An Evening With Doug Jones- Actor, Gentleman, Christ Follower

Are there Christians working in Hollywood? Of course, and I’m not just talking about Kirk Cameron. The Imaginarium, a unique component of the Cornerstone experience that focuses on film and pop culture, hosted actor Doug Jones tonight.

Most moviegoers will be familiar with Doug’s work from his role as Abe Sapien in the Hellboy movies and as The Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. He is also known as Pan in Pan’s Labryinth as well as for playing characters on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the zombie in Hocus Pocus with Bette Midler. Most of his characters have a common element of requiring heavy makeup.

In addition to being a talented actor, Doug is also known and respected in Hollywood for his Christian faith, a faith that is evident guides his actions and career as a Hollywood actor. Some may find it odd that he plays so many monsters. Wouldn’t that conflict with his faith? According to Doug, we are all monsters at times due to the problem of sin in our lives. If the entire movie takes us to a positive place in the end, that is a good thing.

I  found it interesting when Doug discussed what guides his decision in choosing to work on a film. He first decides if he likes the script; does it make him laugh or cry? What is the director’s purpose? He has passed on some projects that do conflict with his faith (for instance he won’t do any horror film that follows the formula of half naked teenagers having sex and doing drugs and then they get killed; Doug finds that boring and offensive.) He has also had an influence on directors and their vision for a film. He was offered one film that portrayed Christians in a bad light. When he expressed to the director that this film was going to alienate the Christian audience as well as being something that creatively had been done to death, the director rewrote the film. Another film, Legion, showed God as the enemy destroying the world. When Doug realized that this was essentially a modern retelling of the flood story from the Bible, this gave him a unique opportunity to share his faith and Christian worldview on a national level.

Doug and his wife put their faith into action by intentionally  mentoring young, up and coming actors helping them, giving them a home to spend Christmas in, and generally being there for them.

To say that all of us at The Imaginarium were impressed by Doug would be an understatement. Doug took time to sign anything we had: dvds, pictures, collectibles. I think everyone there received one of his famous Dougie hugs and the encouragment to show BIG LOVE to those around us. Following this, we were able to watch two short films Doug starred in; the most striking of the two was Butterfly Circus, a film with the message of redemption and hope for the hopeless. Butterfly Circus will soon be made into a full length feature starring Doug. Look for it in your local theater.

The sillery (yes, sillery, you have to have been there) is continuing on into the night with a screening of Hellboy 2. Cornerstone has always been about more than the music. If you haven’t made it past the stages, venture out into the outskirts of the festival. You may just find something you had no idea existed here.

Cornerstone… Community In Action

Cornerstone is often referred to as a community. You hear that word mentioned a lot on these campgrounds. What does it mean? If you’ve been coming to Cornerstone for several years, then you probably know about JPUSA, the organization that sponsors the festival. JPUSA is an intentional community in Chicago, IL made up of Christians who live together, minister together, work together, and worship together. It is a radical approach to Christianity that most would not be up to. These principles of working and living together that make up JPUSA’s way of life translate to life on the festival grounds every summer. Here are just a few examples of community in action that I have witnessed over the years coming to Cornerstone:

Four years ago, I brought a big group of people in a church van. Just after arriving, our van got stuck in the mud. A group of people camping around there sprang into action summoning help, rope, and an ATV to pull us out. All they asked in return was if we saw someone in need during the week, to help them.

There is a lady here on the grounds who for the last several years has been offering free ramen noodles to anyone who wants them. She’ll even provide the stove and propane to cook them. All she asks is that you clean up after yourself.

Just today, I had lunch at a restaurant in town with two guys who are here playing in a band on generator stages. This means they are not getting paid and are playing because they love music and want to share it with others. On the second day of the festival, they hit a deer with their van and really messed it up. They spoke of the outpouring of love and support from people at the fest who had come to their aid helping them with the van and helping them with food.

No telling how many countless teenagers over the years have made it home due to donations from strangers who helped them out when they ran out of money.

This year, I am camping in approximately the same spot I did last year. My neighbors are the same people I camped with last year. Being alone at the fest, it is nice to have familiar faces to speak with when I am at the campsite.

This list could go on and on. What instances of community in action have you experienced at Cornerstone over the years?

A simple message… or is it?

