The church needs this music

Last night, I purposefully went to a hardcore show. Not wanting to intrude (though I imagine I would be welcome, despite not quite looking the part), I stood outside and just observed.

Sleeping Giant Photo by Matthew Smith

Sleeping Giant Photo by Matthew Smith

I chose this particular band (Sleeping Giant) based on reviews from one of the great fest photographers. She explained that their shows were some of the most worshipful hardcore music she’d ever heard. These words immediately came out of my mouth: “the church needs worship music like that.” I knew I had to be there.

The music clearly isn’t my style. I don’t really mind it, but this type of music tends to just become background noise to me; I can tune it out at a moment’s notice. Not last night. Last night, I listened and heard God’s people joining in honest prayers and worship. I heard people who don’t look like me on the outside, listening to music that I don’t really get. But, we’re all part of the same great story.

Sleeping Giant’s first few songs (I admit, I did leave partway into the show) were unabashedly & unashamedly spirit filled. While other acts were drawing equally large crowds to sing about life, romance, daily struggles or whatever (which is all fine & definitely has it’s place), this tent was filled with people overjoyed to use the whole bodies (via dancing) and whole voices in worship.

The music isn’t for me – a fact that my friends pointed out several times. I know that. But, on another level, this is for all of us. Who knows the soundtrack of heaven?

Earlier in the afternoon, I smiled, tapped my foot and tried to sing along to the sweetly-dissonate worship of Men As Trees Walking (Allen Aguirre’s latest project). That, too, is music that doesn’t show up often on Sunday morning across the US. Yet, that music, too, caused me to say “The church needs this.”

The church needs people to use their God-given gifts, and express themselves according to their God-given passions. The church needs places where people can worship God wholeheatedly and “come as you are” instead of always having to try to fit in, clapping their hands or singing four-part harmony.

I am so glad that music like this exists. I am so glad it pops up all over the Cornerstone grounds. You see it around campsites often, with youth groups pulling out an acoustic guitar and belting out the songs of their generation. You see it in the world music venues, with people who have first-hand knowledge that Christ is at work all around our world expressing praise in different ways. You see it in the crowds that always show up for Flatfoot 56 and dance the circle pit while singing their hearts out to “Amazing Grace.” You see it in the closing lines of the Relient K show last night, with a gorgeous chorus about Jesus being the way, truth, and light. And last night, I feel honored to have also heard it in the Sleeping Giant show.

I am so glad that there’s a place at Cornerstone for music like this. But, even more so, I am so glad that there’s a place around God table for all of us.

Cornerstone and friendship

One of the best parts of Cornerstone is that it’s not just a bunch of concerts by a bunch of anonymous people. The more times you go to Cornerstone, the more relationships you build an soon it’s not just concerts, it’s concerts by friends.

Today was such a day. I was torn when I saw the schedule and saw that the wildly entertaining bands Family Force 5 and Relient K were playing on the main stage, but I knew I would be staying up at the Gallery Stage all day today. First Jeff Elbel + Ping would be playing and then a conglomeration called the Square Peg Alliance would be following him.

Jeff Elbel started at Cornersone with his band Farewell to Juliet many moons ago, but year after year he returns to do had work behind the stage as a guitar tech and then take the front of the stage with his band, Ping. Jeff’s shows always feel like a gathering of friends as his sense of humor and catchy songs are welcoming and intimate. This year, his set gave me a chance to make my debut on the Gallery Stage as I leaped up on stage to take a family photo of the band. A couple years ago Jerry came out on stage to throw t-shrts to the crowd, well now we’re even!

Following him, the nine person group formed for the purposes of awesome, The Square Peg Alliance took the stage. Eight of the Square Pegs, Andy Gullahorn, Andrew Peterson, Eric Peters, Ben Shive, Randall Goodgame, Andrew Osenga, Jeremy Casella, and Jill Phillips all took the stage together. The ninth, Derek Webb would be headlining later in the evening. The Square Pegs are not only musicians together, but they also friends living close to each other in Nashville. The close community of friendship makes their collaborations authentic and their performances feel real. Each of them adds a unique sense of humor and talent to the shows as each of them performed individually and also backed each other up on all of the songs.

The sense of community of friendship is strong draw to Cornerstone. Many people come to the festival first for the concerts, but after coming several years, many keep coming back for the relationships, both on the stage and off the stage.

