The joy of singing along

Sing to him a new song;  play skillfully, and shout for joy. (Psalm 33:3)

Tonight, on the Gallery Stage, in the battle of sit vs. stand, well, singing along somehow won.

Stacy DuPree of Eisley, photo by Matt Laswell

Cornerstone veterans (especially the fiercely loyal Gallery Stage dwellers) know that the Gallery is a different kind of stage. Chairs are provided. People bring lawnchairs. Patrons display long and complicated efforts to get the very best seat before the midnight shows. But, at times, when the Gallery shines bright and the crowd swells, the questions come: is this a sitting or standing show?

Tonight, as Eisely prepared to take the stage, the shouts went back & forth: “This isn’t a sitting band.” Then the reply: “Down in Front!

Somehow, it just didn’t matter. Whether sitting or standing, everyone was clearly awed over Eisely returning to Cornerstone after 8 years away. In those 8 years, the band members have grown up: they’re no longer 12 or 13 years old, but instead are about to be married. In those 8 years, the band has also clearly garnered a large and loyal fan-base. As I looked around me, it was beautiful to see so many people (mostly girls, but some guys, too) singing along with huge smiles on their faces. And, I’m happy to report that I joined in. I even saw many people, who I’m quite certain were there mostly to get good seats for Over the Rhine, chair-dancing and smiling broadly.

The debate didn’t matter. All we needed was the simple joy of singing along to a great show.


Cornerstone brings the best out of the band

Bands play a variety of stops in a tour. I’m sure after a blur of shows, venues start to seem the same for bands. But Cornerstone is always different. Something about the festival brings out the excitement and action of the band.

Paper Route played at the Gallery tent earlier tonight. I’ve seen the band a couple of times now, even at the first appearance here at the festival a couple years ago. The band has energy and stage presence sure, but this year’s show at Cornerstone was something else. The band was all smiles, leaping across the stage and playing with gusto I’ve never seen in their previous shows.

Girls in the crowd were so overwhelmed they were crying. Guys were nodding along with their eyes closed. These kind of shows are what make Cornerstone so special and different from other concerts.


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.

Three Songs To Win The Crowd Over

The soundcheck took too long and by the time the show started a band curiously named Campbell The Band, had only three songs to win the crowd over. Of course, the band had already done their work, canvasing the Cornerstone grounds playing impromptu shows for crowds of people. So, the tent was completely full for Campbell The Band, and those three songs.

And how were those three songs? Not bad. The band got the crowd involved immediately by handing a drum into the crowd and playing it from the stage. It only took three songs to get the crowd rushing back to the merch table to buy the EP.

Cornerstone balances new and old during the fesitval. The Choir, a band that played at the first festival, played last night on the Gallery Stage. Today, Campbell The Band started a story at Cornerstone Festival of their own.


Friday – “The Day” For Me

Everyone comes to Cornerstone Festival for a variety of reasons to see a variety of bands, but almost everyone looks at the schedule and singles out “The Day.” It’s that day when from afternoon to after midnight, there is a great show after great show happening all day long. Today is that day for me. On the Gallery Stage, Over the Rhine will be playing two sets, Paper Route will have a show and over on Main Stage Deas Vail will have a show. That’s an incredibly solid lineup for me. After the Deas Vail show, I may plant myself at the Gallery Stage and stay there all day.

There’s some exciting stuff before all that, though. I’m going to check out Centralia Mine Fire and I’m curious about Campell, The Band. I hope all of you have “The Day” sometime during the week here at Cornerstone, for me it’s today.


Day 2 – To Cover You

Thursday, as things turned out, seemed to be the unofficial “day of the cover song” at Cornerstone.  I love covers, especially when bands are playing live.  It’s interesting to hear different takes on songs, the songs that bands choose to cover often give you a little insight into a band’s influences (or at least into what kind of stuff they like), and when you’re watching an unfamiliar band, a cover provides something familiar to draw you into the set.  That said, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a day at the fest with quite so many covers, so I had a great time on Thursday.

