The Changing of the Guard

Deas Vail closed out Friday night at the Gallery, and it seemed a little like a passing-of-the-torch moment.  The late night slot on the Gallery has traditionally been filled with “old guard” Cornerstone bands like the Lost Dogs, Over the Rhine, and the Choir, but tonight an up-and-coming band got that coveted slot, following the Lost Dogs.  I’m closer to the core Lost Dogs demographic than the core Deas Vail demographic but I’m a fan of both bands, so it was kind of funny watching the older Lost Dogs crowd vacate the tent to be replaced with the younger Deas Vail crowd between sets.  I’m closer to the core Lost Dogs demographic than the core Deas Vail demographic.  It’s clear to me that the older folks don’t know what they’re missing.

Cornerstone has watched Deas Vail grow up as a band over the last 3 or 4 years, as they moved from a midday slot to a packed evening slot to a daytime Main Stage slot, and finally to a headlining slot on the Gallery.  Their songs and performances have gotten better each year, and that trend continued last night as they debuted a ton of new material from a new album coming in September.  As hard as it is to believe, it sounds like their sound has gotten even more expansive on the new material, and I can’t wait to hear the album.  They took full advantage of the Gallery’s excellent PA, filling the (finally) cool night air with beautiful melodies and harmonies.  They’re just a joy to listen to, and the energy and fun that they display while they’re playing is infectious.  The next generation is in good hands.

Good Times, Bad Times

If you look around the coverage here on the Cornerstone site, I think we’ve pretty well established that Cornerstone is awesome.  But when you’ve got this many moving parts (hundreds of bands coming and going, thousands of people spending the day out on a ridiculously hot farm), it’s inevitable that things are going to go wrong.  Yesterday was a good example.

Quiet Science, a band that first came onto my radar a couple of years ago at the fest, was setting up to play on the Anchor Stage.  They’d been promoting the set hard all week, walking around in the 95 degree heat in masks and long, red robes with a big sign, and putting up a ton of nice posters advertising the show.  A nice crowd was gathering for the set, but about 10 minutes before they were about to start, another power outage hit.  The power was out for over two hours this time, eventually forcing them to reschedule, and kind of wiping out all the hard work they put in during the week.  I wasn’t able to see the rescheduled show, but hopefully word got out and they still had a good crowd.

The power outage also impacted the Gallery stage, but a bit of ingenuity saved the day.  Kerosene Halo, a collaboration between Mike Roe and Derri Daugherty of the Lost Dogs, was scheduled to play.  Luckily, the owner of an RV parked near the stage offered up some power to set up a minimal PA for the stage, enough to support a minimal show.  Their set, consisting mostly of songs written by other people (including Steve Hindalong of the Choir, Terry Taylor of Daniel Amos, and Christian rock pioneer Larry Norman) performed acoustically, was a perfect fit for the makeshift sound system and was a soothing sound on a hot afternoon.  Thank goodness for long extension cords.

Even an established band like the Lost Dogs weren’t exempt from problems.  “Lead dog” (to the extent that there’s a leader of the band) Terry Taylor had to leave the fest early, leaving the band a man down.  Luckily, Paul Averitt, currently playing bass on tour for Daniel Amos, was able to step in to sing Terry’s parts.  He did a nice job, and even put on a credible impersonation of Terry’s voice.  The set was focused on the more serious side of the band’s catalog rather than their tongue-in-cheek material.  I assume Averitt had to learn his parts in a hurry, and they quickly ran through all the material that he knew, so they covered Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” for their encore.  The Lost Dogs probably get overlooked a little because they’ve been around, steadily releasing new material, for so long, but they’re still worth a listen.

It’s not uncommon to hear of bands enduring hardship on the road to Cornerstone – long, late night drives, flat tires, van breakdowns, and so forth.  Yesterday I talked to a band called Someone Like Tommy that actually made it to the fest before their problems started.  They drove up from Florida for their first Cornerstone to play some generator stage slots, only to find out when they arrived that the stage they were supposed to play had some issues and had to shut down, leaving them with no place to play.  When I talked to them, they were going around trying to secure an open slot somewhere so their trip wasn’t a total loss.  They describe themselves as a folk/bluegrass band that likes bands like Fleet Foxes, Mumford and Sons, and The Civil Wars, so if that sounds like your thing, go check them out.

