Saturday

vikingship-zoomed

Saturday was upon us and it was finally time to say our final goodbyes. Up until today I think many people had been putting it off, enjoying the festival and pretending nothing was going to change. Today however was time to confront reality and it made emotions heightened even more than the normal “last day of Cornerstone” state. We started off the morning going to the church service at the Chelsea Gallery stage. It takes something pretty monumental to get our group stirred and out to the grounds before noon and I’d say this counts. Glenn Kaiser led the crowd in worship and then John Herrin spoke briefly thanking everyone for the years and years of good memories and hard work by everyone at the festival. Current co-organizers Scott Stanhke and Genesis Winter also took a few brief moments to thank the staff and everyone for coming this year when the band list was slashed and the stages reduced. John Thompson shared a little of his many years at the festival and then opened the floor for people to tell their stories about Cornerstone. I’m sure it only scratched the surface of the myriad of stories but people who had been attending the festival for 20-25 years told their stories as well as people who had only come for a year or two. We heard many stories of misfits, people who didn’t feel they fit in feel a sense of belonging at the festival. We heard stories of people meeting their life partners, recovering from loss, and finding Jesus after rejection from mainstream churches. Finally, they closed down the afternoon with a communion service and we all joined together for the last time to break bread and drink together.

After a short break, it was back to the music one last time. Lauren Mann and The Fairly Odd Folk started off an incredibly strong lineup on the Chelsea Gallery Stage. After their debut last year the band came back this year with even more confidence and a fuller sound. They didn’t have as much success getting people up and dancing such as at the Mike Mains and The Branches show last night probably due to the stifling heat, but I would think this kind of music would also be fun to dance to. Following them, Timbre had flown out from Russia just to be at Cornerstone for her show. Travelling for 24 hours, she sounded a little slap happy but it didn’t affect her meticulous and beautiful harp playing. She remarked that we were one of the biggest crowds she plays for every year and I couldn’t help but wonder how many other artists would say the same exact thing.

Kye Kye started the evening off with some nice trippy music. Looking at the liner notes in their CD, I was impressed with how much thought they had given to their lyrics. I’ve seen bands have scriptural references for songs before, but they had scripture references for nearly every line of each song. Josh Garrels played next and he has become such a beloved institution at Cornerstone. His song “Ulysses” from his newest album gets me every time. “So tie me to the mast of this old ship and point me home/Before I lose the one I love, before my chance is gone.” I wish I could have stayed for his entire show because it was incredible, but I had to skip out to see the moment of the festival.

Word has started to spread around the festival that there would be a Viking Funeral performed at the beach for Cornerstone Festival. As in old Norse tradition, they would set a longboat out to water and then shoot a flaming arrow at it, lighting it on fire and letting it burn (hopefully, this one without an actual body in it.) Standing on the beach, I waited for a little bit before a procession of motorcycles roared over the hill and behind it a group of kids carrying the boat singing “Amazing Grace.” As they set it out on the lake two older ladies had a conversation behind me. “It doesn’t seem a very Christian thing to do.” “Well, neither are Christmas Trees but we do that, too.” Good point. Once the boat was lit on fire it was a nice, emotional moment. Well, at least until the kids started singing “Na na na na, na na na na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.” Like all things Cornerstone it was bizarre, only sort-of planned out, but most of all memorable.

I climbed back up the hill to the Gallery tent one last time. Thank goodness the heat was finally starting to break or I probably would have died. If there was the old Main Stage this year would we have made it through the week without heat exhaustion? Probably not. Anyways, I arrived in time to catch most of The Farewell Drifters set and they sounded great. I loved their cover of Paul Simon’s “The Only Living Boy In New York” and they even brought John and Michelle Thompson on the stage for a rollicking little song. After that, while Norma Jean was in the process of destroying the Underground Stage the band that played on the first slot of the first day of the first Cornerstone Festival closed out the last night. The Choir played their entire _Chase The Kangaroo_ album from beginning to end to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the album. There was even someone that was dressed up as a Kangaroo that jumped on stage and danced during the title song forcing the band to keep straight face and finish the song. The four-piece band sounded as good as they ever have debuting a couple new songs and treating us to one last growling, noisy, ambling version of “Circle Slide.”

