Best of the Fest

This year’s fest deserves a longer wrap-up, but first, I want to offer my annual list of best-of’s. Please add a comment to add your favorite moments.

Best show, all-around: Mike Mains & the Branches

The crowd on stage with Mike Mains & the Branches. Photo by Steve White for

At least, this was the best show if you were standing and dancing within 5 feet of the stage! (Though, I think the rest of the Gallery crowd liked it, too.) The music was amazing and the band’s energy was contagious. They were polished, tight, and having fun — great to see in a band with just one “real” album under their belts and playing only their second Cornerstone. Definitely one of those bands that, had things gone differently, could be playing a key role in fests for years to come.

Best encores: The Violet Burning

Michael Pritzl of the Violet Burning. Photo by Steve White for

The Violets played as a 4-piece and really brought the rock. I hadn’t seen them in a few years, and feared it might be a morose and almost funereal moment, as this band who has played dozens of festivals looked upon the end. Instead, it was an outright passionate celebration of the work of God around us, rock & roll, Cornerstone, and so much more. The main set, playing through about half of the 3-cd set “Story of Our Lives,” was good, but the encores just blew me away.  Working in fan-favorites from years past and an odd 1:45am call to Mike Row, it somehow added up to a very ephemeral moment of simultaneously having my face melted by rock & roll and wanting to fall on my knees before God.

Best moment from a Gallery-stage band to capture what Cornerstone means: The Choir

I think I was 5 when The Choir played the first Cornerstone. No, I wasn’t there. I didn’t know any of their music until a group of friends played me “Circle Slide” one night at Cornerstone 1998 or 1999 (about a decade too late). Due to the influence of my friends, I’ve come to appreciate their heartfelt lyrics, adapting style, perseverance to keep making music, and simultaneous sense of both humor and emotion. As others have said, it was very fitting for the band who played the first show of the first Cornerstone to give the fest a final eulogy on Saturday night.

Best moments from Underground-stage bands to capture what Cornerstone means: Flatfoot 56

Flatfoot 56. Photo by Shutterblade for

I honestly didn’t make it to a single second of this year’s Flatfoot show. I’m sad about that, but heard reports on it from several friends. I think they, once again, captured something about the essence of Cornerstone. Inviting the crowd to participate, making great music, and honoring God. They printed t-shirts listing all their past fest shows (and the themes of those shows), and you could check off which you survived.

Best souvenier: the fest posters & shirts

It’s not just because these posters look so awesome in our home office! This year’s fest shirts — and posters — were really well done. They’re reportedly the most complicated design that Belly Acres has ever printed for a fest shirt ever. And, what’s better — I’ve heard you’ll be able to buy them post-fest. (Watch the Cornerstone Festival facebook page for info, I’m sure.)

Best Get Your Arms in the Air moment: Da MAC

Nate & Scott watching Da MAC. Photo by Steve White for

Da MAC has an absolute gift for bringing people together and getting them to worship through music. I’m so glad I’ve gotten to see him several times at the fest over the years. Toddlers, teens, adults, punks, athletes, fest directors, engineers and quilters (those last two are my husband & I) — everybody had their hands in the air doing the “dirty bounce” and much more.

Saturday – quick

There are certainly a few wrap-up posts to come. But, for anybody following along at home, I wanted to put out a quick post about what happened on this final Saturday.

The Choir, the band who opened the first day of the very first Cornerstone, wrapped it up on the Gallery to a passionate crowd. Customizing “Everybody in the band” to express thanks to JPUSA and their Cornerstone family was a nice touch. They very appropriately closed with “To Bid Farewell.” (update 7/9: find Derri Daugherty’s introduction to the song and the performance of “To Bid Farewell” here on youtube. I can’t yet get myself to re-watch it. Beautiful & emotional.)

Earlier in the day at the Gallery Kye Kye, The Farewell Drifters, Timbre and Josh Garrells played to great young crowds, including quite a few people (shown by raise of hands) attending their first — and last — festival. I don’t know if it was just my brain looking for themes, or if it were chosen by the bands, but I noticed many lyrics today that were appropriate in saying goodbye. Among those is this line from the Farewell Drifters: “Everything comes to an end, my friend.” As much as people may have joked today about “Occupy Cornerstone,” it is true that even good things come to an end.

Norma Jean reportedly brought the fest to a good close on the Underground stage (though I wasn’t there, admittedly). They started about the time that many people were walking back from the beach after being part of a crowd giving Cornerstone a send-off with flames and a few fireworks. Just wait until you see pictures of that!

The highlight of the day for me (in terms of scheduled events) was the morning memorial/church service. Honest worship (led by Glenn Kaiser, his daughter Ami, and Hilde from The Crossing) combined with poignant stories from fest-goers, and a very emotional and appropriate sharing of the Lord’s Supper.