Over the past several years, the band Graverobber has become one of the most popular bands at the festival. I caught a few songs last year and was intrigued. This year I was determined to make it to a full show.

If you don’t know who they are, they play old school thrash/punk music while dressed as skeletons and monsters in bloody outfits. The lead singer, Wretched, also has a very scary voice. While it is spooky and schticky, it all has symbolism and a purpose. I am not going to get into all the details here of why they do what they do; if you want to know more, check out a show here at the festival this week or look them up on the internet to read about them. The basic idea is that of dying to sin, hence the reason they dress like the living dead. They also have song titles like “Army of the Dead,” and “I Wanna Kill You (Over and Over Again).”  A couple times throughout the show, they douse the audience in blood colored water. If you don’t get that, then you’ve never heard the hymn “Washed in the Blood.” Graverobber just provides a visual aid to go with the idea. They also use terms like The Reanimator for Jesus (get it: he came back to life; he raises you from sin to new life?) and The Adversary for Satan, that one should be self explanatory.

I went in expecting to hear some creative lyrics and see some cool symbolism. I came away with a thought that I can’t get off my mind. Near the end of the show, Wretched preaches a sermon in which he discusses the two choices we have: dying from sin or dying to sin. He then encourages the Christians in the audience by saying, “Why can’t we realize what we are in Christ and just be that?” Wow. I can’t fully get my mind around that. It sounds so simple. What are we in Christ? Why can’t we just be that? I wish I was at a place where I could just be that. Seems like life would be so much simpler. I went in expecting to be entertained, and I was, but came away with something more valuable- I was challenged. At this point I don’t have all the answers, but I think the verse from Phillipians encouraging us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling definitely applies here. It’s a little easier to do when you are faced with the members of Graverobber in full costume.

Wandering around…

The first couple days of the fest don’t really have a defined schedule. Most of the official stages aren’t open and the legendary generator stages, unique to this festival, are open. They are literally called generator stages because they are powered by generators set up by fans and small, indie music companies or ministries. I like to think they are called generator stages because they generate interest in a band most otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance to hear.

I don’t spend a lot of time at the generators, most of the music there skews towards the hardcore variety, a type of music I can only hear so much of. Having nothing else to do, I wandered into the Arkansas Stage for the last song of an instrumental band called Analecta. Whenever I hear the first band at the festival, I feel like I am really at the festival; it is here again. Must admit I loved hearing Analecta and wish I could have heard more, maybe I can catch them again before the weekend is over.

Wander around, find a band, enjoy the music…

Opening Day…

Cornerstone has arrived. In a few hours the merch tents will be opening up selling all manner of music related swag and gear. The main stage opens up tonight with a huge dance party led by DJ Andy Hunter, there are a few films going on over at the Imaginarium, the generator stages are up and running, and tonight at midnight Grave Robber brings the scary.

What always amazes me most about Cornerstone is the variety of reasons people come to the fest. The obvious reason is the music, but think about why you come. What really draws you here? Is it just the music? The fellowship with other like minded people? The challenging teaching at the seminar tents? Gathering with other pop culture geeks at the Imaginarium? A combination of all of these? Whatever reason you are here, enjoy, soak it in, renew your self this week as we seek to get closer to God through the activities we all enjoy so much.

Back from Bushnell…

As I sit here writing this from my house in Arkansas, I can’t help but feel a little “Cornersick” for the festival that means so much to me. True,  I just left about 12 hours ago, but the desire to go back has been overwhelming at times.The weather could not have been better, and the overall atmosphere at the festival this year was one of the best I can remember.

Each day of the fest started for me with Catholic Mass at the Imaginarium. I am not Catholic, but have an interest in liturgical, ancient forms of prayer and worship. This was ideal for me as Father Tom Holloway from the Bushnell Catholic church taught us throughout the services what each action and prayer meant. Contemporary liturgical music led by Sal Solo was great as well and led us each morning to the throne of God. While I couldn’t participate in communion in the Mass being United Methodist, I did go down each day for a blessing from Father Tom; I figure I can use as many blessings as I can get. It was also good to see the small, but dedicated group of Catholic Christians who attend Cornerstone.

On the music front, my favorite shows were Paper Route (see my other blog specifically about them), Switchfoot, All The Day Holiday, and Over The Rhine. I didn’t see as much music this year; I focused on quality rather than quantity.