When the Choir finished approriately with “To Bid Farewell” that was that. Cornerstone Festival was officially finished (at least for now) for good. I probably speak for a lot of people, but I didn’t get very emotional at the end because I was so worn out. I was honestly numb when it all ended. I think the flood of emotions will start pouring out during the next week when I’m at home unpacking and starting to realize there will be no more need to pack again. I’ll be listening to new CD’s and realizing there will be no flood of new CD’s again. That’s when it’s going to hit hard that this era of life is over.

When one era ends, hopefully another springs up and none of us know what’s next but whatever it is I wish the best to Jesus People USA. They are one of the most astonishing groups of people I know with their skill of pulling everything off skillfully while it all somehow appears like it was planned on the back of a napkin. Most of all, they’ve done this festival with the right motives and the right heart towards the artists and those that attend the festival. They get art and faith and I hope that part of Cornerstone continues on even if the festival ends. Thanks to the web team for all of their hard work getting video and photos uploaded and even supporting an infrastructure for a website in the middle of nowhere. Thanks for allowing me to have a voice and a small part in this event that I hope people look back fondly for decades and say, “Man, do you remember at Cornerstone when…..”

Hopefully, we’ll have some more posts to sum up the festival and do a little more review of the week as a whole. And also spill out our guts and tears for a little self-therapy. This is the end, but this is not the end.

Love God, Love others,

Jeff

Friday

DSC_0572

I’ve been doing a good job of being adventurous and checkng out all of the stages up to this point, but today I finally succumbed to the heat. Whatever was on the Chelsea Gallery stage was good enough and that’s not a terrible thing. The day started out at the Bushnell Locker for their infamous ribeye sammiches. These are the kind of traditions I will truly miss. There may be other festivals, and Lord willing there will be some festival like Cornerstone again some day, but I have my doubts I’ll ever have a ribeye sammich again. I almost assuredly will not enjoy it with friends in a butcher shop’s break room again, for sure.

Before we bury Cornerstone though there are still two days of music left and we started the day out with Relentless Flood at the Underground Stage which had some nice shreddy guitar and a drummer on vocals. After that I caught a second performance by Doug Mains and the City Folk. They seemed an odd fit on the normally metal Sancrosanct Stage, but they drew a nice crowd and delivered a nice set of folk music.

Maron Gaffron shared a scrapbook of pictures from her Cornerstone experiences all the way back to 1985. It was a lot of fun to see pictures of her as a child (weren’t we all?) at the early festivals all the way up to last year’s festival. The Maron of today played a nice soulful set and then joined Jeff Elbel for his show. Elbel pulled out all of the stops for his last show at Cornerstone even throwing in an enthusasitic cover of Adam Again’s “Deep.” Thanks for the bag of one hundred glow-in-the-dark bouncy balls, Jeff. My children will very likely set off some epic mischief with them. Of all the shows at Cornerstone, these are the ones I am saddest to see end. Many bands I will be able to catch on tour but it’s not likely I’ll see these bands again.

I tried to go over to see Don’t Wake Aislin on the Underground Stage, but after about two songs I reached the point where I was losing my will to live due to the heat. Nothing wrong with Don’t Wake Aislin, I had heard this would be their last show but was relieved to find out it’s because they are renaming and restyling themselves a little bit. Nonetheless, I couldn’t endure it and decided I would spend the rest of the evening under the shade of the Chelsea Gallery tent. Going to the Gallery stage proved fortuitous as I was able to see Trace Bundy on acoustic guitar. Bundy kept the crowd entertained with his multitude of capos even shifting them around the guitar in middle of songs. He also played “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder entirely using guitar and drum apps on his iPhone which was a lot of fun.

