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.

Identity of a Girl Rocker

The Coverage Team posted an interview,  Are you in a band? * Most of the “yes” responses came from guys. As I’ve noted on this blog before, it seems that rock & roll is a man’s world.

Female singers are never hard to find at Cornerstone. Visit the Gallery or sit at the Chelsea Cafe, and you’ll find some amazingly talented women like Timbre, Lauren Mann & the Fairly Odd Folk, Maron Gaffron, Brooke Waggoner, SHEL, etc. Finding girls in bands that totally rock your face off is less common. Yet, they’re here, too in acts like Quiet Science, Deas Vail, Don’t Wake Aislin, Adelaine, The Rendition, etc.

I talked to a bunch of the women in these bands last week. They readily admit that there are some things they love about being a girl in a rock band:

  • Able to connect with just about any other girl in any other band, regardless of style of music.
  • Easy opportunities to meet fans, who are often very friendly.
  • Connecting with female fans. So many girl rockers I talked to mentioned that ministering to other women made the hard work of being in a band worth it.
  • Using their gifts and talents to make others smile.

These women admitted some downsides too:

  • The smell of the guys in the van.
  • Fighting to be seen as a real person and not just a stereotype.
  • Occasionally having to clean up after the guys when on tour.
  • Having confidence that you belong on the stage, in what seems like a man’s world.
  • The confusion of relationships if you date someone in the band.

Many of these women talked about identity. They brought up how they struggle to know who they are in the spotlight vs. who they feel like the rest of the time. For girl-rockers wondering this, I want to share a bit of wisdom I heard from Sandie Brock, who just played her first show in 20 years with Servant (but who has never really stopped singing): When you’re in a band, that’s who you are, but when the band is done, you need to remember that the God who was at work in you is still at work in you.

I think that’s good advice for the rest of us who aren’t in a band, too. And, it’s a good reminder to pray for the women – and men – who make the music we love so much – pray for them to see God at work in them.

Rock on, girls!

*If they asked me for that video, I’d have to say “only on xBox.” My Rock Band group is called “The Rotary Cutters.”

Preaching Giant

I am not even slightly within the target demographic of the typical hardcore band. I fully admit that I usually just don’t get it, and my friends & I go to great lengths to figure out what bands playing Cornerstone fit this genre, so we can let others enjoy these shows without us being in the way (yeah, that’s the nice way of saying it…). Yet, Sleeping Giant is becoming a must-see show for me at Cornerstone. People who know me and who hear their intense music may find that shocking… until I explain why.

These guys consistently lead the audience into amazingly authentic and passionate worship of God. The music isn’t even remotely what you hear on Sunday mornings across America. The lyrics (after I put in earplugs and train my ears to decipher them) seem very solid and manage to rise far above the emotionally-driven or me-centered lyrics too often found in the modern worship scene.

Listen, and you may hear things like this:

You are worthy Oh Jesus you paid with your blood,
You redeemed us a people that live in the flood of your grace Lord.
Oh Praise Him. He is Holy. He Is Worthy.

(from “Oh Praise Him”)

Oh we exalt Your name Oh God
We exalt You now Lord
You will reign forevermore
Take my life and make it Yours
You will reign forevermore

(from “He Will Reign”)

I made my way to the Underground Stage on Sunday night after one of the videographers on the coverage team told me that Tommy Green of Sleeping Giant had just laid out a phenomenal testimony (read about his story here – the paragraph under the first bold title gives you the basics), then led the men in the audience in mass confession of ultra-personal sins (think pornography & the like) and the women to pray for their brothers in Christ.

So, instead of staying at Main Stage to see the worship set that was likely intended more for my demographic (Gungor), I put in my earplugs and stood in back at the Underground. The barn-like odor became the last thing on my mind as I joined the sweaty crowds lifting our hands and singing “You are holy… You are holy…” I was physically exhausted, and couldn’t stand for the whole show, but I stayed long enough to encounter God breaking through to people who need Him (the band even baptized a few people during the show!) and being praised passionately by people who love Him. Once again, as with the 2 Sleeping Giant shows I’ve visited previously at Cornerstone, I was reminded that God is a whole lot bigger than a particular genre of music. And, I realized again that we humans are a whole lot more alike than our music, fashion, and tattoo choices may imply.

