Wednesday at Cornerstone

If you’re looking for diversity (or as TobyMac calls it “diverse city”), look no further than Main Stage at Cornerstone on Wednesday night.

From the quirky indie-rock of mewithoutyou to the aggressive alternarock of Red, and finally the hip-hop, pop, funk machine that is TobyMac and his band, Cornerstone had a little  bit of everything Wednesday night.

The much-discussed main stage move is showing some benefits. For one, the ccentral location makes it easier to get to. I think more people are stopping and checking out the main stage shows that they would’ve otherwise missed completely.

And having the stage right in the middle of the grounds makes it the focal point of the physical environment. You can see the main stage from much of the outlying area. It was always cool for me to come up over the hill and see the stage. But for the rest of the day, main stage was out of sight and out of mind. Now it’s always lurking.

If you’re not here, there’s still time for some great shows — Skillet, The Devil Wears Prada, The Almost, David Crowder Band, and a ton more.

It’s Here…

The festival officially opens at 8 PM with Switchfoot’s Main Stage performance, but it is already in full swing. About an hour ago, the merch tents opened up selling all sorts of swag from tshirts, to jewelery, to tattoos (temporary and permanent). Of course there are tons of cds, vinyls, and cassettes. Several booths are giving away free Ipads and other goodies, but if you sign up for those you lessen my chances of winning so stay away! Just kidding, but I signed up for all of them that were being offered. One place is even offering free backpacks to everyone that comes by if you need that. (I forgot one and regretted it these past two days. Thanks Trevecca Nazarene University for solving my problem.)

Things are different this year, but it is still undeniably Cornerstone. I was on the fence about the Main Stage moving to the midway, but it seems to be a good change. It looks great right in the middle of the action. The volleyball courts are moved, but today as I looked out the window from the coverage trailer a large group of kids had a game of ultimate frisbee going; Cornerstone fans are always able to adapt.

The weather is  great, music is loud, food is greasy, lake is cold, and Cornerstone is ready for you. If you haven’t made it out yet, there is still plenty of time left; get in your car and head on out to Bushnell!

Tuesday: Early day concerts

Early in the festival, especially with the generator stages, flexibility is the key word at Cornerstone. Things invariably go off schedule. Bands fail to show up. Stages lose power. Things happen. So, sometimes the band you intended to see end up playing at a different time. That means I’ve been on the move a lot, trying to see what I’m intending to see. Early in the day, I caught Karina Mia, who played a Jason Mraz cover for us on ukelele. The Rendition played probably the best set of he early afternoon with a nice rock show with keyboards and guitars and nice, strong vocals from the female lead singer. Over on the Anchor Stage, Allen Aguirre exorted the crowd “who can approach the throne of God? You can!” with his band Men As Trees Walking. The band is truly a family as one of the singers, Aquirre’s daughter and one of the guitarists, his son-in-law, are expecting a child very, very soon.

Continuing along the lines of flexibilty, I wandered by the old Main Stage grounds heading out to the new Main Stage. I have to say I really like how the Main Stage towers above the rest of the grounds. You can see it from almost anywhere at the festival. When the Main Stage was over by the lake, it was special because it was separate from the rest of the action. Now, however, its the center of the action. I’m looking forward to seeing how Switchfoot commands the center of attention tonight.


A Visit To The Asylum…

At a typical Cornerstone, the goth community often keeps to itself.  Those of us who don’t identify with that lifestyle tend to stay away from The Asylum, the goth community’s tent at Cornerstone. After last night,  I hope that will change some.

The festival program contained a description of what sounded like a unique worship experience, Nailed (To The Cross), so I headed over to The Asylum to check it out. Being greeted at the door with a piece of laffy taffy (trick or treating) and walking beneath a sign that said “Enter if you dare…” I found this rather dark tent (for obvious reasons) ironically inviting. Several people made a point to speak with me and make me feel welcome as I gazed around in amazement at the decor of skeletons, coffins, bats, Heath Ledger’s “Joker”, and artistic renderings of Jesus and icons.  I settled into a seat and waited on the service to begin.

Shortly after 11, the service started up, although it was bit difficult to compete with the loud generator stages next door. Musical instruments were passed out to the entire audience (which consisted almost entirely of non-goths). We then sang through several Taize like songs based on the language of the Psalms, the worship book of the Jewish people and the early church. The energy felt in the room as each person played their instrument for God could only be described as joy, although fully describing the feeling would be impossible. It was clear that the Holy Spirit showed up. After a short evangelical message based on Psalm 22 and a retelling of the Gospel, a pastor led us through communion and the Lord’s prayer.