The highlight of the night next was Mike Mains and The Branches. The chairs at the front of the Gallery stage were pushed away as people danced in front of the stage. The show was straight up rock with some heartfelt lyrics. When the band beckoned the crowd to come up on stage I really felt like we had a genuine Cornerstone Moment. Neal Morse followed with progressive rock and it was overindulgent, ponderous, and complicated. I’m not gonna lie, the Yes fan in me loved every moment of it.

At the end of the night, The Violet Burning gave us what I like to call a “real Cornerstone Encore.” Years ago, the midnight encore shows used to run two or three hours late into the night, but the last few years the setlists have gotten shorter. Not so with The Violet Burning. After blazing straight through one-and-a-half of the three CD’s of The Story Of Our Lives. Micheal Pritzl took the band through an extended encore through some crowd favorites and even took a little time to call Mike Roe and leave a voicemail. I missed the Flatfoot 56 show where even our intrepid festival co-supervisor took a slide down the waterslide into the pool party, but I’m pretty it had it’s share of “Cornerstone moments” as well. For whatever reason, it always seems like the night before the last night has the big Cornerstone Moments and I’m glad that tradition continued to the end.

Thursday

DSC_0279

This is starting to feel like the journal of a foreign legion soldier in the Sahara. “The sun beat down upon me as I trudged along the path….” Yes, it’s still hot. Nonetheless, the show must go on. Ravenhill brought no less than seven members on the band for their performance on the Underground Stage and they pulled in the crowd with some tight jamming rock that reminded me just a little bit of The Black Keys with soul and rock.

Later in the afternoon we swung by the press tent to hear Jeff Elbel and Mike Roe talk about their experiences at Cornerstone and their future works. With the end fast approaching, people are trying to grapple with putting words to what it will mean to not come back here next year. It almost feels as if people are going to show up on this farm next year with their guitars whether or not there are any speakers, amps, stages, or chairs.

Closing out the afternoon on the Chelsea Gallery stage, The Wayside played their last show here. John and Michelle Thompson introduced new music from Michelle’s new ep and even brought their daughter up on stage to sing with them. If anyone is surely profoundly impacted by the end of Cornerstone, it’s the Thompsons as they shift to a new paradigm and platform to share their music, just as many artists here at the festival will have to do.

I passed by Da MAC doing hip-hop on the Underground Stage on my way to see Golden Sun on the Michigan Stage, but alas, no Golden Sun. Since I now had some open time I wandered over to the Arkansas Stage where Sean Michel was well under way. Michel’s delta blues were so effective that he conjured up the very humidity of the Delta and soon the grounds felt like a swamp. Drenched in sweat, I spent the rest of the early evening at the New Band Stage. The New Band Stage this year was hosted on the Impact Stage, a generator stage that was pretty professional. Two piece band The Bends played and were joined by the violinist from Doug Mains and the City Folk before they played their own show of laid-back music on violin, accordian, and cello.

Finally the sun went down and Icon for hire took over the Underground stage. The band has grown in leaps and bounds since their days on the generator stages years ago and it was clearly evident that they are well in swing of touring as they had the crowd eating out of their hands. Some trampolines, super soakers, and covering House of Pain’s “Jump Around” helps, too. I thought about walking over to the Gallery stage to catch the end of Iona’s show but at that point in the day I had used up all my energy for day. I’m sorry I didn’t as it turns out Iona stretched out their show since the following band Aradhna arrived late. For the last show of the evening, Squad Five-0 entertained the crowd at the Underground Stage as the lead singer crowd-surfed, sprayed water into the crowd and kept us entertained with jokes about my hometown Georgia.

Starting today, we start to get into the hometown stretch with some of my favorite bands, The Violet Burning and The Choir closing out the evenings. Up to this point, I don’t think the reality of the finality of the festival has set in on me yet but I expect it to start becoming something I will have to seriously contemplate soon.

