Casual Diversity

One of the great things about Cornerstone, something that makes it so different from anything else I’ve experienced, is how effortlessly different styles (of music, of opinion, of people) mix together at the fest.  It’s easy to take that for granted after years of coming here.  Last night, I stood up from my chair outside a show and saw something a little unusual for everyday life, but somehow completely normal for this place.  Even so, upon reflection I was amused by how casually the words “there’s a guy juggling knives over there” rolled off my tongue.

At Glenn & Wendi Kaiser’s press conference, Cornerstone was described as “an experiment in Christian liberty.”  The fest has a very laissez-faire attitude toward most things, aside from a few basic rules pertaining to safety and respect for others, yet somehow thousands of people from myriad backgrounds manage to come together here every year and not only coexist but integrate into a cohesive body.  If you read through the Cornerstone Memories group on Facebook, one thing that quickly becomes apparent is everybody’s Cornerstone experience is different.  Everybody comes here for their own reasons, and moves within their own circles within the larger body, but those circles are constantly intersecting all over this place, and it’s a fantastic thing to watch.

You really see this in action at dance or hip hop shows here.  Da MAC played a set on the Underground Stage yesterday (backed up by indie rock band The Corners), and he had a substantial crowd standing elbow-to-elbow doing goofy dances and throwing their hands in the air.  It’s a little thing, but it’s still fantastic to see youth group kids, old guys, punks, hippies, and everybody else joining together in unity like that.

The atmosphere here just generally seems to make you want to be a better person. An older guy (with sprayed pink hair) trip and fall in a circle pit at Icon For Hire, and a younger guy in the pit stopped to give him some blocking and help him get back on his feet.  Little things like that are repeated a thousand times a day here – people just doing little kindnesses for other folks, despite the fact that we’re all hot and tired.  It can’t help but spill over into “real life,” and I’m really going to miss coming here every year for a refresher course in what “do unto others” is supposed to look like.

Bittersweet (and hot!)

Well, the day we’ve been both looking forward to and dreading has arrived – the final Cornerstone is underway.  The happiness and joy of making the annual pilgrimage to Illinois is tempered by the knowledge that next year, for the first time in decades for a lot of folks, we don’t know exactly what we’ll be doing around the Fourth of July.

Still, JPUSA have done a great job with a bad situation, and this year’s Cornerstone still feels vibrant and alive.  There aren’t as many stages, but there are still tons of bands across innumerable musical styles, and plenty of people there to watch them play.

The weather is also getting in a few final shots at fest-goers.  After being spoiled by beautiful weather and cool temps for a few years, we’re enduring temperatures near 100 and some stifling humidity this year.  For the first time in my 15 year fest history, I had to go sit in the car to get some A/C yesterday afternoon.  But I’m not going to admit defeat – I’ll be back out there again, trying to drink water faster than I can sweat it out, in a couple of hours.

It seems like a year to take care of some minor unfinished business around the fest for me. Yesterday, I made time to listen to some bands that have been playing the fest forever but that I’d never seen – Glen Clark and the Family, Aracely, and The Illalogical Spoon – and had my first lemon shake-up.  Good stuff.

One of the best bands of the day was Duke Otherwise, some folks from the band Ticklepenny Corner doing some really cute, creative kids’ music that an audience of adults  nonetheless really enjoyed.

Good Luck Varsity

Another favorite was Good Luck Varsity, from Detroit.  The band overcame some struggles with mics and monitors at the Underground Stage to deliver a passionate, high-energy set.  The band seemed really excited to be playing Cornerstone, and the crowd really responded, demanding an actual, spontaneous encore.  The band obliged, figuring out one more song to play and pulling their friend, rapper Da MAC, out of the crowd to play with them.  Lots of fun to close out a good first day of the fest.

What’s my part?

Our road trip today likely mimicked that of many other people who attended Cornerstone 2011. We listened to some new albums, talked about favorite shows and laughed at old jokes. For me, as the sun set and the fireworks came out, I also was personally thankful for all that God has done – to allow us to openly gather in Jesus’ name – and all He’s done in my life through attending Cornerstone.

