After a marginally more civilized lunch in Macomb on Saturday morning, my friends and I headed out to the grounds for the last day of the fest. Now that I think about it, a lot has been written on this blog about how Cornerstone has evolved over the decade plus that my fellow bloggers and I have been attending the fest, but the changes in Macomb (the nearest “big city” to the festival grounds; that is, where the Wal-Mart is located) and the surrounding area over that same period are also kind of interesting. Besides my actual home, I’ve probably spent more days of my life in Macomb and Cornerstone than anywhere else in the world. You get an odd but cool view of a place when you see it once a year every year, and I find it strangely cool that I know a bunch of tiny details about a place I’ve never lived that’s 13 hours away from my house.
But cool though it may be, I don’t go to the fest to visit Macomb, so we did indeed make our way to the grounds for another day of music and fun. The rain that had sprinkled on Shiny Toy Guns and Anberlin had become a downpour overnight, and though the rain was mostly over by the time we reached the grounds, the damage had been done. All the roads were covered with a layer of soupy mud and were slippery but passable. The grassy areas around the stages were treacherous, and we saw a lot of band vans and trailers getting stuck in the mud and getting pushed or towed out. The walking paths between stages, if they weren’t just lakes, were mud bogs, with the worst that I encountered surrounding the Gallery stage along the midway.
The rain also led to one of the more exciting and cool things I’ve seen at Cornerstone in quite a while. I was sitting in the web trailer distracting the hard-working web coverage team from their work when Festival Director John Herrin came in and announced that because of the conditions at Main Stage, the Main Stage bands were going to be relocated, with War of Ages and Living Sacrifice playing one of the Encore stages (a smaller venue, but nothing too unusual) and The Devil Wears Prada and Underoath moving to the Gallery. Having those bands on the Gallery is a jaw-dropper for longtime Cornerstoners, because it’s traditionally the stage for older people to sit in chairs and watch older and/or mellower bands. There are exceptions – the Violet Burning rocked so hard on that stage that they killed the power a couple of years ago, and Leeland brought a much younger than usual crowd to the stage that year as well. But generally, evenings at the Gallery generally bring the likes of the Lost Dogs or Over the Rhine playing to a calm, quiet audience sitting in chairs and golf carts eating dinner and making bootleg recordings. There was a palpable buzz around the festival as preparations were made for the Gallery to be rocked like never before.
The first band of the day for me was Gasoline Heart. I’ve seen them a few times before and liked them well enough. This time, I got there a little late, and instead of being a band, only the singer was playing and accompanying himself on an electric guitar. If anybody got there early enough to hear what the deal was, please leave a comment. There was a pretty fair crowd in the tent by the standards of this year’s fest, and I assumed that was just because the rain had shut down the generator stages and driven everybody under cover, but the crowd sang along to some of the songs, so I guess the band has more of a following than I knew. That’s good to see, and I enjoyed the set.
Next up, I caught Seabird, who readers from last year may recall was my pick for “most improved band” in 2008. Their Encore set was cut short by a long setup and sound check, which was too bad, but they had a good crowd and played most of my favorites from Til We See The Shore.
The Classic Crime and the Fold followed Seabird on the same stage, providing an opportunity to just pick a spot and listen to 2 or 3 bands in a row that was rare this year. Both were melodic rock bands, with the Classic Crime edging toward the heavier side of things, and the Fold edging toward the poppier side of things. Both were tight and fun to watch, one of the better back-to-back combos among the bands I saw that I wasn’t really familar with.
After catching encore performances by Darcy and the Fold (one of the cool things about Cornerstone – if you like a band, you often get to see them more than once) followed by the fest’s most ubiquitous band, “Dinner Break,” I settled into the Grrr/P12 stage for my last couple of shows of the fest, from piano-heavy bands Nitengale and Seabird.
Nitengale was another band that totally took me by surprise last year, so I was greatly looking forward to their set. They were good, but their sound tends a little more toward the experimental, long-form side of things, and I don’t think they’re well served by a 50 minute set. They seemed to just be getting warmed up and finding a good groove when it was time to wrap things up. A longer, more open-ended set like they played last year at the Jesus Village would seem to play to their strengths.
Seabird’s second set of the day was superior to the first – they had 50 minutes instead of 30, the sound was better, and they sounded a little more warmed up than at the first show earlier in the day. The only problem was that they don’t have all that much material – only one album’s worth, although they’re starting work on a follow-up next week. They basically played everything they knew, which resulted in something I’ve never seen at Cornerstone before. When the sound guy gave them the “two more songs” indication, the guitarist responded by saying “we’ve only got one more.” Seeing a band (besides Starflyer 59) leave the stage with time to spare just doesn’t happen. But the set was still one of my favorites of the fest.
In between the piano band sets, I did walk over to the Gallery to see what the scene was like at the TDWP and Underoath shows. It was a little surreal – there was a moat of mud surrounding the tent, blinding strobelights flashing behind the band, a huge crowd, and a wall of rock coming from the stage. It’s not really my thing, but it certainly was a sight to behold, and I’m sure it’ll be legendary among the people who attended, like the epic 3 hour Vigilantes of Love “power failure” set in 1997 is to a previous generation of fans.
I do miss having the “grand finale” midnight shows on the last day of the fest, but the “early” end to my night (10:30 or so) left plenty of time to hang out with my friends and recap the festival. We were even able to brainstorm with some fest people for some potential bands to try to get for Cornerstone 2010. I won’t give away any secrets here, but if some of the suggestions work out, you won’t want to miss it.
One last batch of songs for the Cover Watch this year. Gasoline Heart had one of the more unexpected covers of the fest with a singalong version of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” most famously performed by The Tokens in 1961. The Fold padded out the list impressively, with four covers between their two sets. Their second set opened with the Foo Fighters’ “Monkey Wrench,” and it ended with Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom” and the Outfield’s “Your Love,” with their drummer taking the mic for the latter. They also pulled out the stops on the first full Michael Jackson cover I saw at the fest, with a nice version of “Billie Jean,” complete with a pair of moonwalking kids from the audience that had obviously been practicing their MJ moves.
Well, that wraps up “almost live” coverage of the festival for me (sorry this was late – things like driving home and working my real job got in the way), but keep checking the blogs for more thoughts and wrapups and other goodness in the days to come, and then join us on the grounds, same time next year!