Safe travels to everyone as we head home from Bushnell for the last time.


Friday night – the presence of God

It didn’t matter where you were on the Cornerstone grounds on Friday night. Cornerstone truly rocked, and it was obvious that it wasn’t just about the music. There was dancing at the Underground with Children 18:3 followed by yet another legendary Flatfoot 56 show, complete with a slide (yes, really!) and their always-beloved version of Amazing Grace.

At the Gallery, Neal Morse & band brought the power of prog-rock and were followed by a 2 + hour set by the Violet Burning. The Violets, playing as a 4-piece, absolutely brought the rock, making for what may be their best-ever Cornerstone show (which says a lot considering how often they’e played). Playing through parts of their newest 3-disc release, then moving into old favorites, they reminded me that you can simultaneously have your fave melted off by rock and roll and want to cry out deeply to your God.

In the distance, I could hear the sounds of DaMac backed up by The Corners on the Impact Stage, getting the crowd to raise their hands and dance for Jesus. I hear there was a Glenn Kaiser special worship set at the beach. It was just an amazing night There was music, and more importantly, the presence of God, all around.


Most conversation about Cornerstone Festival centers on the music (especially after a day as amazing as Friday!). But, there are many other sides to the festival — arts, the Imaginarium, seminars, Creation Station, etc. Over the past few years, I’ve really appreciated the cornerstonearts tent and the Art Pilgrimage. These have both made art exhibits and art creation accessible to fest-goers.

Each day, people of all ages bypass music and pull up their chairs in circles and learn new art techniques like fabric dyeing, needle-felting, spindle yarn spinning, and (new this year) cigar-box guitars. While I was dyeing silk Friday afternoon in a multi-generational group of women, dozens of people put the finishing touches on their guitars made from cigar boxes, tin cans, and various leftover bits and pieces. Some of these will probably go on display as a memory of Cornerstone. Others will be given to friends. But, I hope most will be played, proving (once again) that even the most simple items can be used for a bigger purpose.


The Art Pilgrimage walk (which goes near the bridge, for those who know the grounds layout) makes art accessible to any fest goer willing to brave the sun for a few moments. All week, casual observers have stopped to reflect on the displays which center around Desert Wanderings. Recycled math homework, fabric, quilting, yarn, acrylics, and all sorts of up-cycled materials come together in mixed media expressions of all types. Even casual observers engage with this very personal art. Stories are told in that art about watching a child suffer in pain, looking at one’s life thus far like rings on a tree (growing from childhood to adulthood and dealing with pain and sorrow), and coming to find a new refuge in Christ.

Thanks to the many artists who share your skills, passion, and love for Christ through these seminars and exhibits.

Intelligent Design by Debbie Baumgartner, made from cardboard, tape, and repuposed math homework (as seen from below).

How’s the crowd?

I’ve heard that question from lots of people who aren’t able to be with us this week, so I wanted to attempt an answer. I don’t have any insider info on actual attendance, but the size of the crowd met my expectations and has been growing during the week. I’d venture a guess that it’s 20% smaller than last year.

The campgrounds are much less full than in years past, but the official stage tents are drawing good crowds during the day (despite the heat) and packing out at night. Night crowds at both the Gallery and the Underground filled the tent and spilled outside into the relatively more cool night breeze, with fans of Iona and Squad Five-O clearly being happy to see old favorites once again. Lines to get merch after bands like the 77s and Icon for Hire have often been long, with fans wanting to show appreciation for bands who’ve come a long ways to play for free. Attendance at the afternoon arts seminars has been strong, especially for Glenn Kaiser’s cigar-box guitars class.

Photo by Rudy Harris.

I haven’t made it to any of the morning seminars nor the Imaginarium yet, so I can’t say how those are. Some generator bands are drawing solid crowds (such as New Band Showcase acts like Carielle, The Bends, and Doug Mains & the City Folk or Sean Michel on the Arkansas Stage), though some others have the typically small crowds I’ve come to expect for bands nobody has really heard of and nobody knows what they sound like.

Overall, I think attendance is down (naturally) but there are still a lot of people here to give Cornerstone a nice send-off.

“The Thrift Store of Festivals”

This week, we’ve heard a lot of people talking about their first & favorite Cornerstone experiences. I’ve gotten up a lot more courage than usual to meet new people and ask them their Cornerstone stories. One guy talked about having been to tons of secular festivals in years past. He said the lifestyle he got into eventually led him to Jesus — and also to finding community at Cornerstone.

A father & daughter from my adopted home state of Texas eagerly talked about how many fests they’d been to (virtually every fest of the roughly 13-year-old’s life, and far more than that for the father), and dreamed aloud with me a bit about what might be next.