I hope there was another common thread in road-trip conversations… If you haven’t thought about this, I’d encourage you to do it now: how can you join in what God is doing at Cornerstone and beyond?

I ask because the festival isn’t a place, and it isn’t entirely just an event. It’s really a community.

Sunday, during the Community Gathering, we were given a challenge and an opportunity. I know a lot of people had already hit the road, and others were enjoying shows at other stages — so if you missed it, these were some suggestions given to how we can impact Cornerstone:*

1. Contribute financially, beyond just the cost of a ticket, to Cornerstone/JPUSA. Send a message with this money that communicates how much we value all that Cornerstone is.

2. Pray for the festival and it’s organizers. Pray for God to be glorified and honored. Pray for an unchurched/unbelieving friend that you can bring to Cornerstone 2012.

3. Consider sponsoring the ongoing ministry of Jesus People USA in a regular way. I can’t begin to list the things that they do to serve others in Chicago and beyond.

I hope I’m not the only person seriously considering these suggestions, as well as asking God to show me my part.

How can you join God in what He’s already doing at Cornerstone and beyond?

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*Note that these suggestions were given prior to the offering, by one of the volunteers who organizes some of the games/sports at the fest – not directly by the fest staff or JPUSA pastors. Neither that man (who’s name I can’t recall – sorry) nor I or any of the other bloggers would in any way benefit financially if you take these suggestions. I mention them entirely because I think they’re a good starting point for asking God what your part may be.

This Is Not The End

Well, another Cornerstone, the 28th edition, is in the books.  I’ve now officially been to exactly half of all of the Cornerstones there have ever been, which boggles my mind.  This year flew by – honestly, it’s all just a blur of music, friends, and fun, and it’s going to take a while to decompress all of it.  A full day’s drive home will be a good place to start with that.

There was a lot of talk around the grounds this year about the future of Cornerstone – if there will be one, where it will be, what it will look like, etc.  I talked to some folks with the festival who would have the best information of anyone, and the bottom line is this: yes, times are hard and Cornerstone has been impacted just like most everything else.  There is some uncertainty about what Cornerstone will look like next year.  But nothing has been decided, and nobody knows for sure what the answer is going to be.  The one thing that we can know for sure is that if God wants there to be a Cornerstone next year, He will provide, and nothing on earth can stop it from happening.  But if you have any ideas, suggestions, thoughts, or comments, please let somebody know – e-mail John Herrin, the festival director, post them on Facebook, or leave them as a blog comment.  Somebody will make sure that they make it into the right hands.

The dorm room is packed, and the road home awaits, but the festival coverage will continue.  We’re all taking a little bit of Cornerstone home with us, in our lungs if nothing else.  Some blogs about the last couple of days along with some closing thoughts will show up once we all get home, and there are a ton of photos and cool videos on the way from the coverage team, so keep checking the festival home page and all the other usual outlets.

Safe travels, everybody.  Until I hear otherwise, I’ll see you again next year on a farm in Illinois!

A dream fulfilled

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A dream of mine since 1998 just came true. Thankfully, this wasn’t my biggest dream in life, but it was still awesome… I got on main stage at Cornerstone!

Nope, I’m not in a band. Nope, I’m not the new MC. Nope, I’m not even involved with the quilt raffle. But, I was responsible for a couple of typos and at least one missed cue for the PowerPoint during the Community Gathering! I was a last minute fill-in, allowing the video guys to keep working on awesome coverage which we’ll all enjoy soon. (One hint: epic footage of “Marilyn Monroe.”)

I’m sure it is different during “actual” main stage shows, but I found back stage to be a relaxed, uncrowded, professional, friendly, organized, and dusty place. Here’s a picture from a perspective most of us never see.

