I swear it was the fourth of July

The calendar claims that it’s July 4th. My body does not believe it, nor does my mind. Where are the great-American cookouts in the back yard? Where are the parades? Where’s the heat? Answer: not here. But, it’s still a great day here at Cornerstone.

(And, we did have fireworks on Friday night.)

This afternoon, I took refuge under the Encore I tent, along with a huge percentage of fest-goers who haven’t packed up yet. Turns out this was a great choice.

First up was Seabird, favorites of mine from the past few fests. They welcomed us by saying “We love it here. Cornerstone is like a sanctuary. But, we get here and it turns out it’s more like a cesspool.” The band talked about how they weren’t exactly on a morale high, but with the crowd’s response to each song, it was rising. I hope this fares well for their other show, tonight at 9:15 at the Grrr Records stage, as well as for their new album, which they start recording next week.

Classic Crime CrowdClassic Crime was up next. And, not shockingly, they too made reference to the weather, saying “This is like the Christian woodstock, it’s so muddy!” The wet & muddy crowd responded to this band very well, with a lot of togetherness – singing & swaying together.

The Fold played next, to another crowd happy to see some driving rock, and also stay out of the rain. The highlight of the show was a guy from the audience coming on stage to dance along to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”

So, despite this not feeling at all like Independence Day, Cornerstone keeps going strong. Check out the fest photo page, which is bound to include lots of fun in the mud (as well as coverage of all the bands that are playing “main stage” tonight).

*Oh, and continuing the trend of my prior post, the title of this one is also from a song. This time – from The Violet Burning. I think we listen to this coming into the festival grounds every year.

Funniest moment of the festival, so far

You know, I love Cornerstone. I love almost everything about it. I love the music. I love the seminars. I love the art exhibits. I love the fried and not-so-fried foods that I eat only this one time out of the year. I even have happy memories of dealing with bad weather some years. But there is one thing about the festival that I do not love and, indeed, will never learn to love.

I speak of course of Portapotties.

Look, I’m no shrinking violet. I know that a person’s got to do what a person’s got to do, and I know that providing indoor plumbing for 25K people one week out of the year would be a logistical nightmare. The portapotties are a necessary evil, but they will never be more than that for me.

So I found myself in one yesterday. Doing… Well, doing what everybody does in there. Suprisingly, there came a knock at the door. Like all right-minded people, I became suddenly and profoundly bilingual:


Moments later, the knock returned. This time, with a voice asking: “Is there somebody in there?” “Yes, there most definitely is,” I replied. I was getting a little nervous. Because if portapotties are a necessary evil, portapottie incidents just evil. And, I thought to myself, weren’t there plenty of empty portapotties available? Strange.

Little did I know that at that very moment, the 20 or so shockingly well-organized teenagers who had been congregating outside were springing their trap. Donning transformers helmets, they took up stations to the left and the right of the door, raising their arms high in the air to form a natural lane.

As I emerged, blinking, into the sunlight, they burst into applause and began to cheer raucously. Dazed, and most definitely confused, I could do nothing but run down the natural gauntlet, saluting.

Well played, over-organized youth group kids. Well played.

The things I should have said

I was watching a show on a generator stage the other day. The lead singer asked the crowd to shout out what gives them joy. My response: “Pie!” The girl behind me shouted “Jesus!”

My friend Jerry leaned over and said “Her answer was better.” True enough, even while I suspect Jesus is probably a fan of pie.

The other side of Cornerstone

For my Friday report, I’m going to leave the band comments to the guys (we wound up seeing a lot of the same shows yesterday and they’re better able to describe them!). I’d like, instead, to focus on the other side of Cornerstone. While we talk mostly about music here, there’s a lot else that the festival has to offer. I took in several things on the other side yesterday.


As the emcee at the Stavesacre show said on Thursday, “If you’ve been coming to Cornerstone for more than 4 years and haven’t seen a seminar, you’re missing out.” This year’s seminar lineup was first-rate, featuring authors of popular books and thought-provoking topics.

Tony Jones & Phyllis Tickle brought seminars about the Emerging Church (or whatever you want to call that these days). Tickle also offered a short seminar on Friday about fixed-hour prayer, where she outlined the 7 practices or disciples brought into Christianity from Judaism: tithing, fasting, sacred meal (3 practices to disciple the physical), fixed hour prayer, sabbath, liturgical year, and pilgrimage (4 practices to discipline time).

Also on Friday, Andrew Marin continued his Love is An Orientation series. I didn’t hang around for it (went to another seminar instead) but he was definitely drawing large crowds for this talk, presumably related to the book by the same name.