I spent the afternoon wandering around to see various bands, most of whom were new to me: The Clutter, News From Verona (very high-energy and fun), Don’t Wake Aislin (better than last year, when the singer had worn out her voice from too many generator sets), Divided By Friday (who had a go at covering “You’ll Be In My Heart” by Phil Collins, of all things), and others.

One highlight of the afternoon was Crosswire, a young band playing on the New Band Showcase.  They play old-school 80s hard rock, a la AC/DC (the singer does a pretty dead-on impersonation of Brian Johnson at times), and they’re a lot of fun.  The guitarist was particularly impressive – he had some nice, shreddy chops (using all of Eddie Van Halen’s tricks), and a good start on learning some crucial rock clichés like Angus Young’s stage hop, splits, jumps, and holding the guitar aloft in various ways.  You don’t see that sort of stuff much anymore, and as a child of the 80s, I enjoyed it quite a bit.  They also covered Collective Soul’s “Shine” and Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

Completely different but also very nice was Brooke Waggoner, who played piano-driven pop songs accompanied by a drummer and bassist (and joined by harpist Timbre on a couple of songs).  Her stuff was quirky and fun, and her piano playing was enthralling.  I really enjoyed her set, and bought a couple of CDs that will hopefully represent her live set well.  No covers, though.

Jeff Elbel + Ping played their second set of the week at the Jesus Village, and as it turned out, it was an all covers set where Jeff got to pick some stuff he really likes, and have some fun with it with a bunch of talented musicians, including Harry Gore, Maron, and Mike Choby, and Andrew Oliver.  I had a blast listening to it.  They covered “Nod Over Coffee” by Mark Heard, “Violent Blue” by Chagall Guevara, “The Whole of the Moon” by the Waterboys,” and songs by the Magnetic Fields, Bob Dylan, and the Kinks.  Good fun.

I caught a bit of Phil Joel (he was a member of the Newsboys, so I’m not sure his versions of “Entertaining Angels” and other Newsboys songs count as covers, but they’re close enough) and The Almost (who covered Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’”) on the Main Stage.  Then I remembered that I was late for a set that I was really curious about, Resurrection Band tribute band Lightshine Theater.

I’ve never seen a tribute band (and it’s especially odd to see one playing Cornerstone), and I love REZ, so I was intrigued by this set.  As it turned out, it was probably my favorite thing that I’ve seen all week.  The band is made up of 5 “old guys,” including three guitarists that can really shred, and a singer that does a credible impersonation of Glenn Kaiser.  They ran through a number of REZ songs, including “Waves,” “Colours,” “Military Man,” “City Streets,” and “Alienated,” but they also mixed in a few other fun things like a Barren Cross song (“King of Kings,” as I recall), a Steve Taylor song (“I Want To Be A Clone”), a killer version of “Over My Head” from King’s X, and a very nice song  (“Vision of Perfection”) from a band called Legacy that two of the guys in the band were in back in the 80s.  The biggest highlight, though, was when the band closed with REZ’s “Love Comes Down,” and various stage hands and members of Leper (who were playing on the stage next) started mimicking the dance moves from the famously cheesy video for that song.  This set was made of win all around.

I caught a bit of I’m Not A Pilot, a very interesting band made up of piano, bass, drums, and electric cello.  Very pretty music, including a nice cover of the Cure’s “Lovesong.”  I wish I’d been able to stay for their whole set, but I had to run off to my final show of the night, the Choir.

The Choir is one of my all-time favorite bands, and they’ve just released a new album, Burning Like the Midnight Sun.  They don’t play much anymore, and they almost never play with bassist Tim Chandler anymore, so I was very excited to see them and took up a spot right down front.  They played a lot of my favorite songs from Chase the Kangaroo and Circle Slide, plus selections from some of their other albums and 3 new songs.  As Steve Hindalong described it, the set was “a little rough.”  The band was a little rusty, and it showed, but I was still happy for the opportunity to see them play again, and I’m excited to hear the new album.  (It’s available in the merch tent, but my preordered copy is probably sitting in my mailbox in Atlanta currently).