I’m glad that Sleeping Giant and Cornerstone exist to introduce me (again & again) to people authentically worshiping the one true God.

As often happens at Cornerstone, I not only saw a great rock show, but I got a new view of hope. Thanks.


(BTW, thanks to Megan Sontag, fest-photographer, for a) liking other people despite the fact that we don’t love the same music, and b) inspiring me to go to my first Sleeping Giant show a few years ago. The band photo included here is one she took for the Cornerstone coverage site.)

Anberlin FTW

Anberlin closed out Saturday night on Main Stage this year, and delivered one of the most face-rocking shows of 2011.  Things got off to a bit of a rough start, with MC John J. Thompson introducing the band, who then failed to materialize.  (Apparently Stephen was still back on the bus brushing his teeth – I applaud his oral hygiene, if not his punctuality.)  But once the band took they stage, they unleashed a torrent of energy that had the crowd on its feet (and occasionally off the ground) and fists in the air.

The set kicked off with a fist-pumping rendition of “Godspeed,” and for the next hour, the band roared through a range of songs from throughout their career.  Debut album Blueprints for the Black Market was represented by “Readyfuels,” and a pair of songs were drawn from Never Take Friendship Personal (“Paperthin Hymn” and the title track).  Cities was probably a little underrepresented with the aforementioned “Godspeed” and “Dismantle. Repair.”, which was as epic as ever – the dynamics of that song, from the gentle intro to the soaring chorus, with a gorgeous breakdown in the middle, are amazing.  New Surrender provided the newer version of “Feel Good Drag,” probably the band’s biggest single, as well as encore selection “The Resistance,” the Anberlin song most likely to actually incite the riot referenced in the lyrics.

The bulk of the set was drawn from new album Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place, including “We Owe This To Ourselves,” “Closer,” and single “Impossible.”  A great melody, awesome guitar riff, and those killer arena rock “whoa-ohs” have brought “Impossible” into my personal all-time favorites list with a bullet.  “Pray Tell” brought members of Fallstar to the stage to help out on the driving drum part that anchors the song.  “Art of War” and “Take Me As You Found Me” were the only downtempo songs of the evening, offering the band a chance to catch their breath before getting back to the rock.

Perhaps the only misstep of the evening was a cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy The Silence,” which didn’t translate particularly well to Anberlin’s style (unlike New Order’s “True Faith,” which was fantastic during their set a couple of years ago) and may have sailed over the heads of some of the younger fans in the audience.  But as an older fan of the band, I really appreciate the way they blend elements of 80s arena rock shows with a modern rock sensibility; seeing the band pay homage to their influences is still very cool.

To sum up, Anberlin totally killed it on Main Stage, with one of the highlights of the festival.  Hopefully some other bands were there to take notes on how you can rock hard and still play melodic songs with impressive technical skill.  Anberlin FTW.

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.

Share your #cstonememories

We’re waking up for our last day at Cornerstone 2011. Days like this always make me a little nostalgic, recalling epic shows or loonnnggg conversations with friends around campsites. I don’t think you can have been to Cornerstone more than once and not have tons of memories, unless you were at that Norman Jean show last night and got cracked in the head. haha

Yesterday, Main Stage MC John J. Thompson invited everyone to share some Cornerstone memories on Twitter. Here’s a little of what was shared there:

  • SirRenofKath (Katherine Ottens): Waking up in a toga made of a Strawberry Shortcake sheet all day preparing for Flatfoot 56’s ’08 midnight TOGA PARTY
  • beesax: The first year I went to Cornerstone a racoon ate all of my bread and also my tent got flooded from a thunderstorm
  • joeljupp (Joel Jupp): Five Iron Frenzy… breaking a pinata filled with baked beans… ‘nough said.
  • Slapogopher (Jordan Blackson): Got engaged last year to an amazing woman
  • benjer712 (Daniel Schaaff): Meeting my wife!
  • Dooglar (Doug Van Pelt of HM Magazine): Early Crucified shows at indoor stage at Grayslake. Stagehands dumped giant tubs of h2o on crowd, which turned to steam.
  • Tugfork (Tug Fork River Band): Playing the Encore stage to a bunch of people completely covered in mud

I love hearing about all Cornerstone memories. What are your favorites – of the silly or serious variety? Post here or tweet it at #cstonememories

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.

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.