Day 2 Evening

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In my last post I wondered whether I had the strength and drive to hit Quiet Science, Campbell The Band, and The Choir and in a roundabout circuit around the festival grounds. Fear not, blog reader! Achievement unlocked!

I felt really bad for Quiet Science since their show was cancelled at 1 PM due to the power issues, but it all turned out ok anyways. They played at the rescheduled time of 7 PM and introduced new material from their upcoming album. I really like the lead singer’s story about redemption in his life and his stories about working in the suicide wing of the hospital is compelling. (and I’m a sucker for music influenced by science fiction and writers like C.S. Lewis.)

The power outage knocked everything else out of schedule so I was able to swing by the Gallery Stage and catch an acoustic version of The Choir. Derri Daugherty, Steve Hindalong, and Dan Michaels translated their “swirly, scary music” into a pleasant night running through the history of their band through their songs. After that, it was over to see Campbell The Band at the Underground Stage. This band totally has the crowd interaction part figured out. At one point, a band member gave the bass drum to the crowd to hold while he hammered on it with his mallet. During the middle of the show, they handed paper out to the crowd and told them to rip it up and then during the climatic moment of the song throw it up in the air in a blast of confetti. I’m not going to lie, it was pretty awesome. Mike Mains and The Branches was a real pleasant surprise afterwards. I had never heard of them, but I really enjoyed the show and I’ll have to check out their music.

I made a quick drop by the After Hours Dance Club to check up on my friend David and see how things were going over there. They were still coming down to the ground after opening up the festival on Main Stage with Andy Hunter. From there, I settled down for the night at the Gallery for Lost Dogs and Deas Vail. The Lost Dogs were “a three legged dog” as Terry Taylor had to return home for a family emergency. The bass player for Daniel Amos filled in for Taylor extremely well and the band carried on with a solid show. The final show of the evening was Deal Vail which pulled in a very large and much younger crowd than the normal Gallery Stage patrons. Deas Vail played almost all new material and even though it was unfamiliar, it was well received by the crowd. I’m looking forward to their new album.

So here we are done, done with Day 2 and about to begin Day 3. (The days all blur together when the final show ends after midnight.) I hope the heat breaks today, my spidey senses (and weather websites) tell me that rain is on the way today so we may get our wish. Stay cool and stay dry today!

Electricity! You Fickle Friend!

By now you’ve heard about the heat. The oppressive, sizzling, sweltering heat. It’s draining everyone, including the power for the entire county apparently. The electricity vaporized from the grounds again today leaving everywhere except the Main Stage and generator stages, each with their own power, down to a stand-still. This made me very sad because it happened right as Quiet Science was about to take the stage. It looks like their show is going to be rescheduled for tonight at 7 PM which gives me a massive conundrum as they are playing at the same time as The Choir and also Campbell The Band. Tough choices.

I was sad to have no music, but it did afford a chance to have some conversations with friends, including people as far away as Scotland. That’s one of the coolest things about Cornerstone. I’ve met people from all over the country, indeed all over the world, and we all share common musical interests that make discussions seem perfectly natural.

Some artists made the best of the lack of electricity. Mike Roe and Derri Daugherty performed through a single amp powered by an RV. Total professionals, they played a great show featuring their new project Kerosene Halo with their humor and sentiment.

The power finally returned for Jeff Elbel and his band Ping. Jeff brought new music to the festival this year and even invited me up on stage to take a group photo. I’m glad I didn’t trip over any cords and knock instruments all over the stage, so it’s a big win for me.

The sun is finally starting to set and hopefully the heat will start to break. There is a whole bunch of music going on tonight, including Deas Vail which should be great. There’s also the conflict of Quiet Science/The Choir/Campbell the Band. Were I a younger person on a cooler day, I would try to make my rounds and hit all three shows. We’ll see if I have any energy left to do that or if I just collapse in a chair at one of the tents.

Blackout!

OK, first things first.  It’s hot.  Like, circus hot.  Having daytime shows out in the open at Main Stage really hammers the point home, and today’s going to be worse, so remember to get out of the sun when you can, and drink more water than you think you need.  Cornerstone’s no fun if you’re passed out in the first aid trailer.

