Casual Diversity

One of the great things about Cornerstone, something that makes it so different from anything else I’ve experienced, is how effortlessly different styles (of music, of opinion, of people) mix together at the fest.  It’s easy to take that for granted after years of coming here.  Last night, I stood up from my chair outside a show and saw something a little unusual for everyday life, but somehow completely normal for this place.  Even so, upon reflection I was amused by how casually the words “there’s a guy juggling knives over there” rolled off my tongue.

At Glenn & Wendi Kaiser’s press conference, Cornerstone was described as “an experiment in Christian liberty.”  The fest has a very laissez-faire attitude toward most things, aside from a few basic rules pertaining to safety and respect for others, yet somehow thousands of people from myriad backgrounds manage to come together here every year and not only coexist but integrate into a cohesive body.  If you read through the Cornerstone Memories group on Facebook, one thing that quickly becomes apparent is everybody’s Cornerstone experience is different.  Everybody comes here for their own reasons, and moves within their own circles within the larger body, but those circles are constantly intersecting all over this place, and it’s a fantastic thing to watch.

You really see this in action at dance or hip hop shows here.  Da MAC played a set on the Underground Stage yesterday (backed up by indie rock band The Corners), and he had a substantial crowd standing elbow-to-elbow doing goofy dances and throwing their hands in the air.  It’s a little thing, but it’s still fantastic to see youth group kids, old guys, punks, hippies, and everybody else joining together in unity like that.

The atmosphere here just generally seems to make you want to be a better person. An older guy (with sprayed pink hair) trip and fall in a circle pit at Icon For Hire, and a younger guy in the pit stopped to give him some blocking and help him get back on his feet.  Little things like that are repeated a thousand times a day here – people just doing little kindnesses for other folks, despite the fact that we’re all hot and tired.  It can’t help but spill over into “real life,” and I’m really going to miss coming here every year for a refresher course in what “do unto others” is supposed to look like.

How’s the crowd?

I’ve heard that question from lots of people who aren’t able to be with us this week, so I wanted to attempt an answer. I don’t have any insider info on actual attendance, but the size of the crowd met my expectations and has been growing during the week. I’d venture a guess that it’s 20% smaller than last year.

The campgrounds are much less full than in years past, but the official stage tents are drawing good crowds during the day (despite the heat) and packing out at night. Night crowds at both the Gallery and the Underground filled the tent and spilled outside into the relatively more cool night breeze, with fans of Iona and Squad Five-O clearly being happy to see old favorites once again. Lines to get merch after bands like the 77s and Icon for Hire have often been long, with fans wanting to show appreciation for bands who’ve come a long ways to play for free. Attendance at the afternoon arts seminars has been strong, especially for Glenn Kaiser’s cigar-box guitars class.

Photo by Rudy Harris.

I haven’t made it to any of the morning seminars nor the Imaginarium yet, so I can’t say how those are. Some generator bands are drawing solid crowds (such as New Band Showcase acts like Carielle, The Bends, and Doug Mains & the City Folk or Sean Michel on the Arkansas Stage), though some others have the typically small crowds I’ve come to expect for bands nobody has really heard of and nobody knows what they sound like.

Overall, I think attendance is down (naturally) but there are still a lot of people here to give Cornerstone a nice send-off.

“The Thrift Store of Festivals”

This week, we’ve heard a lot of people talking about their first & favorite Cornerstone experiences. I’ve gotten up a lot more courage than usual to meet new people and ask them their Cornerstone stories. One guy talked about having been to tons of secular festivals in years past. He said the lifestyle he got into eventually led him to Jesus — and also to finding community at Cornerstone.

A father & daughter from my adopted home state of Texas eagerly talked about how many fests they’d been to (virtually every fest of the roughly 13-year-old’s life, and far more than that for the father), and dreamed aloud with me a bit about what might be next.

Band members from stage (including bands like Icon for Hire and The Blamed, doing a reunion show) shared their great enthusiasm for coming to the final Cornerstone. Bands like White Collar Sideshow (at their press conference) expressed how Cornerstone was the first place they really felt welcomed. Other people, in bands & not, wondered aloud what might come next. I think that’s been a question on all of our minds. It might start with “where will I discover new music” or “where will I still get to see my old favorite bands.” But, I think it quickly morphs into “where will I find this kind of community again” or “where will I find another place I belong.”

I recently heard Genesis Winter, one of the co-directors for this final Cornerstone Festival (who’s been to every fest), describe Cornerstone in a way that I think addresses those questions. She said Cornerstone was a bit like “The Thrift Store of Festivals.” Just to clarify: that is certainly not meant as a slam, such as that the fest gets other people’s leftovers (no — the opposite is true — Cornerstone had supported so many new endeavors). I think it’s meant to show that Cornerstone is a place where you find the unique, the different, and the special. No wonder that so many of us are asking where we’ll find another place like this again.