Wednesday

DSC_0476

This is probably the last 4th of July that I will spend in Illinois. I’ve missed grilling burgers and watching fireworks with my family, but instead I get to drive through Macomb with its hundreds of American flags and listen to music. I’ll think about all of those flags and fireworks over the lake next year when I celebrate 4th of July with my family.

The heat is still here but I’m not jumping from stage to stage today. Since I’ve more or less settled into the Chelsea Gallery stage, I’m not having hallucinations and such in the middle of the afternoon and that’s probably a good thing. The first band I see today is David Curtis doing a solo show apart from his band, Run Kid Run. It’s not just a solo person on a guitar though, he has a nice sounding band behind him and do es some really nice music putting the crowd in the mood for worship. Oh Sister, Oh Brother plays next and they sound even better than I remember when I saw them at Cornerstone a couple years ago. They now remind me a little bit of Eisley with some nicely-structured songs.

The next show in the afternoon is not a concert but a celebration. Resurrection Band celebrates their 40th birthday with an open mike where people could come forward tell stories about how the band impacted their lives. Each of the band members milled about the crowd as a giant cake was cut up for the crowd. The celebration was a nice way to tie a bow on this part of Cornerstone. I’ve seen Resurrection Band in bits and pieces over my years here and I couldn’t help but think it’s probably the last time I’ll see them.

On into the evening it’s time for fun again. The Hollands (no relation to yours truly) start their show off with a cover of Over The Rhine’s “Poughkeepsie” which naturally has me hooked but then move into some original songs and some gospel spirituals performed on mandolin, banjo, guitar, and accordion. During one song, the band threw shakers, tambourines, and other noise makers into the crowd so they could participate. Pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve ever been pelted by something while taking photos at a show.

Taking a little break from the Chelsea Gallery Stage, I walked over to the Underground Stage where Ilia was cranking out some pretty strong rock. These three ladies worked extra hard to deliver as much music as twice as many men. Run Kid Run was the highlight of the night on the Underground Stage for me. A decent-sized crowd showed up and the band played a fun set of music that was a little more pop than what’s normally on the Underground Stage, but nonetheless really enjoyable.

Jerry posted a nice review of the 77’s show that closed down the Chelsea Gallery Stage for the evening. There was definitely a feeling of “let’s do this just one last time” that I think will get stronger as the week goes along. As John J Thompson noted from the stage, just because this festival is ending doesn’t mean these bands won’t continue working. We’ll have to work harder than ever to keep track of these bands and discover new ones without Cornerstone.

Tuesday

DSC_0162

Maybe I’m just in denial (I wonder if I will go through the other stages of grieving during the week, I’ll make sure to unleash anger at a hardcore show), but Cornerstone is off and running and it sort of feels like normal. There is a smaller crowd than normal, but many of the regulars are here. It’s funny how I see some of the same people year after year. I don’t know them very well but I can count on seeing wandering around the grounds almost as much a part of the festival as the tents. The tents are here too and if anything they look better than ever. The photographer in me loves the nice white tents. Maybe all of my concert photos this year won’t have that familiar red tint to them.

There aren’t as many bands that I want to see on Tuesday, most of the bands I want to see come later in the week. There are only two “official” stages, the Underground and the combined Chelsea and Gallery stage. Kiros starts off the day on the Underground stage and they are actually a lot of fun, much better than expected. Fun rock with a guitarist leaping across the stage, even hitting the light rack (oops). Little Brother has been forced to change their name so they are now Like Brothers. A little lighter but still a little bit of rock, they are pretty good also.

Triple Stitch started their show off with the doxology and then broke into some quality punk music. Loads of fun even in the heat. From there I walked over to the generator stages. The Generator stages this year are a little more “professional” and there are only about half of year’s present, but the do-it-yourself vibe is still there. Fight the Fade played some nice rock and we stayed to see She Said, but they never showed up. That’s generator stages for you.