I wouldn’t call this service goth in anyway, other than being led by people who identify with that community; I think it would be best described as post-modern. It is very indicative of how Christianity is changing. Young Christians are becoming dissatisfied with the way churches are doing things and long to grow deeper in their faith by connecting with the ancient root of it (as evidenced through the singing and use of Psalms in worship). Also evident that this hunger for ancient Christian spirituality exists is the fact that the majority of the audience would not normally hang out at The Asylum.

Maybe I will go back Friday night for the Halloween party…

Drive, He Said

Thirteen hours of driving behind me, 5 days of music and fun ahead of me – that’s a good place to be. (Yes, technically there are also thirteen more hours of driving ahead of me, but let’s not talk about that right now.)

In my last post, I talked about being a creature of habit, somebody who enjoys it when certain things stay the same. The drive up seemed to be sending the message “get over it,” as there were a few things that, by choice or necessity, diverged from the usual pattern. We had lunch in a different place. (Chuy’s, a Texas-based Tex-Mex chain that’s expanded into Tennessee – my Austin friends encouraged me to try it, so I did. Good burrito.) We drove a different route. (Well, barely, but there was a detour that had a favorite backroads bypass around St. Louis partially blocked off.) We stopped at different places for food and gas. (I’ve gotta say, I was impressed that my rented, heavily-laden, enthusiastically-driven Ford Escape got 25+ MPG on the way up here.) But also for a change, we left Springfield, IL to drive on the backroads to Macomb just as the sun was setting, so we got to drive directly into a beautiful sunset for an hour, with a pilot doing aerobatics in a plane over our heads for part of the drive. That was really cool – it’s surprising how often something like that seems to happen when I’m driving up here.

Since I haven’t seen any bands yet, I’ll give you a few of the musical highlights of the drive.

  • Eisley, Combinations. Eisley is playing Cornerstone on Friday night, and I couldn’t be more excited. That’s probably my #1 most anticipated show. Combinations is a great album – lush, well-produced, sonically diverse, with beautifully harmonized vocals from the Dupree sisters. Buy the CD, come to the show Friday at 10.
  • Muse, Black Holes and Revelations. Yeah, they’re not a Cornerstone band, but when I saw them open for U2, I became a fan instantly. This CD is all over the map, with influence ranging from Queen to New Order and a lot of other places besides. Good stuff.
  • Paramore, Brand New Eyes. Paramore has matured musically with each release, and with Brand New Eyes they’ve produced a CD that’s good from start to finish, with hooks galore. Good steering wheel drumming music for road trips.

Today looks to be an interesting one at the fest musically. There aren’t many bands playing that I’m familiar with (until Rodent Emporium, Switchfoot, and Nitengale tonight), so it looks like I’ll be sampling a lot of new stuff. A few bands that particularly caught my ear:

  • Karina Mia (Impact Stage, 12:45) – a singer with an acoustic guitar (and maybe a ukulele). She had a cover of “CrushCrushCrush” on her MySpace page that sounded pretty good, so I’ll give her a shot.
  • Great Awakening (Anchor Stage, 1:30) – melodic, well-performed modern rock.
  • The Frozen Ocean (Anchor Stage, 3:00) – Gentle, mellow, and kind of ambient. A nice break from being pummeled by hardcore.
  • Sleep for Sleepers (Encore Stage, 6:00) – Mae-ish poppy rock, fairly polished and catchy.
  • Send Out Scuds (Chasing Canadia Stage, 7:50) – Ska, in case you want to party like it’s 1999.


A Cornerstone Key Word…

When I think of Cornerstone many things come to mind: loud music, elephant ears, seminars, camping, the lake, etc. One thing that often gets lost in the shuffle for me is one that at a Christian event should be a high priority: WORSHIP.

Worship means many things to many people. A common misconception is that it consists solely of a guy or girl playing songs on a guitar while a crowd sings along. That is ONE element of worship. Worship encompasses prayer, scripture, preaching, music, dancing, pretty much our entire lives.

There is no shortage of worship opportunities at this year’s festival. No matter what your church background, liturgical to Pentecostal, you should be able to find something at Cornerstone that fits. Here is a sampling of what can be found:

Catholic Mass- Hosted by the Imagninarium seminar tent, this will take place Wed. – Fri. at 9 am.

Breakaway- Teenagers can worship each morning with a band and speaker just for them. The Alive Band will be leading this year followed by various speakers. As usual, this will be at the Gallery Stage.

Nailed (To The Cross)- This “freeform” service of music, prayer, scripture, communion, and Bible study takes place nightly at The Asylum, the goth tent. Don’t be afraid if you aren’t goth, the services are open to all. I received a warm welcome in there earlier today.

Morning Services/Bible Studies at Generator Stages- The Generator Stages are known for their loud screaming and grinding guitars but a couple of them are taking time out for worship and study this year. Check with the stages to find one. There is also a morning service at the Sancrosanct Records Stage.