Day 2 of the festival, the first “official” day with all of the stages fully up and running, was eventful.  An hour-long power outage took down just about everything on the grounds (and, from what I hear, some stuff out in Bushnell, as well) except for the generator stages and Main Stage (which also runs off of some industrial strength generators).  That ensured that the schedules were in complete disarray on most of the stages.  Some artists soldiered on, like Mike Roe playing his set unplugged (literally).  Others, like Vinacious (whose sound is mostly keyboards and electric guitar), just had to call it a day when the power went out.  Even the giant inflatable water slide went flat.  But everybody took it in stride, the generator stages got a good boost, and eventually things got back to normal (or as close as it gets out here).

The big event for the day was the Jesus Rally on Main Stage, with a full day of classic Christian Rock pioneers (some of whom hadn’t played a show together in 20 years or more).  It, too, was on “Cornerstone Time,” running about an hour late all day due to some late arrivals and extra-long sound checks.  The older folks were out in force, braving the heat to see the bands of their youth, and there were a lot of younger fans there too, which was nice to see.  I fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, so for me, it was a mix of artists that I’m a big fan of but have rarely seen (Resurrection Band, Petra with Greg Volz, Daniel Amos) and artists that I’m aware of but had never really listened to (Barry McGuire, Phil Keaggy, Servant, and others).

Barry McGuire was my favorite out of the artists that I wasn’t that familiar with.  He was obviously enjoying himself, and his enthusiasm was infectious as he told the stories behind songs like “Bullfrogs and Butterflies” and “Eve of Destruction,” led the crowd in sing-alongs, and shared his testimony (which involved marijuana, the Mamas and the Papas, and Good News for Modern Man).  And I’m pretty sure he’ll win the award for the most unexpected cover of the week with his version of Madonna’s “Frozen.”

Daniel Amos, who have actually been out on the road for the last few weeks on their first tour in a decade or so, played a fun, tight, hit-laden 45 minute set that spanned their career, from the first song they ever recorded (“Ain’t Gonna Fight It”), to the last song on their latest album (“And So It Goes”).  In between, they hit a lot of favorites, like “Mall (All Over the World),” “Walls of Doubt,” “Sanctuary,” and “I Love You #19.”  It was fantastic seeing Terry, Jerry, Greg, and Ed playing together again, and bassist Tim Chandler (who couldn’t join the tour due to other commitments) was missed, but touring bassist Paul Averitt was incredibly fun to watch.  He played with authority, sang most of the background parts, and stomped around the stage like he was playing with Anberlin instead of DA.  My only complaint is that there wasn’t more of the set to love.

As John Thompson pointed out in his introduction, without Resurrection Band, there wouldn’t be a Cornerstone Wendi and Glenn Kaiser of Resurrection BandFestival.  Glenn and Wendi Kaiser and their cohorts were one of the first Christian hard rock bands, tackling issues in their lyrics that a lot of other bands wouldn’t touch.  The music and the message both still resonate today.  The band sounded great, and played with a lot of fire.  Wendi, in particular, gave it everything she had – at rehearsal the day before, she was using a cane to move around the stage, but during the Main Stage set, she had the crew bring her a wireless microphone so she could get out on the catwalk to speak and sing and get closer to the fans.  I’m thankful for every opportunity I get to see REZ play a show.

I literally ran from the Resurrection Band set to the Gallery to see Paper Route, who delivered my favorite set of last year’s festival.  After the departure of one member, they added a couple more, so they’re playing as a six-piece now.  Lead singer J.T. spoke about how hard the last year had been for him, and his gratitude for the support of the fans who packed the front of the stage was evident.  The set drew primarily from Absence, along with a sneak peek at a song from their forthcoming album.  The set was great, and I can’t wait to hear the new album.

Back at Main Stage, a reunited “classic” Petra lineup (singer Greg Volz, drummer Louie Weaver, bassist Mark Kelley, keyboardist John Lawry, and guitar stalwart Bob Hartman) closed out the Jesus Rally.  If I’m honest, things didn’t go too well for them – Greg stumbled on a few lyrics, and not even Guitar Hero “Star Power” could keep them from failing out after they started “Clean” in about 3 different keys and had to have a band huddle to sort things out.  But I was a teenage Petra fanboy who never got to see the band with Volz, even though I always liked that era of the band the best, so even though the performance wasn’t great, it was still fun to have the chance (which I never thought I’d have) to sing along with the band on songs like “Bema Seat,” “Angel of Light,” “It Is Finished,” and “All Over Me.”  I wish they’d been a little tighter, but it was still really cool to see them play.

