have liked it at the time…)

So what’s changing this year?  Well, for the first time since I started attending the fest in 1998, the festival is doing a major overhaul of the stage layout.  (There have been tweaks in the past, but nothing of this magnitude.)  Check out the festival grounds map to see what I’m talking about.  As you might assume from reading my first paragraph, I’m a little leery of this change, but I’m trying to keep an open mind.  I’m curious to hear what people think going into the festival (I’ve already seen some comments about the change on the festival Facebook page) and to compare that with what people think after living with the changes for a week.

Some of my thoughts:

  • The changes to generator stages are probably a net positive.  There was something cool about generator stages when they were mostly DIY efforts where young bands brought their little PA and played out of the trunk of their car on the side of the road.  But things started to evolve – the generator stages got bigger and more complex and started competing with each other (and at times interfering with the “real” stages).  Things kind of reached a breaking point last year, with 6 or 8 stages (many with questionable PAs) all squeezed in around that one intersection by the showers.  The bands were stomping on each other, fans had to run a gauntlet of rawk to get through the area, and it generally wasn’t a good situation for anybody.

    So, this year the generator stages are more regimented.  They’re strung out along the road to the lake, and they’re required to have tents and presumably equipment of a certain quality.  They should be more organized and less intrusive, which is good, but you probably lose a little bit of the freewheeling, DIY ethos that characterizes Cornerstone.

  • Several other stages are getting reshuffled – Encore 2 is gone, Encore 1 has moved over by the merch tent, and the Gallery has moved over to where the Encore stages used to be (among other changes).  These changes hit home to me, because I tend to see a lot of shows at the Encore stages and the Gallery.  I loved when I was able to surf back and forth between the two Encores (especially on the late, lamented Tooth & Nail Day, when those two stages alternated bands for constant music all afternoon long), and the Gallery made for a great (cool and shady) gathering place next to the food court and midway during the day.

    Sitting outside the Gallery on hay bales with friends on cool nights, with the food court lights flickering behind me and a band like Over the Rhine or the Lost Dogs on the stage, are some of my favorite memories of Cornerstone.  I fear it’s not going to be quite the same with the Gallery out on the fringes.

  • But the really big change is that Main Stage is moving to the midway area.  I don’t have a good sense for what that’s really going to look like yet.  I understand the rationale for wanting to integrate the BIG stage into the core of the festival grounds, but I’m not sure I like the disruption to the way things have been (again, I’m a creature of habit), and I feel like not using the bowl down by the lake is a waste of a fantastic, unique resource.

    Yeah, it’s a long walk down to Main Stage, and that can be tough for somebody like me that enjoys both Family Force 5 and REZ – running down to Main Stage and back a couple times a night will wear you out.  But making the pilgrimage to Main Stage also gave those shows a sense of “specialness.”  That’s where the really big bands play, so having to go through a bit of hassle (if walking down a road next to a beautiful lake is really that much of a hassle) to see them just enhances the experience, in my opinion.  Walking to the crest of the hill and seeing the place packed out (like for POD a few years ago), with the floor packed and the hill covered is an awesome thing.

    Plus, you’re not going to get a scene like this in the new location:

Candles at Main Stage

So, how do you feel about change?  Are you looking forward to the new layout, or hoping they’ll decide to change it back next year? Post some comments now, and we’ll compare and see how everybody feels about the changes post-fest.

JRjr