11 PM Services at Anchor/Come and Live!- This tent co-hosted by Nashville church The Anchor Fellowship and Come and Live will close out the night with worship music and a speaker from a band. I attended some of their services last year, and they were very powerful.

Community Gathering- The grandaddy of all Cornerstone festival worship services! This year’s service will be held on Main Stage Friday night. Parachute Band will start off the worship followed by a little known worship artist; I believe his name is David Crowder. I sure hope he knows what to do!

These are the ones that are in the official program. If there are any worship opportunities that I have left off, feel free to add them to the comments section.

Most importantly, while at Cornerstone this week, enjoy the music, but don’t forget to nourish your soul and connect with the Savior.

Pre-Cornerstone Emergencies

It should come as no surprise to me that a crisis arises right as I’m about to leave for Cornerstone Festival. I started feeling ill on Saturday and went to see the doctor yesterday on Sunday and sure enough, I have strep throat. Ugh. Fortunately, the antibiotics are already starting to kick in so by the time I arrive on the grounds on Tuesday I should be just about full-strength. I just hope I’m not too much of a biohazard to the people in my car during the trip up to Illinois.

This isn’t the first year that something has come up right as I’m about to leave for Cornerstone Festival. Just a few years ago, someone decided to run up a couple thousand dollars using my credit card number right as I was about to leave, so I had to frantically call and cancel the card and find alternate ways to get money for the festival. Such is the way of my trips to Cornerstone.

On the note of my illness, what should you do at Cornerstone if you get sick or injured? There is a first-aid trailer in the midway section of the festival grounds near the Main Stage (check the map on this website). Also, there is a hospital in Macomb, Illinois, which is about a 20-30 minute drive. I recommend bringing a small first-aid kit to deal with minor cuts and injuries and some hand-sanitizer is a must. You will want to have it when you emerge from the infamous portapotties and it will keep you from contracting dread diseases from ill people like me.

Have a safe drive, keep well, and let’s get ready to have some fun.

Weather looks to be great!

Last year the grounds were covered with mud on the final day. Will we avoid the rain this year?

I should preface this post with a big caveat. Always, always, ALWAYS prepare for the worst weather at Cornerstone Festival. It will rain, so bring shoes you don’t mind getting muddy and possibly ruined. Bring ponchos so you aren’t miserable and wet the entire day. Bring plenty of socks so you don’t have wet feet all week. Bring tarps and covers for your tents so all of your stuff isn’t ruined. It will be dusty if it doesn’t rain. It can be choking if it doesn’t rain at all, so if you have respiration problems, be prepared. It will be hot. Bring sunscreen, you will be sunburnt if you are not careful. Drink plenty of water and stay cool. Don’t use up all your energy perfecting your roundhouse kick at the hardcore shows the first day so that you are dead tired on the last day. It will be cold. In the evenings, it can get downright chilly. Bring something to wear in the evenings. Bring appropriate gear to sleep in.

Now, having said all that, checking various weather sites it looks like the weather is going to be incredible for the week of Cornerstone Festival! So far the predictions seem to be in the mid 80’s for highs and 60s – 70s for lows (some nights as low as the high 50s!) so be prepared. The chance of rain looks small, but never count on it not raining at Conerstone.

Now, I know there have been some legendary times at Cornerstone in inclement weather. Do you have any memorable times at Cornerstone in the rain, heat, or cold? It was fun and all watching the kids slide around in the mud last year and of course, moving the Underoath and The Devil Wears Prada shows to the Gallery tent was epic. I’ve been to Cornerstone under all conditions. However, I prefer a nice, sunny, days with low temperatures and cool evenings. Keep your fingers crossed because we *might* get that this year.

…and if we don’t, please don’t flood this post with hate comments directed at me for jinxing it. Just a little while more now before the fun begins!

Roll With The Changes

Ahh, change.  It’s been kind of a theme for the last couple of years, hasn’t it?  Personally, I’m a creature of habit and I love my “rituals” – once I get used to something, I kind of enjoy the sense of familiarity that I get from its sameness.  That’s why, for example, I tend to stop at the same gas stations every year when I drive to Cornerstone (Pelham, TN Stuckey’s, I know you have a root beer and a Goo-Goo cluster waiting for me…).  All things being equal, I usually like things to stay the way they are.

