Wednesday: Watching how we’ve grown

While Tuesday was an interesting day with lots of new acts, by Wednesday morning, it felt like Cornerstone was in full force. All around the grounds, favorite bands were taking to the stage. For me, it was a day of watching how the fest has grown. I’m not talking about numbers, just talking about how the fest has grown up over the years to include so many new things, and about how individual people have grown.

For me, the day started with the first-ever tweet-up. People who follow @cstn on twitter got together in the back of the Gallery stage to meet each other, talk about new music & even the ministry impact of new technology. There wasn’t any organized conversation, just people with a shared interest chatting with voices rather than keyboards. If you missed it, be sure to check it out next year – I’m 99% sure we’ll be doing it again (I use “we” in a loose sense, of course…) Around the tweet-up, I met moms coming with their kids from California & Michigan, an acoustic singer-songwriter from Pennsylvania, a member of the band Don’t Wake Aislin, some music lovers & photography geeks from England, and many others (including some from my hometown!). It was a nice little slice of Cornerstone life. It’s nice to see the fest continuing to grow to use new technology. Twitter has definitely brought more people into the conversation.

The acoustic singer-songwriter I met at the tweet-up was Hiram Ring. He told me he was playing 1:30 at the Impromptu stage. He seemed like a nice guy, so after catching a bit of the Owl City show (super packed; I’m sure one of our other bloggers will write about it), I headed over. I’m glad I did! Hiram’s vocals were clear & strong, and though it was just him, he managed to beat a rhythmic melody on his guitar. Beautiful! This was another moment to contemplate how people have grown – Hiram mentioned how he grew up in West Africa, and his songs included references to navigating what home means.

Next up was All the Day Holiday, a 4-piece from Ohio. I really enjoyed them last year, so I was glad to see a fairly crowded tent. The title track of their new album “Thhe Things We’ve Grown to Love” has a nice quality to the vocals. The album is available in August (or at the fest for just $5). “Fingerprints” from their older album would be a good introduction to this band, if you ask me – clap-along beat, melodies that punch thru, and very open airy yet strong vocals. As far as I know, these guys had their Cornerstone debut on a generator stage a few years ago. Another example of bands growing into their prime after a few fest experiences.

I wrote in my earlier post about Men As Trees Walking. This family-and-friends project brought an authentic, beautiful style to heartfelt worship music. I caught the phrase “firstborn over all creation” in one song; that’s the kind of big idea we ought to have songs about.

Later in the afternoon, our friends gathered to watch another friend & his band rock the Gallery stage. Jeff Elbel + Ping brought their catchy songs and a give-away of debatable value. Excellent! They’re playing again on the Jesus Village Stage today. Continuing the theme of how we’ve grown – this band seems to grow every time I see them. Jeff gets tons of talented artists to join him each year.

I’m sure Jeff Holland will blog about the Square Peg Alliance shows. I just want to add how I enjoyed the thoughtfulness these guys & girl have in expressing truth & love. One of the guys (sorry, I forget which one) had a lyric about resurrection & redemption in a song about where he’d be buried that was just beautiful: “Lay me anywhere, just remember this. When you lay me down to die, you lay me down to live.” Several of these talented songwriters are people I was famliar with in the past, working with bands of a different era. It was beautiful to see them growing into their own voices.

As a friend likes to say, we then shifted gears without a clutch and went from the land of pretty acoustic music to Main Stage. Family Force 5 brought a dancier show than last year. The guys came out wearing football pads – with their dancer dressed as a referee. I love how these guys feel like a band, and not just a solo act with backup – they all get into the mix with crazy wackiness and high energy. These guys, too, have grown so much since their first Cornerstone experiences.