Derri Daugherty of the Choir

So, lots of covers and then one of my favorite bands.  That’s not a bad day.  Today, though, promises to be even better, with a great lineup that includes Deas Vail, Paper Route, Over the Rhine, and Eisley.  I can’t wait!


A little bit of everything

I’m starting to lose track of what day it is. To me, this means Cornerstone is a success. After staying up to have my first taste of celtic prog legends Iona last night, and getting back to Macomb in the wee hours of the morning, I’m happy to say that I haven’t yet fallen asleep during a show today. That’s likely because today has truly been filled with a little bit of everything.

I’ve heard snippets of ska (Send out Scuds), singer-songwriter acoustic (Brooke Waggoner), hardcore, electronic pop-punk (Oh! The Humanity), some old-school punk, hip-hop (Da MAC), rap (John Reuben), various flavors of rock & roll (ranging from Jeff Elbel + Ping doing a bunch of fun covers, to The Clutter and Don’t Wake Aislin), pop-punk (News from Verona), old school 80s rock (Crosswire), and even a bit of post-rock instrumental (Brian Beyke).

There have been good crowds at all those shows, proving that whatever your Cornerstone experience, there’s somebody else here who’s having just as much fun, but hasn’t seen any of the same shows as you.

And… the day goes on. A little bit more of everything to come this evening.


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.

Thursday – Feeling the Cornerstone burn

The second or third day is when the “Cornerstone Burn’ kicks in. You aren’t used to this kind of sleeping schedule. You aren’t used to this kind of noise all day. You aren’t used to walking this much. This is when you start to wear down. Keep on going! We’ll all settle into “Cornerstone time” soon enough.

I started out the day with some newer bands at the festival. The Clutter played first today for me with some instrumental songs mixed with some rock music. Over on the Label Showcase stage, News From Verona and Don’t Wake Aislin got a great reaction from the kids. News From Verona leaned towards the power-pop side while Don’t Wake Aislin delivered powerful driving rock with female-led vocals.

Continuing the theme of women bringing great music, Brooke Waggoner, joined by harpist Timbre, played a fantastic set at the Gallery stage. From there, I finished the afternoon with a very loose and very fun second set by Jeff Elbel and Ping, consisting mostly of covers.

I’m dragging a little bit, but I need to get a second wind, because The Choir plays at midnight tonight. I’m pushing through the “Cornerstone Burn” because the best stuff is yet to come.


Real stories. Real music. Real God.

Before I ever came to Cornerstone, I was rather star-struck. I waited in lines to get autographs. Every band was “the greatest ever.”

I think that’s a common phenomenon, and I don’t criticize it. I had *finally* found music I liked that reflected my faith.

But, perhaps in part due to watching band members eat a ribeye sammich for so many years around Cornerstone, things are different for me now. (Or really, it’s probably more that I’ve actually befriended people who used to be in bands… and their spouses, left at home while the band is touring.). And, maybe, just maybe, I’ve changed a bit myself.

These days, I’m more interested in seeing how people in bands are real people, just like me. They have bad days, stressed relationships, and ask real questions.

Whatever your festival looks like… whether you hang out at the Gallery with immensely talented songwriters who share deeply personal lyrics in their songs, attend talks put on by your favorite bands, or wander up and down generator stage row, I challenge you to look for the very real person behind the music. You’ll find many real stories… real music… and a very real God.

I had a few such moments on Wednesday:

  • Listening to Nitengale. I sat back and listened to someone telling stories that sound like my own. Stories of faith mingling with doubt. Stories of love. Stories of blame. He even talked about finding critters in his walls (oh, how I wish we didn’t have that in common…).
  • Watching Quiet Science. It was a rough show, with the lead singer’s guitar dying half way through. But, even through some musical hiccups, I heard a story of a real guy (the lead singer works in a psych ward with patients who have attempted suicide), who sees real ways that his faith, his art, and his passions intersect.

Look for these moments, and I think you’ll find them, too.