Feel the flex

Ah, the first full day of the festival.  Feels like home.

If you come to Cornerstone a few times, you quickly realize how important it is to be flexible.  The generator stage schedules are usually in flux, bands show up late, and all the rest.  The one thing you can be confident of is that everything won’t go the way you envisioned it when you first read the program.

And that’s OK.  Part of the genius of Cornerstone is that there is so much going on, that you’re always stumbling across something you didn’t plan on but that grabs your attention.  Half the time, it’s something that you never even heard of before the band took the stage.  And all of a sudden, you’ve found a band that’s going to be the soundtrack of your summer.

I missed a couple of bands I wanted to see today. But I stumbled into a Men As Trees Walking set.  Their blend of reggae-infused worship was the perfect fit for my afternoon.    I was glad I found it.  And I listened to Switchfoot’s soundcheck while I ate dinner.  Nice.

Who knows what I’ll see next.

Holy Cow, It’s Almost Time!

I can’t believe that one week from today, I’ll be back at the festival.   Cornerstone has been the centerpiece of my summers for a long time now, but I still get excited every time the end of June rolls around.   Looks like it’s been a wet summer in western Illinois – might be smart to prepare for some mud.

Can’t wait to see all of you there.  I wonder what bands we’ll see this year that we’ll still be talking about in 2020?

This and that

I’m finally home after the 1000 mile post-festival drive.  I’m sure I’ll have more cogent thoughts later, but here are a few of my observations as I look back at this year’s get together.  Please note that this is just one man’s opinion – I don’t speak for the other festival bloggers, and certainly not for the festival itself or JPUSA.

Favorite Show: Anberlin on Main Stage

I realize that it’s horribly, horribly unhip of me to pick a headlining band that’s playing mainstage.  But what can I say?  This was a rock and roll band at the height of its powers.  They were tight, they had great energy and song selection, and really connected with the audience.  Their cover of New Order’s “True Faith” put them over the top.

Shows I Wish I Had Seen: mewithoutyou, Derek Webb, the Lost Dogs

The festival always presents me with tough decisions, and this year was no exception.  I went to main stage for Family Force 5,  Relient K, and Anberlin.  But that meant missing out on the Lost Dogs and Derek Webb.  I usually catch the Dogs at the festival – not only is the music solid, but the banter between them is easily worth the time.   And I would have loved to have heard Derek Webb, as he’s an artist I’ve admired for years.   Finally, I got to main stage late on Friday because I wanted to catch some of Terry Taylor and Ramoth-Gilead (both of whom were great, by the way).  But that meant missing out on mewithoutyou, who had a truly massive crowd.

Artist Development Awards:  Seabird and All the Day Holiday

It’s been a real treat to get to watch these two bands develop as they’ve played the festival the last several years.   The new material that ATDH played is solid, and I look forward to giving the new CD a good long listen.  Seabird has matured as a band tremendously as well.  They’re headed into the studio soon to record their sophomore effort.  I can’t wait to hear what they come up with.

Favorite “Only At Cornerstone” Moment (Part 1)

During The Fold’s set on the Indoor Stage, they launched into a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”  Midway through, they noticed a kid dancing like crazy in the audience and pulled him up on stage.  Whaddya know, he knew just about all of MJ’s steps, right down to the crotch grabs.

Favorite New (to me) Bands:  Owl City, Quiet Science, Don’t Wake Aislin

One of the reasons I go back to Cornerstone year after year is that it’s such a great chance to discover music I’ve never heard before.  So it was with this trio of bands.  Owl City brought their intelligent electronic pop to a packed New Band Showcase and left the audience impressed.    The only disappointment was that they didn’t have their CD with them.  It comes out later this month.  Watch for it.

I think Quiet Science played 23 sets during the festival this year.  I was excited to see them, as the material on their myspace page sounded pretty promising.  But I kept missing them due to schedule conflicts.  I finally caught them on the New Band Showcase and came away impressed.  They mixed influences like U2, Death Cab and the Killers into a melodic but still intense blend that sounded great.

Like Quiet Science, Don’t Wake Aislin fought for the title of “hardest working band at Cornerstone.”  I’m not sure who won, but DWA should get bonus points for playing most of their shows in the blazing sun at the Texas stage.  This wasn’t their first time at the festival, but I had somehow managed to miss them previously.  I won’t make that mistake again.

Favorite “Only At Cornerstone” Moment (Part 2)

Looking around the crowd during Owl City’s New Band Showcase set and realizing that Crouton and Phatty from Family Force 5 were standing right behind me.  I’m pretty sure Soul Glo joined them later in the set.   I love that at Cornerstone, the artists and the fans can mix like that without it being a big deal.

Song I Never Thought I’d Hear Live: “Deathbed” by Relient K

I’ve always had a place in my heart for this self-contained rock opera.   But I never thought Relient K would mix it into their set.  It’s 10 minutes long, virtually a self-contained rock opera, for crying out loud!  Who breaks that out at a summer festival?  Evidently, Relient K does.  The only way it would have been more of a surprise would have been if Jon Foreman walked on stage to reprise his performance on the CD.

Most Missed Band:  Over The Rhine

There is something simply perfect about a midnight set in the Gallery stage with Linford, Karin, et al.  The festival was great, but I missed that this year.

Most Welcome Trend: Hooks

I have nothing but love for all the hardcore bands that play the festival.  Metal and punk can be fun too.  But it seems like this year saw a resurgence in the number of bands that rely on a catchy melody.  I was glad to hear it.


Honestly, last night’s Anberlin show on the mainstage was the best performance I’ve seen from them. The band was tight, Steven Christian’s voice was particularly strong, and the mix was decent. They added a great cover of New Order’s “True Faith” to a wide mix of material from their last three studio albums. It was worth sitting in the rain to get to see that show.

Funniest moment of the festival, so far

You know, I love Cornerstone. I love almost everything about it. I love the music. I love the seminars. I love the art exhibits. I love the fried and not-so-fried foods that I eat only this one time out of the year. I even have happy memories of dealing with bad weather some years. But there is one thing about the festival that I do not love and, indeed, will never learn to love.

I speak of course of Portapotties.

Look, I’m no shrinking violet. I know that a person’s got to do what a person’s got to do, and I know that providing indoor plumbing for 25K people one week out of the year would be a logistical nightmare. The portapotties are a necessary evil, but they will never be more than that for me.

So I found myself in one yesterday. Doing… Well, doing what everybody does in there. Suprisingly, there came a knock at the door. Like all right-minded people, I became suddenly and profoundly bilingual:


Moments later, the knock returned. This time, with a voice asking: “Is there somebody in there?” “Yes, there most definitely is,” I replied. I was getting a little nervous. Because if portapotties are a necessary evil, portapottie incidents just evil. And, I thought to myself, weren’t there plenty of empty portapotties available? Strange.

Little did I know that at that very moment, the 20 or so shockingly well-organized teenagers who had been congregating outside were springing their trap. Donning transformers helmets, they took up stations to the left and the right of the door, raising their arms high in the air to form a natural lane.

As I emerged, blinking, into the sunlight, they burst into applause and began to cheer raucously. Dazed, and most definitely confused, I could do nothing but run down the natural gauntlet, saluting.

Well played, over-organized youth group kids. Well played.

The things I should have said

I was watching a show on a generator stage the other day. The lead singer asked the crowd to shout out what gives them joy. My response: “Pie!” The girl behind me shouted “Jesus!”

My friend Jerry leaned over and said “Her answer was better.” True enough, even while I suspect Jesus is probably a fan of pie.