After an inspiring interlude with a visual performance artist, Relient K came back to familiar territory they hadn’t seen in a while. Last year, these guys played Warped Tour, and the year before their bus broke down (and burned, if I recall correctly). But, it was apparent they were happy to be back at Cornerstone, a place some of them have been around since the late ’90s (selling merch for other bands; they first played in 2001). Relient K seems to be a band that is navigating the akward growing-up stage — from writing super catchy high-school-inspired songs like “Sadie Hawkins Dance” into moments like their closing song, “Deathbed.” They said they haven’t been touring a lot lately, and seemed a little tired on some songs, but brought it strong for several new songs which struck a great balance between the fun Relient K of their first Cornerstone (including a tribute to The Office, with the line “transfer us to Scranton”) and the maturing guys they’re now becoming (with lyrics like “resurrect the saint from within the wreck” and “accept the things I can’t change now”). I hope the band can grow thru this transition and continue to put on shows that both excite the students down front and their peers who are increasingly choosing to sit up on the hill (but who are still singing along & moving to the beat).

Overall, a very successful day – filled with new artists I hope to see in the years ahead, and also watching old favorites who have grown into themselves and are making great music.

The church needs this music

Last night, I purposefully went to a hardcore show. Not wanting to intrude (though I imagine I would be welcome, despite not quite looking the part), I stood outside and just observed.

Sleeping Giant Photo by Matthew Smith

Sleeping Giant Photo by Matthew Smith

I chose this particular band (Sleeping Giant) based on reviews from one of the great fest photographers. She explained that their shows were some of the most worshipful hardcore music she’d ever heard. These words immediately came out of my mouth: “the church needs worship music like that.” I knew I had to be there.

The music clearly isn’t my style. I don’t really mind it, but this type of music tends to just become background noise to me; I can tune it out at a moment’s notice. Not last night. Last night, I listened and heard God’s people joining in honest prayers and worship. I heard people who don’t look like me on the outside, listening to music that I don’t really get. But, we’re all part of the same great story.

Sleeping Giant’s first few songs (I admit, I did leave partway into the show) were unabashedly & unashamedly spirit filled. While other acts were drawing equally large crowds to sing about life, romance, daily struggles or whatever (which is all fine & definitely has it’s place), this tent was filled with people overjoyed to use the whole bodies (via dancing) and whole voices in worship.

The music isn’t for me – a fact that my friends pointed out several times. I know that. But, on another level, this is for all of us. Who knows the soundtrack of heaven?

Earlier in the afternoon, I smiled, tapped my foot and tried to sing along to the sweetly-dissonate worship of Men As Trees Walking (Allen Aguirre’s latest project). That, too, is music that doesn’t show up often on Sunday morning across the US. Yet, that music, too, caused me to say “The church needs this.”

The church needs people to use their God-given gifts, and express themselves according to their God-given passions. The church needs places where people can worship God wholeheatedly and “come as you are” instead of always having to try to fit in, clapping their hands or singing four-part harmony.

I am so glad that music like this exists. I am so glad it pops up all over the Cornerstone grounds. You see it around campsites often, with youth groups pulling out an acoustic guitar and belting out the songs of their generation. You see it in the world music venues, with people who have first-hand knowledge that Christ is at work all around our world expressing praise in different ways. You see it in the crowds that always show up for Flatfoot 56 and dance the circle pit while singing their hearts out to “Amazing Grace.” You see it in the closing lines of the Relient K show last night, with a gorgeous chorus about Jesus being the way, truth, and light. And last night, I feel honored to have also heard it in the Sleeping Giant show.

I am so glad that there’s a place at Cornerstone for music like this. But, even more so, I am so glad that there’s a place around God table for all of us.