I spent most of my nights at Movie Zombies, a new program this year for fans of the horror and action genres. Each night we watched movies together and discussed how these applied to our faith. Some of the titles were controversial to say the least, but it is refreshing to see a group of people who aren’t afraid to confront and talk about the darkness and evil in the world. As an urban legend fan, I really enjoyed the night we discussed the “satanic panic” rumors of the 1980s and the part the church had in spreading those rumors. My favorite movie had to be Fido, a heartwarming zombie movie set in the 1950s. (It really was heartwarming; If you don’t believe me, get it on dvd from Netflix and watch it.)

Ending out the festival, I caught the last two songs of Grave Robber’s Underground Stage set. If you don’t know these guys, they are a thrash/punk type of band who wear skeleton masks and use some kind of voice changer thing. It had to be the scariest thing I have ever seen. I know about the spiritual reasons behind the masks they wear (dying to sin), but just don’t know if I fully get it. Part of this has to be related to the way I initially discovered them. Last year I went to bed early one night and about one in the morning got up to walk to the porta pottie. In my half awake stupor, I stumbled past the Sanctuary tent and saw Grave Robber performing. I honestly thought I was having a nightmare it was so scary looking, and since I was half asleep, my brain wasn’t exactly able to fully process what I was seeing. The kids at the show seemed to be having a good time, probably one of the most outspoken  bands for Christ at the festival as well, if you can get used to the creepy voice the guy talks in.

Overall, I saw some great music, heard some wonderful teaching, engaged in some heartfelt and passionate discussion with other movie fans, ate a lot of greasy food, and had the greatest week of my year. See you in 358 days…

A Cornerstone Defining Moment…

Every year, there is at least one moment of the festival that stands out in my mind as one that defines the entire experience. Previous defining moments included meeting MxPx (my teen idols) for the first time, hearing Josh McDowell speak on Main Stage, seeing Stavesacre reunite, watching All The Day Holiday perform, and this year’s defining moment: a performance by Paper Route.

I walked into the Gallery tent this afternoon not knowing what to expect. All I knew was that Paper Route had a cool sounding name and it was the Gallery so it wouldn’t be hardcore. After finding a seat, I settled in expecting some mellow sit down music. I noticed everyone standing, strange for The Gallery. I stayed seated for the first song but quickly realized this was a band that deserved a closer look. After pushing my way through the crowd, I found a place to stand just a few feet away from the stage. What greeted my eyes and ears was one of the most creative bands I have ever seen perform at Cornerstone. Cornerstone vets will understand when I say they are on the creative level of Anathallo.

Describing their sound wouldn’t be a good thing for me to do here; everything I think of comes up short. They had the usual guitars as well as electronics, tambourines, various drums, and a xylophone. This was basically straight ahead rock with a more creative edge to both the lyrics and music. Once I realized my jaw was on the ground (and subsequently prying it back up), I began watching the crowd and their reactions. This is obviously a band that has made an emotional connection with their fans. Moments like this keep me coming back year after year.

Camping At Cornerstone…

We have options when it comes to spending a week at Cornerstone. My first couple of years, we stayed in a hotel. While a hotel is nice, they aren’t exactly convenient to the grounds being in surrounding towns. Another option is the dorms at a nearby college. The most popular option (and the best in my opinion) is to camp on the grounds.

If you have been camping before, this is not like going to your local state park. Tents are everywhere. These grounds become a tent city for a week. A couple of days ago, two guys in a truck stopped me and asked, “Where are we supposed to camp?” I pointed and said, “Anywhere!’ And that is true with a few exceptions; obviously you can’t camp on the Main Stage or in a seminar tent.

Camping presents its challenges. With the exception of reserved RV spots, there is no water and electricity at the camp sites. Showers are available in the shower house in the middle camp, but most people seem to do without those. The weather often presents challenges. One year it was really hot; last year it rained; this year the nights are cool and perfect.

There are some huge advantages to camping. You save money, both on gas and on lodging, since when you bought your ticket you paid for a camp site. You are always close to everything. When we stayed in hotels, we didn’t make it out to the fest until late in the afternoon pretty much guaranteeing we would miss all the seminars and films as well as a huge portion of music.