Band members from stage (including bands like Icon for Hire and The Blamed, doing a reunion show) shared their great enthusiasm for coming to the final Cornerstone. Bands like White Collar Sideshow (at their press conference) expressed how Cornerstone was the first place they really felt welcomed. Other people, in bands & not, wondered aloud what might come next. I think that’s been a question on all of our minds. It might start with “where will I discover new music” or “where will I still get to see my old favorite bands.” But, I think it quickly morphs into “where will I find this kind of community again” or “where will I find another place I belong.”

I recently heard Genesis Winter, one of the co-directors for this final Cornerstone Festival (who’s been to every fest), describe Cornerstone in a way that I think addresses those questions. She said Cornerstone was a bit like “The Thrift Store of Festivals.” Just to clarify: that is certainly not meant as a slam, such as that the fest gets other people’s leftovers (no — the opposite is true — Cornerstone had supported so many new endeavors). I think it’s meant to show that Cornerstone is a place where you find the unique, the different, and the special. No wonder that so many of us are asking where we’ll find another place like this again.

As the fest wraps up, I encourage you to strike up some conversations with those around you. Listen to their stories. Wander by a stage playing music that you’d normally label “totally not my style” and listen for the truth in it. Try to see what other people see. Take one last look around the thrift store shelves to discover what’s unique, different & special.

Live music still surprises me

Like I’ve mentioned in past years, my friends & I spend the months leading up to the fest previewing every single band playing Cornerstone. I, personally, listened to way more than half of this year’s bands. I thought I knew what to expect. Even so, there are still moments when live music surprises me. I had two such moments on Wednesday:

Oh Sister, Oh Brother

With apologies to the band, I must admit that when I previewed them online, I honestly thought that the music just wasn’t quite working. I thought it was a little too simple and stripped down and that the vocals didn’t work. Maybe I was having a bad day, or maybe I just didn’t see the real beauty. But, I most certainly saw it yesterday afternoon a the Gallery. The lead singer’s vocals are ephemeral & beautiful, the band is tight, their melodies are strong (the overall effect is Eisley-ish, as a rough comparison). I actually found myself thinking that this is a band we’d see on the Gallery at night in a year or two, before remembering that’s not to be. The live show captured something special, making this a band I’ll definitely be seeking out again.

David Curtis

David Curtis (and band) earned several new fans yesterday by filling the Gallery with Jesus-focused, musically-vibrant, solid rock & roll. He started & closed with the crowd wanting to sing along to an old Gaither line (“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus… there’s just something about that name), which morphed into a style all his own. I think the EP I picked up from this side-project of the lead singer of Run Kid Run will easily fit into my favorite playlists. Don’t discount this as just some side-project; David’s worshipful lyrics and solid musicianship are worth seeking out in many different forms.

Do you remember moments when live music surprised you at Cornerstone?

The work of God around us

Cornerstone signHi, I’m Becky Laswell, and I love Cornerstone Festival.

And, I know I’m not the only one. Judging from the comment on Cornerstone’s official facebook page, the fan-created Cornerstone Memories Group, the fan-created Cornerstone Guide on Tumblr, the blogs, articles, tweets, and so much more that I’ve read since the announcement came out, I know there are tons of people who love this event, this place, and these people.

Many of these people were able to make one final trek to the cornfields near Bushnell this week. If you’re not able to be at Cornerstone Farm with us, I hope you find your own ways to celebrate and remember all that the festival has meant to you — and even more — all that God has done to impact generations of people through it.

Personally, my husband & I had the privilege of arriving early (before the gates opened) for a special event. Pulling up to the front gate on Sunday night, and bypassing the die-hards already in line to enter on Monday was an experience we’d never had before. Driving around a nearly empty (and still very pristine) Cornerstone Farm was also an experience we’d never had before. But, being greeted warmly by a friends, spending the evening listening to a very talented musician (in this case, Glenn Kaiser), and laughing a lot is an experience I’ve had many times on these grounds. And, that’s an experience I want to re-live as much as possible over the next few days.

During this particular special event on Sunday Night, Glenn Kaiser talked a bit while playing songs (including one on his home-made cigar box guitar), and a few things he said really struck me. I can’t remember his exact quotes, but he told a few stories of what Cornerstone has meant to others, with an attitude of being privileged to be part of what God has done, is doing, and will keep on doing through all that’s happened through 29 years of Cornerstone festival.

As I’ve read the memories posted online by so many who love Cornerstone, between the stories of favorite concerts, funny moments around campsites, and meeting “celebs” (if this industry really has any), there’s a grand theme of people encountering Jesus and also encountering a diverse but united community of people-who-love Jesus. That sort of work is something that doesn’t end just because the festival is ending. The work of God goes on.