As the fest wraps up, I encourage you to strike up some conversations with those around you. Listen to their stories. Wander by a stage playing music that you’d normally label “totally not my style” and listen for the truth in it. Try to see what other people see. Take one last look around the thrift store shelves to discover what’s unique, different & special.

The work of God around us

Cornerstone signHi, I’m Becky Laswell, and I love Cornerstone Festival.

And, I know I’m not the only one. Judging from the comment on Cornerstone’s official facebook page, the fan-created Cornerstone Memories Group, the fan-created Cornerstone Guide on Tumblr, the blogs, articles, tweets, and so much more that I’ve read since the announcement came out, I know there are tons of people who love this event, this place, and these people.

Many of these people were able to make one final trek to the cornfields near Bushnell this week. If you’re not able to be at Cornerstone Farm with us, I hope you find your own ways to celebrate and remember all that the festival has meant to you — and even more — all that God has done to impact generations of people through it.

Personally, my husband & I had the privilege of arriving early (before the gates opened) for a special event. Pulling up to the front gate on Sunday night, and bypassing the die-hards already in line to enter on Monday was an experience we’d never had before. Driving around a nearly empty (and still very pristine) Cornerstone Farm was also an experience we’d never had before. But, being greeted warmly by a friends, spending the evening listening to a very talented musician (in this case, Glenn Kaiser), and laughing a lot is an experience I’ve had many times on these grounds. And, that’s an experience I want to re-live as much as possible over the next few days.

During this particular special event on Sunday Night, Glenn Kaiser talked a bit while playing songs (including one on his home-made cigar box guitar), and a few things he said really struck me. I can’t remember his exact quotes, but he told a few stories of what Cornerstone has meant to others, with an attitude of being privileged to be part of what God has done, is doing, and will keep on doing through all that’s happened through 29 years of Cornerstone festival.

As I’ve read the memories posted online by so many who love Cornerstone, between the stories of favorite concerts, funny moments around campsites, and meeting “celebs” (if this industry really has any), there’s a grand theme of people encountering Jesus and also encountering a diverse but united community of people-who-love Jesus. That sort of work is something that doesn’t end just because the festival is ending. The work of God goes on.

And, that, too, is something I love.

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.

A dream fulfilled


A dream of mine since 1998 just came true. Thankfully, this wasn’t my biggest dream in life, but it was still awesome… I got on main stage at Cornerstone!

Nope, I’m not in a band. Nope, I’m not the new MC. Nope, I’m not even involved with the quilt raffle. But, I was responsible for a couple of typos and at least one missed cue for the PowerPoint during the Community Gathering! I was a last minute fill-in, allowing the video guys to keep working on awesome coverage which we’ll all enjoy soon. (One hint: epic footage of “Marilyn Monroe.”)

I’m sure it is different during “actual” main stage shows, but I found back stage to be a relaxed, uncrowded, professional, friendly, organized, and dusty place. Here’s a picture from a perspective most of us never see.

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

Day 2 Evening


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!

Dyeing to be different

You’ve got to dye daily….

I’m not afraid of dyeing…

Who knew there were puns about fabric dyeing?

I try to come into each Cornerstone looking for a new experience, not just a list of new bands to see. I never can predict what it will be before I arrive, but it always finds me. This year, I stumbled onto a fabric dyeing workshop as part of Burning Brush. I noticed it in the program and (as a quilter and fabric lover) I decided it would be a good choice. Turns out that it was an even better choice than I expected, since it meant that I weathered Friday’s power outage doing something that definitely didn’t require electricity!

I’m a little ashamed to admit that in all my years here, I’d never before done a single activity with the arts programs, short of walking by the art pilgrimage while on the way somewhere else. I now realize that I’d been missing out. Just like there’s a crowd that favors the Imaginarium, and there’s a crowd that knows all the ins-and-outs of the generator stages, and crowds who love to sip refined coffee and hear refined music at the Gallery, I’m realizing that there’s a crowd who eagerly anticipates the art programs. There are people who mark their fest schedules with not only the workshops they want to attend, but the first moment they can get on the sign-up sheets.

I shared a worktable with a few of these people yesterday, as JPUSA artist Sara van Alkermade showed us the basics of low-water immersion dyeing while another table of eager students learned about needle felting. My fellow students were artists & crafters eager to talk about our hobbies, our hometowns, the bands we’ve seen, swap stories of past festivals, and even talk about our faith a little bit.

Burning Brush 2011 also offered workshops on mosaic, block printing, and spinning – in addition to a guided walk of the art pilgrimage. For just a $5 fee, we all walked away with inspiration, confidence, and little pieces of hand-made joy.

This was a different experience for me, but one that I definitely want to come back to!

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.