So I made it through the day without bursting into flames, I saw some of my favorite bands from back in the day, and I saw one of my favorite current bands.  That’s a win all around.

Day 2 – Jesus Music and Superheroes

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The Jesus Music Rally was on the minds of almost everyone at Cornerstone on Thursday. Even Paper Route’s lead singer admitted to wanting to see Petra right as his show was about to start. The sun and heat made it a bit of a challenge of endurance, but the unique opportunity to see artists, some who haven’t performed in 20 years, draw people to sit in the open sun.

Before that, though, there were plenty of artists making their first appearance at Cornerstone. The band members of Dead American Radio had just been through the tornadoes of Joplin, Missouri, even lifting the guitarist/singer off the ground, but still made an appearance to play punk-pop music at the festival. On the Main Stage, Milano made a colorful debut at the festival festooned with paint and feathers. Things went a little out of order when Vinacious took the stage and the power cut out (even causing the Big Events slide to deflate, hope no one was one it when it happened!) Since they were a band heavy on electronics, there wasn’t much for them to do, but that’s the unpredictable nature of Cornerstone.

On Main Stage, Servant started the day off. The band hadn’t played in over 20 years, so this was a rare opportunity to see them perform. One of the surprises for me for the day was Barry McGuire. I really didn’t know much of his music, so I didn’t know what to expect, but he was comfortable and colloquial with the crowd. I enjoyed his comment about “stress identifying the parts of your life that you don’t trust to God” and thought about how that tied into my “Keep Calm and Rock On” theme for Cornerstone this year. On the side of the stage I could see Terry Taylor enjoying the show also, applauding as McGuire would play familiar favorites. Taylor’s band, Daniel Amos, was all business for their performance on the Main Stage. DA has been known sometimes for their Swirling Eddies antics and jokes on stage, but today they ran through a great set of favorite songs. The heat of the day was starting to get to me by this point and so I spent the next couple of hours trying to find shade where I could, but I listened to Randy Stonehill while eating dinner.

I had originally feared that I would have to make a choice between Phil Keaggy, Paper Route, and Petra in the evening. However, due to the delays from power outages and main Stage sound checks, I was able to see most of all of these shows. Paper Route returned to a very crowded Gallery stage and teased us with a new song in their set. The Phil Keaggy show ended up actually being a Glass Harp show and in the true ethos of 70’s music poured out some long jams on electric guitar. I was particularly happy to see Keaggy on electric guitar as I’ve seen his solo act on acoustic many many times, but seeing him in a band context was a new thing for me. Petra finished up the night, bringing back the 80’s with the lineup that produced Beat The System. Greg Volz had a marathon night, performing earlier with e Band.

On the way out, we couldn’t resist stopping by the Encore tent for Flatfoot 56. The Superheroes theme was on tonight and I loved the signs “Pow!”, “Boom!”, “Zot!” that raced across the stage as band fervently belted out punk rock with bagpipes and mandolins. The kids, of course, are almost as much fun to watch as the band as they raced around, bedecked with flags and costumes.

The heat is in full force at Cornerstone this year. Stay cool, drink water, and apply sunburn!

The morning came too soon

Perhaps it was inspired by the retro music last night.

Perhaps it was inspired by going to bed sometime after 2am, knowing I had a date with a washer & dryer at 8am.

Perhaps it was inspired by a hot day Thursday, with an even hotter day predicted for Friday.

I’m not sure what, but I went to bed & woke up with these lyrics from 1992 in my head:

Sometimes the morning came too soon
Sometimes the day could be so hot
There was so much work left to do
But so much You’d already done

Some of my fellow bloggers are picking heat-inspired songs to listen to today. I doubt they’ll come up with this old ccm-ish Rich Mullins tune (in fact, I’m surprised *I* thought of it!), but I think it fits perfectly today. The morning has come way too soon, the day will most definitely be too hot, there’s a whole lot left, but there’s so much our God has already done!

Cornerstone-rs (is that what we call ourselves? I’m never sure) have celebrated what God has done a lot already this week.