Advice to Bands: Posters

Every band playing Cornerstone (whether on an “official” stage or generator) clearly wants people to show up. So, most make up some kind of poster to advertise their show. After seeing posters for many years, I offer the following advice to bands about their posters:

  • Tell me the DAY of the week, not the actual date. I’m not wearing a watch, let alone looking at a calendar. Tell me you’re playing Wednesday, not July 1st. (Thanks to twitter user and fellow Austinite Ericlylekline for reminding me of this!)
  • Give me a hint what kind of music you’re playing. You can do this by listing the genre of your music, saying you’re “For fans of…” This poster from Jeff Elbel + Ping does a great job by including a “RIYL” section (Recommended If You Like). If you don’t give me hint what you’re playing, I’ll be left to guess what kind of music you’re playing by your band name or possibly graphic design. Sometimes, I’ll be right. Most of the time, I won’t be, and I might miss out on something I would have enjoyed.
  • If the stage you’re playing on isn’t on the festival map, give me a hint where to find it. I know that can be tough when you grab a gig at a generator stage at the last minute, so I can forgive a lot of that. But, if you know in advance, try to help us out by saying something like “near the showers.”
  • Some of the best posters I’ve seen over the years had the band info printed in advance, leaving space to write in the date & time. Bands playing generator stages should take note of this – your times/dates may change and you probably can’t get back to a copier to print more, so plan ahead.
  • It’s fine if you can’t afford huge colored banners. But, remember that the porta-potties and other surfaces are going to be covered in posters like this. Printing your flyer on brightly colored paper might draw my eye to it.
  • Handing out small flyers or postcards works too. This works best, though, if you hand them out at a show similar to yours. Oh, and list your website on your flyer, so when I get home I can look you up. We received one flyer like that yesterday that was particularly well done — not the flyer itself, but because the woman handing it out took time to talk to us. As a result, I’ll probably go see Ranger on Thursday.
  • Graphic design can also help me understand what you play, if done well – like this flyer (note, also how the phrase “Day of Metal” provides a clue).
  • Day of Metal Flyer

  • This suggestion isn’t really to bands, but to generator stage organizers. I love it when generator stages keep a poster (or better yet, a white-board you can change easily) next to their stage indicating the name of the band that’s playing right now, as well as what’s coming up next.
  • And, a final suggestion that isn’t about posters at all: At the start & end of your show, remind us of your band name.
  • I present that list in the public interest, but also for my own good. I love finding new music. Anything you can do to help me get to the right place, at the right time, to see music I’ve got a chance of liking is good.

Reigniting my search for good new music

It’s hard to say when Cornerstone really starts. Is it Monday when a lot of campers arrive? Is it Tuesday with “pre-fest” shows? Is it Wednesday with the first full day of music at all stages (including Main Stage)? However you decide, the music seemed to really get going on Tuesday, with bands playing for REIGNITE day (sponsored by Ryot Entertainment), generator stages, a solid evening line up at the Gallery, and more.

When I previwed Tuesday’s schedule, there were maybe 5 acts I’d heard of, so naturally I ran into a lot of new music yesterday. Almost every band I saw said that this was either their first time at Cornerstone at all, or their first time playing the fest.

  • Crimson Refuge, hailing from North Carolina, started the day for me with a light version of the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul” – before making the classic switch from acoustic to rock & roll.
  • As mentioned by Jeff in an earlier post, Darcy showed up in vests & ties. I think this was their first Cornerstone – and they should be thankful that yesterday was cool and not blast-furnace hot as we often see here! It looks like these guys come from the University of North Texas, a school with a good reputation for their music program – it wouldn’t surprise me if the guys in Darcy were trained that way; it was apparent they knew how to play & sing.
  • Twentyfour64 brought an interesting mix of rocking instrumentals and pop-ish lyrics (sorry I don’t know any better way to describe it – it was kind of a mash-up of two styles). These guys, originally from Oahu, Hawaii and now living in Los Angeles, advertised “Free Hawaiian Hugs.” Not sure how many people took them up on that offer, but at least it was cute.
  • Among all the REIGNITE bands, Stephen Petree impressed me most. Sporting what looked like a homemade instrument he called a “Telekeyster” (keyboard fused to electric guitar), Stephen and his colleagues had me bouncing in my chair. Stephen said he had some past connection to Shiny Toy Guns (playing main stage on Friday night). They’ve got a new album coming out in August, which can be pre-ordered at their myspace page.
  • Los Lonely Boys headlined a full lineup at the Gallery, bringing their energetic latin-infused blues-rock to Cornerstone for the first time. I, along with most of the crowd at the Gallery, was probably familiar with only one of their songs: “Heaven” (which actually is sung at worship services at my church – mixed together with the classic hymn “Soon and Very Soon”). I’m not sure this show will go down in history as one of the bests at the Gallery, but it was definitely a great end to my first full day of music.