As I have camped at Cornerstone the last three years, I have started to feel a connection with the place, the people. Cornerstone is often called a community, and you don’t get that feeling in the hotels. If you have never camped at Cornerstone before, consider it next year. The experience will be much more meaningful.

What about the music?

Movies, church services, goth parties- have you seen any music yet?

Yes. Music is alive and well at Cornerstone. Here is a breakdown of what I have seen so far:

Tug Fork River Band- Southern metal at the Sancrosanct Records Stage- These guys are very talented, but it wasn’t my thing so I didn’t stay around too long.

Hand Drawn Mountains- Dreamy pop at the Chasing Canadia Stage- Saw a flyer and thought this sounded great, it was. They are playing the Gallery stage tomorrow.

News from Verona- Pop rock at Love Can’t be Baht Stage- One of the band members stopped me and asked me to listen to his band on an Ipod. I liked what I heard so went back. Good for fans of New Found Glory, Further Seems Forever, etc.

Flatfoot 56- Irish punk rock at the Legacy Stage- Saw these guys a couple years ago. CIRCLE PIT! When the pit is churning, even if you aren’t in it, you better be aware, moshers are always flying into and over you.

Switchfoot- Pop rock on the Main Stage- Not much needs to be said about this amazing band. John Foreman is an awesome frontman.

mewithoutYou- Artsy rock on the Main Stage- mewithoutYou has become one of the fest’s favorite bands. The only stage big enough to hold their crowds is main stage which is strange, because their brilliant music is not exactly radio friendly. It is poetry.

Brooke Waggoner- Piano rock on the Gallery Stage- I had heard this gal was good, so after today’s seminars I headed over to hear. It was beautiful; the addition of artist Timbre on harp made this some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard.

And there is more to come: All the Day Holiday, Over the Rhine, Living Sacrifice, Dignan, Seabird….. So yes, I have definitely seen plenty of music, and there is plenty to come. I hope this post has given you some insight into both my diverse musical tastes and the diversity of music that is available at the festival.

Movie Zombies…

What really sets Cornerstone apart from other festivals is the abundance of things to do that are not music related.  One Cornerstone tradition that developed a few years back is the Bad Movie Night. Geeks gather in the Imagnarium tent long after the seminars are over for the day to laugh at and make fun of extremely bad movies. Past movies that have received the honor of being chosen for this screening include Frogs, Plan 9 From Outer Space, and this year’s movie: Troll 2.

Troll 2 has nothing to do with Troll 1, has no trolls in it, and was made and written by people who spoke English as a second language. They insisted the all American cast (it was filmed in Utah!) follow their poorly written script EXACTLY as it was written. What ensues is a complete ripping apart of the English language coupled with very amateur acting.

The basic plot goes like this: the ghost of a little boy’s grandfather warns of vegetarian goblins who haunt the forest and feed humans a potion in order to turn them into vegetables so they can eat them. Conveniently, after this warning, the family goes on a vacation to the remote, woodsy farming community of Nilbog (try spelling it backwards).  You can guess what happens from there.

After this movie, a documentary about the making of the film was shown: Best Worst Movie. This movie follows the actors around 20 years later as they try to embrace or escape the small group of rabid fans who see them as stars. The documentary states that Troll 2 is the Rocky Horror of this generation, a film so bad you can’t help but watch.

After all the laughter died down and the documentary played, one realized that these actors are people struggling to make their living and live their lives like everyone else. It added a real human touch to the film. While we had a riotous time laughing at these people, it was eye opening to realize most of them didn’t even realize they were in a bad film until they saw it themselves on HBO or VHS.  Some of them are embarrassed by what happened; one, like the dentist from Alabama who had the most memorable line in the entire movie, embraces it; the mother from the film was perhaps the most touching as she has tried to escape the fame and spends her days taking care of her disabled mother.

Both the film and the documentary were a hilarious eye opening look into the desire of the human spirit to create art in its many forms. While I don’t think this film could be considered art, it certainly has developed its fan following and continues to pack out theaters (and tents at funky little music festivals).

If you get a chance to watch the film, enjoy it for what it is, a very badly made movie, and whatever you do DON’T DRINK THE MILK OR EAT ANYTHING OFFERED TO YOU BY A GOBLIN IN THE WOODS!