The highlight of the afternoon shows so far was the return of Noah Reimer to the Gallery Stage. Some ten years ago he performed quite a few shows with his band Ticklepenny Corner. This year he was back with Duke Otherwise, his children’s band. His folk inspired fun songs about lions, monkeys, butterflies, and other animals had kids and their parents dancing, shouting, and having fun.

The late afternoon is for the generator stages for me today. We’re checking out a couple of bands and started with Carielle on the Michigan Stage and then Vice on Victory on the Impact Stage. The best band of the late afternoon for me was La De Les on the Gallery Stage. They were more of an abstract band, sort of like a more electronica Ester Drang for older Cornerstone days.

The heat has been unrelenting and I was swooning, so I laid low for a little while until the sun went down. I watch Ember Days, but I was still feeling pretty bad and then finally started to feel better during Good Luck Varsity. Of all the bands I saw on the first day, I think I enjoyed Good Luck Varsity the most. They were really active and were genuinely surprised when the crowd called them out for an encore. Rapper Da MAC joined them for their last song of the evening.

It doesn’t look like the heat is going away soon so hopefully we will acclimate to it. There’s only four days of Cornerstone left so fight through it!

Cornerstone Festival 2012 Is Underway!

We’re here! Our car pulled into Illinois today, but Cornerstone Festival is already off and running. It’s going to be a hot one this year, so stay cool, drink lots of water, and pace yourself.

This is going to be an unusual Cornestone, what with the announcement that this is the last one. We’re going to have a lot of fun, but there will be a lot of memories, a lot of introspection, and hopefully some fond farewells. I’m looking forward to not only reporting about this year’s festival, but sharing some of my great memories from festivals past. Everyone I’ve talked to has so many stories and we’ll try to share some of them during the week.

It’s the last dance, so let’s make it a good one. Here we go with Cornerstone 2012

Jeff

Day 4 – Worship and Sorrow

The afternoon has been a little bit cooler today and I’ve had a chance to wander the grounds of the festival a little bit. I discovered new bands today like Gaitlin Elms and The Strive and stopped by a small generator tent where 3Union was playing acoustic versions of their songs for the teens.

One of the great things about Cornerstone Festival is that it almost seems like the rest of the world stops for a week. Almost. I received some sobering news today from home and it has weighed upon my heart most of the day. I’ve thought about Job and his response to his wife, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” and remembered that when David’s son passed away, he went to the temple to praise the Lord.

That’s why I’m glad on this Sunday night, the Main Stage ends with artists like Alive Band, Luminate, Robbie Seay Band, and Gungor. In sadness, the worship of the Lord is a hard but good thing. There are lot of different messages from a lot of different people at Cornerstone Festival, but I hope here at the end it all ties together. For those of you having the best week of your life, praise God. For those of you coming to Cornerstone for peace and healing, praise God. For those of whose week did not go like you expected, praise God. For those of you who made new friends or renewed long-standing friendships this week at Cornerstone, praise God. For every double kick drum, every scream, every bow drawn across the violin, every Stratocaster strummed, God is good and worthy of praise. Thank you for Cornerstone Festival.

Day 3 – Evening

With the weather starting to return to “normal”, every one is still moving a step slower, but things are starting to return to speed. A friend of mine plays guitar with Songs of Water, so I started the evening off at the Gallery Stage. This is their first appearance at Cornerstone Festival and they brought plenty of instruments and an intricate sound with violins, drums-a-plenty, and guitars. I had to run from there to catch The Rendition. Sometimes I wonder if anyone reads these blogs, but when the singer for the Rendition messaged me about my review of their show last year. Since I had been called out, I had no choice but to see them again this year. I’m a big fan of piano-driven bands and I enjoyed the complicated process of playing guitar and the bass drum at the same time so their show was a lot of fun for me.