I don’t know that I found any bands on Tuesday that will get heavy rotation on my iPod. But, a day of almost entirley new-to-me music inspired me for the future. So many bands had their first taste of Cornerstone yesterday; I wonder if any will look back on that show when they first play Main Stage in a few years.

So Much More Than I Expected

The Cornerstone Farm is filled with memories for me (Becky). Every year, as we roll into Bushnell and turn down the country road, my mind gets filled with happy thoughts – of bands, friends, food, worship, growing up, and more. As we pulled into the grounds Monday evening, I was remembering my first Cornerstone (1998), and thinking about what I expected out of it, and how most of my expectations were completely shattered, in a good way. For those of you reading along at home who have never made it to Cornerstone, maybe this will give you a taste of what it’s like here.

Photo by Azuree Witala for www.cornerstonefestival.com

Photo by Azuree Witala for www.cornerstonefestival.com

I expected formality & organized camping, like at a state park. I guess I expected things to somehow be strict – with people telling you where you had to camp & park, and maybe even telling you what time you had to go to bed or something. Camping at Cornerstone has a lot to offer – strict organization is not one of those things. And, that’s the beauty of it. Little things like tents set up in every direction, generator stages, and porta-potties covered in band posters somehow illustrates the freedom of Cornerstone for me. That freedom goes far beyond simple things like this, of course, but this is a very present reminder.

I expected the stages to all be outdoors. I know this expectation came from experience with other festivals, where you were guaranteed to burn like toast within the first day. I was so happy to see that Cornerstone stages (all of them other than Main Stage & the unofficial generators) are under the cover of huge tents. I am often thankful for whoever it was who made that decision!

I expected that 99.999% of all attendees would have been from Illinois or Iowa. For my first fest (1998) I drove over with my brother (coming from South Dakota). I figured that there wouldn’t be many people who drove longer than we did. How wrong I was! The grounds are filled with car license plates from Illinois & Iowa, obviously – and other surrounding states. But, you also find people who trekked much further – all across Canada, California, the southeast, around New England, etc. Funny how I had that expectation 11 years ago – but these days, my husband & I are quite happy to drive 1,000 miles+ from our home in Austin, Texas.

I expected people to present a put-the-best-face-on-it, youth-group-approved image. I don’t know that I would have used quite those words back in 1998, but I had the idea that people choosing to spend a week at a Christian festival would own a lot of rather cheesy witnessing t-shirts. I never expected the diversity that actually exists. I never expected to meet people like me, either. I didn’t expect to find so many people who love Jesus so much, and demonstrate it in such clear ways.

I didn’t expect to meet people who would be life-long friends. 11 years later… I’m married to a guy I (mostly) met at Cornerstone. Every Sunday night, we go out to dinner after church with 4 friends made mostly thru the fest. My twitter friends list is filled with Cornerstone-rs (is that a word? I never know what to call us!). I exchange emails, texts, and chats all the time with friends I’ve made here about not just music, but the stuff of real life – from weddings to funerals, from surgeries to new babies, from travel to work stress. I never would have expected for a week-long event in a cornfield in Illinois to have such lasting impact.

I certainly didn’t expect to still be coming back 11 years later. Yet, I’m always glad I do.

For those of you who have been here before, what expectations did you have your first year?