I’ve heard female-fronted Witness 7 playing the Impact generator stage talking about surviving a suicide attempt. Lead singer for Paper Route, J.T. Daly, told the excited crowd at the Gallery about how this has been an incredibly hard year, but he still sees how God shows up. Some young guys from Joplin who make up Dead American Radio on the Ignite generator stage pointed out that their drum kit (and them!) had survived an EF5 tornado, with the lead singer sharing a remarkable story of surviving being yanked into the rotating cloud. Barry McGuire at the Jesus Rally talked about using way too many drugs, but encountering “Good News for Modern Man” and eventually surrendering to Christ.

It’s not just bands who celebrate… You can see the evidence of God at work as you walk by the Art Pilgrimage, notice people willingly choose to sit in hot tents to pray or listen to seminary-level talks, and catch snippets of conversations of friends gathered around campsites. It even happens for me: I’ve talked with friends, rejoicing that (for the first time in 2 years), I’m able to actually walk around the fest grounds without severe pain. I really & truly thank God for that.

There’s a lot left to do this week… There are more lemon shake-ups to be drunk. There’s a very hot day to be positive about. There’s at least one fried dough product in my future. There are several bands left on my must-not-miss list. There are seminars to attend. There are laughs to be had. The Cornerstone Coverage Team has a lot of videos to make (yes, videos are coming ). There are friends to hug. But, there’s already a lot that God has done!

Jesus Music – looking back & looking ahead

When you’re camping, I think you’re more likely to be thankful for things we usually take for granted. You might not know who all invented indoor plumbing, but you’re happy for those smart people. As you struggle to get enough wireless signal to check Facebook, you wonder what you would have done without a smart phone.

This year, Cornerstone is collectively thinking about the roots of something we all enjoy and often take for granted: music, specifically rock music from a Christian perspective.* By hosting a “Jesus Rally” on main stage Thursday night, we’ll be looking back at the Jesus Movement. This revival movement largely started on the west coast of the US in the late 1960s, then extended even into small towns throughout the Midwest during the 1970s. It was a time when the peace-love-and-rock&roll of the ’60s, changes in youth culture, and attitudes in the church combined to revolutionize how young Americans encountered their faith. Music was a huge part of the revival. Electric guitars and drums found their way into faith-based music, instead of just pipe organs. As people (mostly young people – but not all) encountered not just religion, but the real person of Jesus, they wrote songs about their faith. These songs became the first “Christian” rock.

The revolution these “Jesus Freaks” pioneered impacts each of us today. If your church sings more modern worship tunes or choruses than reformation-era hymns, if your hispter-ish church has ecumenical aspects, if you think that faith and social justice at least belong in the same building, if you think evangelism is about speaking the language of those around you more than delivering a rehearsed speech… you have likely been impacted by the Jesus Movement. If you like that you can listen to music about your faith in a style you actually like, then you, too, are the offspring of the original Jesus People.

I think most Americans know about Woodstock – but did we know that there were huge concerts with some of the early pioneers in Christian music, too? One of the largest, Explo ’72, was held in Dallas. They needed a space big enough for 80,000-100,000 people to see the show, so they actually used a huge piece of land that is now a highway. You don’t see that everyday. This sort of “Jesus Rally,” which in many cases is the precursor for Cornerstone, happened frequently in those days, with headliners such as Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, and Phil Keaggy.

After tonight, I will be able to say I’ve seen all 3 of those legendary rockers at Cornerstone.**

Of course, it’s not just about looking back – but looking ahead. Pioneers like these three, REZ, E Band, Petra & Daniel Amos led the way for the second wave (including such Cornerstone favorites as Steve Taylor, The Choir, etc.), many of whom inspired the bands of my era (like Five Iron Frenzy, Switchfoot, Anberlin, etc.)… and future acts (perhaps including some of those we’re seeing on the New Band Showcase or picking up slots at Generators) will carry it on in new & innovative ways. Cornerstone has a place for all of these.

I thank God for for indoor plumbing, easily accessed wireless internet… and yes, also for these “Jesus Music” founders.

*I’m not going to get into the whole “Christian music” as a term debate. :)

**I saw a press conference with Larry Norman at my very first Cornerstone. Sadly, he passed away not long ago. I think he’d be glad to know, years later, than the Devil does not have all the good music.

 

 

 

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…