For the evening, Anberlin delivered a rocking set of powerful music with a setlist that evenly covered all of their albums. I don’t usually go down front much anymore to rock out with the kids, but I couldn’t resist. The band brought extra drums on stage for some of their songs for driving versions of songs from their new album, Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place. Lead singer Stephen Christian’s solo project, Anchor and Braille, was moved to Saturday evening at midnight and I missed the show, so I’d be interested in hearing out it turned out. If you were there, leave a comment!

Today is the final day of Cornerstone. I’m looking forward to some of the bands on Main Stage in the evening that will close down the festival with a tone of worship and a little bit of reverence. As Cornerstone winds down, maybe it will all leave us in the right frame of mind for re-entering the real world.

Day 3 Afternoon

The heat is easing off a little bit here at the Cornerstone Festival grounds, but the damage has already been done. I’ve been much slower and lethargic today so I’ve been less inclined to jump from tent to tent as much as the days before. Today I’ve been hanging out at the Gallery Stage and seeing a whole lot of artists that I didn’t know about before today.

I had heard of Timbre, but I didn’t realize just how popular she was here at the festival. She brought a cavalcade of musicians on stage with her with a string section and lots of intricate music. River James played afterwards. The band is conglomeration of members of MAE and Army of Me and I really enjoyed their show. I had never heard of Lauren Mann and she was another pleasant suprise in the early part of the day. Her Sara Bareilles-inspired music included banjos, melodica, and keyboards.

Lots of great stuff to come tonight, but the surprises early in the day got things off to a pretty good start.

Day 2 Evening

DSC_0864

In my last post I wondered whether I had the strength and drive to hit Quiet Science, Campbell The Band, and The Choir and in a roundabout circuit around the festival grounds. Fear not, blog reader! Achievement unlocked!

I felt really bad for Quiet Science since their show was cancelled at 1 PM due to the power issues, but it all turned out ok anyways. They played at the rescheduled time of 7 PM and introduced new material from their upcoming album. I really like the lead singer’s story about redemption in his life and his stories about working in the suicide wing of the hospital is compelling. (and I’m a sucker for music influenced by science fiction and writers like C.S. Lewis.)

The power outage knocked everything else out of schedule so I was able to swing by the Gallery Stage and catch an acoustic version of The Choir. Derri Daugherty, Steve Hindalong, and Dan Michaels translated their “swirly, scary music” into a pleasant night running through the history of their band through their songs. After that, it was over to see Campbell The Band at the Underground Stage. This band totally has the crowd interaction part figured out. At one point, a band member gave the bass drum to the crowd to hold while he hammered on it with his mallet. During the middle of the show, they handed paper out to the crowd and told them to rip it up and then during the climatic moment of the song throw it up in the air in a blast of confetti. I’m not going to lie, it was pretty awesome. Mike Mains and The Branches was a real pleasant surprise afterwards. I had never heard of them, but I really enjoyed the show and I’ll have to check out their music.

I made a quick drop by the After Hours Dance Club to check up on my friend David and see how things were going over there. They were still coming down to the ground after opening up the festival on Main Stage with Andy Hunter. From there, I settled down for the night at the Gallery for Lost Dogs and Deas Vail. The Lost Dogs were “a three legged dog” as Terry Taylor had to return home for a family emergency. The bass player for Daniel Amos filled in for Taylor extremely well and the band carried on with a solid show. The final show of the evening was Deal Vail which pulled in a very large and much younger crowd than the normal Gallery Stage patrons. Deas Vail played almost all new material and even though it was unfamiliar, it was well received by the crowd. I’m looking forward to their new album.

So here we are done, done with Day 2 and about to begin Day 3. (The days all blur together when the final show ends after midnight.) I hope the heat breaks today, my spidey senses (and weather websites) tell me that rain is on the way today so we may get our wish. Stay cool and stay dry today!