Advice to Bands: Posters

Every band playing Cornerstone (whether on an “official” stage or generator) clearly wants people to show up. So, most make up some kind of poster to advertise their show. After seeing posters for many years, I offer the following advice to bands about their posters:

  • Tell me the DAY of the week, not the actual date. I’m not wearing a watch, let alone looking at a calendar. Tell me you’re playing Wednesday, not July 1st. (Thanks to twitter user and fellow Austinite Ericlylekline for reminding me of this!)
  • Give me a hint what kind of music you’re playing. You can do this by listing the genre of your music, saying you’re “For fans of…” This poster from Jeff Elbel + Ping does a great job by including a “RIYL” section (Recommended If You Like). If you don’t give me hint what you’re playing, I’ll be left to guess what kind of music you’re playing by your band name or possibly graphic design. Sometimes, I’ll be right. Most of the time, I won’t be, and I might miss out on something I would have enjoyed.
  • If the stage you’re playing on isn’t on the festival map, give me a hint where to find it. I know that can be tough when you grab a gig at a generator stage at the last minute, so I can forgive a lot of that. But, if you know in advance, try to help us out by saying something like “near the showers.”
  • Some of the best posters I’ve seen over the years had the band info printed in advance, leaving space to write in the date & time. Bands playing generator stages should take note of this – your times/dates may change and you probably can’t get back to a copier to print more, so plan ahead.
  • It’s fine if you can’t afford huge colored banners. But, remember that the porta-potties and other surfaces are going to be covered in posters like this. Printing your flyer on brightly colored paper might draw my eye to it.
  • Handing out small flyers or postcards works too. This works best, though, if you hand them out at a show similar to yours. Oh, and list your website on your flyer, so when I get home I can look you up. We received one flyer like that yesterday that was particularly well done — not the flyer itself, but because the woman handing it out took time to talk to us. As a result, I’ll probably go see Ranger on Thursday.
  • Graphic design can also help me understand what you play, if done well – like this flyer (note, also how the phrase “Day of Metal” provides a clue).
  • Day of Metal Flyer

  • This suggestion isn’t really to bands, but to generator stage organizers. I love it when generator stages keep a poster (or better yet, a white-board you can change easily) next to their stage indicating the name of the band that’s playing right now, as well as what’s coming up next.
  • And, a final suggestion that isn’t about posters at all: At the start & end of your show, remind us of your band name.
  • I present that list in the public interest, but also for my own good. I love finding new music. Anything you can do to help me get to the right place, at the right time, to see music I’ve got a chance of liking is good.

Reigniting my search for good new music

It’s hard to say when Cornerstone really starts. Is it Monday when a lot of campers arrive? Is it Tuesday with “pre-fest” shows? Is it Wednesday with the first full day of music at all stages (including Main Stage)? However you decide, the music seemed to really get going on Tuesday, with bands playing for REIGNITE day (sponsored by Ryot Entertainment), generator stages, a solid evening line up at the Gallery, and more.

When I previwed Tuesday’s schedule, there were maybe 5 acts I’d heard of, so naturally I ran into a lot of new music yesterday. Almost every band I saw said that this was either their first time at Cornerstone at all, or their first time playing the fest.

  • Crimson Refuge, hailing from North Carolina, started the day for me with a light version of the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul” – before making the classic switch from acoustic to rock & roll.
  • As mentioned by Jeff in an earlier post, Darcy showed up in vests & ties. I think this was their first Cornerstone – and they should be thankful that yesterday was cool and not blast-furnace hot as we often see here! It looks like these guys come from the University of North Texas, a school with a good reputation for their music program – it wouldn’t surprise me if the guys in Darcy were trained that way; it was apparent they knew how to play & sing.
  • Twentyfour64 brought an interesting mix of rocking instrumentals and pop-ish lyrics (sorry I don’t know any better way to describe it – it was kind of a mash-up of two styles). These guys, originally from Oahu, Hawaii and now living in Los Angeles, advertised “Free Hawaiian Hugs.” Not sure how many people took them up on that offer, but at least it was cute.
  • Among all the REIGNITE bands, Stephen Petree impressed me most. Sporting what looked like a homemade instrument he called a “Telekeyster” (keyboard fused to electric guitar), Stephen and his colleagues had me bouncing in my chair. Stephen said he had some past connection to Shiny Toy Guns (playing main stage on Friday night). They’ve got a new album coming out in August, which can be pre-ordered at their myspace page.
  • Los Lonely Boys headlined a full lineup at the Gallery, bringing their energetic latin-infused blues-rock to Cornerstone for the first time. I, along with most of the crowd at the Gallery, was probably familiar with only one of their songs: “Heaven” (which actually is sung at worship services at my church – mixed together with the classic hymn “Soon and Very Soon”). I’m not sure this show will go down in history as one of the bests at the Gallery, but it was definitely a great end to my first full day of music.

I don’t know that I found any bands on Tuesday that will get heavy rotation on my iPod. But, a day of almost entirley new-to-me music inspired me for the future. So many bands had their first taste of Cornerstone yesterday; I wonder if any will look back on that show when they first play Main Stage in a few years.