Now, Cornerstone has seen its share of changes.  The band lineup, of course, changes every year.  There’s a crazy amount of turnover in the schedule from year to year, and bands that stay together and become regulars for more than a couple of years are the exception.  Bands like the Choir, who played the first Cornerstone and are playing this year’s model as well, with their original members, are REALLY the exception.  The big change came in 1991, when the fest packed up and moved from its original Grayslake, IL location to its present location on the farm outside Bushnell.  (I’ve only experienced the Bushnell version, but from what I’ve seen, I’d say that was a change for the better. But I probably wouldn’t have liked it at the time…)

So what’s changing this year?  Well, for the first time since I started attending the fest in 1998, the festival is doing a major overhaul of the stage layout.  (There have been tweaks in the past, but nothing of this magnitude.)  Check out the festival grounds map to see what I’m talking about.  As you might assume from reading my first paragraph, I’m a little leery of this change, but I’m trying to keep an open mind.  I’m curious to hear what people think going into the festival (I’ve already seen some comments about the change on the festival Facebook page) and to compare that with what people think after living with the changes for a week.

Some of my thoughts:

  • The changes to generator stages are probably a net positive.  There was something cool about generator stages when they were mostly DIY efforts where young bands brought their little PA and played out of the trunk of their car on the side of the road.  But things started to evolve – the generator stages got bigger and more complex and started competing with each other (and at times interfering with the “real” stages).  Things kind of reached a breaking point last year, with 6 or 8 stages (many with questionable PAs) all squeezed in around that one intersection by the showers.  The bands were stomping on each other, fans had to run a gauntlet of rawk to get through the area, and it generally wasn’t a good situation for anybody.

    So, this year the generator stages are more regimented.  They’re strung out along the road to the lake, and they’re required to have tents and presumably equipment of a certain quality.  They should be more organized and less intrusive, which is good, but you probably lose a little bit of the freewheeling, DIY ethos that characterizes Cornerstone.

  • Several other stages are getting reshuffled – Encore 2 is gone, Encore 1 has moved over by the merch tent, and the Gallery has moved over to where the Encore stages used to be (among other changes).  These changes hit home to me, because I tend to see a lot of shows at the Encore stages and the Gallery.  I loved when I was able to surf back and forth between the two Encores (especially on the late, lamented Tooth & Nail Day, when those two stages alternated bands for constant music all afternoon long), and the Gallery made for a great (cool and shady) gathering place next to the food court and midway during the day.

    Sitting outside the Gallery on hay bales with friends on cool nights, with the food court lights flickering behind me and a band like Over the Rhine or the Lost Dogs on the stage, are some of my favorite memories of Cornerstone.  I fear it’s not going to be quite the same with the Gallery out on the fringes.

  • But the really big change is that Main Stage is moving to the midway area.  I don’t have a good sense for what that’s really going to look like yet.  I understand the rationale for wanting to integrate the BIG stage into the core of the festival grounds, but I’m not sure I like the disruption to the way things have been (again, I’m a creature of habit), and I feel like not using the bowl down by the lake is a waste of a fantastic, unique resource.

    Yeah, it’s a long walk down to Main Stage, and that can be tough for somebody like me that enjoys both Family Force 5 and REZ – running down to Main Stage and back a couple times a night will wear you out.  But making the pilgrimage to Main Stage also gave those shows a sense of “specialness.”  That’s where the really big bands play, so having to go through a bit of hassle (if walking down a road next to a beautiful lake is really that much of a hassle) to see them just enhances the experience, in my opinion.  Walking to the crest of the hill and seeing the place packed out (like for POD a few years ago), with the floor packed and the hill covered is an awesome thing.

    Plus, you’re not going to get a scene like this in the new location:

Candles at Main Stage

So, how do you feel about change?  Are you looking forward to the new layout, or hoping they’ll decide to change it back next year? Post some comments now, and we’ll compare and see how everybody feels about the changes post-fest.


Don’t Leave Before You Go

When I think of Cornerstone I equate it with vacation. It is truly a place that you can let your guard down, turn off the gadgets and let you be reintroduced to yourself. For me the vacation begins when I have the truck loaded up and my wife and I begin the descent down from the great white north. I look forward to hearing all of the bands from Glenn Kaiser to ARE YOU KIDDING ME…LIVING SACRIFICE!!!!!?? The most anticipated concert for me on this trek will be Iona.

There is something to warn you about though when you go on vacation. There can sometimes come a point in a vacation when you have had enough. When you get to that point I would encourage you to fight it and really settle in to enjoy the rest of your stay. Perhaps you will be missing kids, home, or maybe even work. I would emphasize that you stay locked into vacation mode until the day you leave so that when you do finally get home, your batteries will be renewed and you will refreshed.

I heard this saying once as I went on a Jesuit silent prayer retreat. The retreat director told me this, “don’t leave before you go.” Think about that for a minute. When you get to Cornerstone…turn your brain off, get your campsite ready, enjoy some great concerts and teachings but most of all let God “Shuv you to your nephesh.” I will be talking about this at the Sanctuary Tent on Thursday night at 8 p.m.