And, that, too, is something I love.

Identity of a Girl Rocker

The Coverage Team posted an interview,  Are you in a band? * Most of the “yes” responses came from guys. As I’ve noted on this blog before, it seems that rock & roll is a man’s world.

Female singers are never hard to find at Cornerstone. Visit the Gallery or sit at the Chelsea Cafe, and you’ll find some amazingly talented women like Timbre, Lauren Mann & the Fairly Odd Folk, Maron Gaffron, Brooke Waggoner, SHEL, etc. Finding girls in bands that totally rock your face off is less common. Yet, they’re here, too in acts like Quiet Science, Deas Vail, Don’t Wake Aislin, Adelaine, The Rendition, etc.

I talked to a bunch of the women in these bands last week. They readily admit that there are some things they love about being a girl in a rock band:

  • Able to connect with just about any other girl in any other band, regardless of style of music.
  • Easy opportunities to meet fans, who are often very friendly.
  • Connecting with female fans. So many girl rockers I talked to mentioned that ministering to other women made the hard work of being in a band worth it.
  • Using their gifts and talents to make others smile.

These women admitted some downsides too:

  • The smell of the guys in the van.
  • Fighting to be seen as a real person and not just a stereotype.
  • Occasionally having to clean up after the guys when on tour.
  • Having confidence that you belong on the stage, in what seems like a man’s world.
  • The confusion of relationships if you date someone in the band.

Many of these women talked about identity. They brought up how they struggle to know who they are in the spotlight vs. who they feel like the rest of the time. For girl-rockers wondering this, I want to share a bit of wisdom I heard from Sandie Brock, who just played her first show in 20 years with Servant (but who has never really stopped singing): When you’re in a band, that’s who you are, but when the band is done, you need to remember that the God who was at work in you is still at work in you.

I think that’s good advice for the rest of us who aren’t in a band, too. And, it’s a good reminder to pray for the women – and men – who make the music we love so much – pray for them to see God at work in them.

Rock on, girls!

*If they asked me for that video, I’d have to say “only on xBox.” My Rock Band group is called “The Rotary Cutters.”

Preaching Giant

I am not even slightly within the target demographic of the typical hardcore band. I fully admit that I usually just don’t get it, and my friends & I go to great lengths to figure out what bands playing Cornerstone fit this genre, so we can let others enjoy these shows without us being in the way (yeah, that’s the nice way of saying it…). Yet, Sleeping Giant is becoming a must-see show for me at Cornerstone. People who know me and who hear their intense music may find that shocking… until I explain why.

These guys consistently lead the audience into amazingly authentic and passionate worship of God. The music isn’t even remotely what you hear on Sunday mornings across America. The lyrics (after I put in earplugs and train my ears to decipher them) seem very solid and manage to rise far above the emotionally-driven or me-centered lyrics too often found in the modern worship scene.

Listen, and you may hear things like this:

You are worthy Oh Jesus you paid with your blood,
You redeemed us a people that live in the flood of your grace Lord.
Oh Praise Him. He is Holy. He Is Worthy.

(from “Oh Praise Him”)

Oh we exalt Your name Oh God
We exalt You now Lord
You will reign forevermore
Take my life and make it Yours
You will reign forevermore

(from “He Will Reign”)

I made my way to the Underground Stage on Sunday night after one of the videographers on the coverage team told me that Tommy Green of Sleeping Giant had just laid out a phenomenal testimony (read about his story here – the paragraph under the first bold title gives you the basics), then led the men in the audience in mass confession of ultra-personal sins (think pornography & the like) and the women to pray for their brothers in Christ.

So, instead of staying at Main Stage to see the worship set that was likely intended more for my demographic (Gungor), I put in my earplugs and stood in back at the Underground. The barn-like odor became the last thing on my mind as I joined the sweaty crowds lifting our hands and singing “You are holy… You are holy…” I was physically exhausted, and couldn’t stand for the whole show, but I stayed long enough to encounter God breaking through to people who need Him (the band even baptized a few people during the show!) and being praised passionately by people who love Him. Once again, as with the 2 Sleeping Giant shows I’ve visited previously at Cornerstone, I was reminded that God is a whole lot bigger than a particular genre of music. And, I realized again that we humans are a whole lot more alike than our music, fashion, and tattoo choices may imply.

I’m glad that Sleeping Giant and Cornerstone exist to introduce me (again & again) to people authentically worshiping the one true God.

As often happens at Cornerstone, I not only saw a great rock show, but I got a new view of hope. Thanks.


(BTW, thanks to Megan Sontag, fest-photographer, for a) liking other people despite the fact that we don’t love the same music, and b) inspiring me to go to my first Sleeping Giant show a few years ago. The band photo included here is one she took for the Cornerstone coverage site.)