Right Here, Right Now

A few stray thoughts as I sit outside the web trailer listening to Blindside on this lovely, cool Saturday evening…

I mentioned some of the problems yesterday, but I didn’t mention one of the awesome things from yesterday.  It’s not strictly Cornerstone related,  but it’s close enough.  Back in the day, there was a food vendor at the fest called the Bushnell Locker that sold the best ribeye and porkchop sandwiches of all time.  They were so awesome that my friends and I gave them a special name:  sammich.  Artists and fans alike loved the place and sometimes bonded with each other in line over just how great it was.  But a few years ago, they stopped coming to the fest, and many hearts were broken.  But I recently got some fantastic news – every Friday, the locker sells sandwiches in front of their butcher shop right up the road in Bushnell.  My friends and I stopped in on the way to the fest and and two sammiches each.  It was as good as I remembered, and all was right with the world again.

Main Stage has a pretty good lineup tonight.  Seabird (who are working on a new album) kicked things off with a 45 minute set of melodic, piano-driven rock.  Blindside, who last played the fest in 2004, are blasting through an enjoyably heavy show right now.  Even the folks in the back in golf carts are enjoying it enough to stay.  And coming up in half an hour or so, Anberlin takes the stage.  They’re one of my current favorite bands, and I’m totally pumped for the show. They’ve been one of the most consistently solid melodic rock bands around for the last few years, both live and in the studio.  It’s hard to top Cities, but their latest album, Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place, gives it a run for its money, and “Impossible” quickly shot into my top 10 favorite songs of all time.

Things have indeed gone better today than yesterday.  No power outages, the rain that was forecast seems to have decided not to show, and the heat has finally broken a bit.  No matter how hot and miserable the days get here on the grounds, there’s just nothing better than when the sun finally sets and a cool breeze starts to blow.  Many of my enduring memories of the last 14 years involve sitting around somewhere close to where I’m at now (formerly near the Gallery, now the back of the Main Stage area) hanging out with friends that I usually only see here, at this time of year.  Lots of things have changed in those 14 years, but one thing remains the same: right here is one of my favorite places on earth.

If you’re reading this and you’re not (or weren’t) at the fest, I can sincerely say that I wish you were here so you could experience a night like this, right here, right now.

Things Are Heating Up

Dude crashed on the ground at the first band of the day.Admit it – we’ve all felt like the guy in the picture from time to time at Cornerstone.  Although not usually at the first band on the first day of the fest – dude, you’ve got to pace yourself!  It’s amazing to see what people (including myself) can manage to sleep through.  Brain-thumping dance music?  Check.  Two hardcore bands at the same time?  No problem.  I once saw a guy sleeping on the ground in the crowd outside a Flatfoot 56 show.  Everybody deftly avoided him, somehow – I almost felt like I should go kick him in the head (lovingly) just to get the inevitable over with.  Anyway, remember – Cornerstone is a marathon, not a sprint.

(Seriously, though, if the forecast that I’ve been seeing holds, it’s going to be hotter for the next couple of days than it’s been for several years at the fest, with a heat index of 110 on Saturday.  Wear sunscreen, get into some shade when you can, and drink more water than you think you need – if you’re not visiting the Little Blue Room a few times a day, you’re probably not drinking enough.  Take care of each other!)

“Day 0” of the festival is in the books.  I spent a lot of time catching up with friends (including some folks I wasn’t expecting to see, like Mark from Scotland, who came all the way from, well, Scotland for his second Cornerstone in a row).  Musically, the day was heavy on bands playing the generator stages, along with some unexpected surprises.  Some bands worth mentioning:

  • Tim Serdynski – Some nice acoustic music to kick off Cornerstone 2011.  Very pleasant stuff – if you’re looking for something to chill out to, he’s playing a ton of generator sets through the week.  There’s a trio playing similarly acoustic-driven worship music that usually plays before or after him (sorry, I didn’t catch the name) that’s also worth a listen.
  • Belair, Stone Throw Second, and Adelaine – Honestly, there’s a bit of a dearth of melodic but rocking bands at the festival this year if you’re not into the screaming.  Anberlin on Main Stage is going to be great, but a lot of other bands in that vein either aren’t here this year or have broken up.  All of these new-to-me bands filled that niche admirably, though.  They’re all playing several more generator sets this week, so if non-screamy melodic rock is your thing, check them out.
  • Rodent Emporium – OK, so the music (bizarre and occasionally indescribable Scottish punk) isn’t necessarily my thing, but this is still a must-see band.  They’re outrageously fun.  Just watching the crowd dance and enjoy themselves with reckless abandon is totally worth it.
  • Resurrection Band – So the on-again, off-again “open rehearsal” by Daniel Amos on the Gallery last night fell through (there are still rumblings of efforts to secure them another slot besides their all-too-brief Main Stage slot today, so keep your ear to the ground), but that meant we got an extra-long rehearsal set from REZ.  I admit that I’m a total fanboy for REZ – I only ever saw them once during their heyday, back in 1991, so every chance to see them is exciting.  Wendi, Glenn, and crew are parents and grandparents at this point, but they can still kick some butt when given the chance.

Today gives us some new bands worth checking out (Dead American Radio, Milano), some legendary artists that laid the foundation for literally all of the music that we’re listening to this week (Stonehill, Keaggy, DA, REZ, Petra), an agonizing choice (Paper Route versus Keaggy and Petra), and a Flatfoot 56 people-watching extravaganza to top it all off.  Should be great!

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.

Day 1 Is Only Hours Away

Well, here we are in Illinois for another Cornerstone Festival. Thanks to the time shift I’m up at 7:22 AM, so I figure now is a good time to check in and introduce myself. My name is Jeff and I’ve been coming to Cornerstone now since 1998 (with a few years skipped in between.) I’ve seen some pretty epic shows and made a lot of good friends along the way and that’s what keeps me coming back year after year.

So, the theme for me this year is “Keep Calm and Rock On” which I stole from a sign that my wife and I picked up to decorate the house. It’s a play on the old British propaganda sign “Keep Calm and Carry On” but it actually fits well. I’m hoping to drop the pressures of work and life at home, just a for a couple days, and see some great bands, enjoy some great conversation, and pay a little more attention to what God has to say to me.

There are plenty of bands to look forward to this week. I’m especially interested in the Jesus Rally that will bring several bands that haven’t played at Cornerstone Festival in decades or ever to the Main Stage. I’m really excited to see Anberlin return (and as far as I know, no band playing at the same time that I also want to see! A common theme that happens every year is that Anberlin plays at the same time as some other band I really want to see.) I’m looking forward to Paper Route’s return after their breakout show last year and there is no doubt the “Superheroes” themed Flatfoot 56 show will be talked about for years to come. I’m also looking forward to seeing my friends perform on stage. Dave Richards will be bringing the beats at the AfterHours Dance Club, Jeff Elbel will be working as hard as he does every year at the Gallery Stage and bringing his band, Ping, to the stage with new music and also this year a friend of mine and his band, Songs of Water, plays at their very first Cornerstone. I love the intertwining themes of friendship and music here at the festival.

As for today, things get started right out of the gate at noon. We’ll be wandering the generator stages. These stages were once as simple as just three kids plugged into a gas-powered generator on the side of the road, but they’ve evolved into something a little more professional. However, they still embrace the chaos of their youth. Any band can play on a generator stage and most of them are bands just getting their start and trying to get the attention of a crowd that’s here to see one of any of hundreds of other bands, so anything can happen. Sometimes you might see the next big thing (several big name bands here at Cornerstone got their start on the side of the road) and sometimes you might just be hearing unintelligible noise. You never know, and that’s part of the fun of the unpredictable stages. Then today, the Main Stage fires up with DJ Andy Hunter which will introduce the AfterHours Dance Club to the whole festival grounds and start of a Dance Party to begin the festival. Everything is starting to get warmed up for incredible first day of Cornerstone Festival. Keep Calm and Rock On.