The Music Professionals Series provided an accessible way for industry folks and up-and-coming bands to learn more about radio. That tent was packed with people asking questions of how to get their songs to break thru into radio.

The seminars are done for 2009 (other than the general session this afternoon), but there’s no doubt next year will offer another round of inspiring & challenging talks.


Burning Brush, the visual arts wing of the fest, presented the Parables of Jesus as the theme for their 2009 pilgrimage art installation. The pilgrimage, which runs from the Merch Tent to the Footbridge, features maybe 20 different art pieces of all kinds of media. A gorgeous batik and large mosaic of flowers anchor one end of the pilgrimage (the mosac shows great ingenuity by the artist, since it uses recycled bottle caps – from soda bottles, hershey’s syrup bottles, and more).


Breakaway is held each morning in the Gallery, with worship & speakers relevant to high school students & those who work with them. I chaperoned a youth group several years ago, and though I don’t do so anymore, I still remember what a powerful experience Cornerstone can be for students. Breakaway is an excellent thing to include alongside seeing your favorite bands and hanging out with friends.

And many more…

Cornerstone is so diverse; it’s impossible to experience all of it. Try as I might, I never quite get around to seeing films at Flickerings (though maybe tonight for The Wizard of Oz or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – both old favorites of mine). I don’t have kids, so I don’t make use of Creation Station – though every time I walk by, I can’ t help but smile. Then there’s the volleyball torunament, skateboard ramp, soccer fields, prom at the Asylum, impromptu rounds of buck-buck on the main stage hill, swimming in the lake, etc. Way too much to possibly take in!

Friday’s Youth Group of the Day

Friday Group of the DayComing to us from Cedar Rapids, IA is Echo Hill Presbyterian, joining us for the first time at Cornerstone.

This group loves the music, but says the food is another favorite.

They love grabbing a sandwich from the food court but no meal is complete without the sugary goodness of an elephant ear.

The guys say they really liked Family Force 5 and they are excited to see The Devil Wears Prada, Underoath and Shiny Toy Guns.

Lots of youth groups make Cornerstone part of their summer plans. In addition to the great music and seminars, there’s Breakaway, our youth program with its own speaker and worship band. If you haven’t brought a group, think about doing what Echo Hill did and bring your youth group to Cornerstone!

Cornerstone Life in Photos

Feel like you’re missing out on Cornerstone since you couldn’t make it to the farm this year?

Wondering what your kids are up to this week?

Wanting to know what there is beyond music?

Here’s a little of what you could be experiencing (all links take you to the photo gallery):

Next year, just outside Bushnell!

Running strong to the end

Midway thru the fest, and I feel like I need a shot in the arm – a shot of energy to keep me going for another 2 days of great music.

Yesterday shall be dubbed as “nap day” in my memory of Cornerstone 2009. Feeling the effects of the Cornerstone Dust, I took cold medicine that completely wiped me out (so much for being “non-drowsy”). I slept thru all or part of at least 4 shows, several of which were decidedly in the hard rock category (proving, once again, that I can sleep thru anything!). Too bad, because I know I missed out on some great stuff! Here’s a quick rundown of what I was actually awake for on Thursday at Cornerstone:

The Rocketboys: I hail from the self-described “Live Music Capital of the World” but over the years the presence of Austin, Texas at Cornerstone has been somewhat limited (with the obvious exception of the fine folks from HM Magazine who hail from just outside our fair city). So, I was happy to see The Rocketboys at the Indie Community stage. They sufficiently rocked my face and I’ll be checking out their upcoming dates back home.

Deas Vail & The Wedding drew strong back-to-back crowds at the Indoor stage, with lots of college-aged people in attendance for both shows. I’ve known Deas Vail’s music for years – it’s a great soundtrack to keep me going during the workday – memorable guitar riffs and an overall beautiful sound work well with the lead singer’s distinctive vocals. The Wedding was new for me, but I’ll be coming back to their music as well.

Rodent Emporium literally rocked the Impromptu stage; the tent poles were dancing along with the audience. This is just plain silly fun – songs about snakes, sports, radiation, anything – and the crowd eats it up.

The best part of yesterday, though (other than the naps!) was just hanging out with friends. Sometimes, we can too quickly categorize Cornerstone as being just a music fest – when it’s really more like a community. I hope to do more of that today – talking to these friends energizes me! These friends are the best – they laugh at my jokes and I feel like I belong when I’m around them.

Here’s a bit of what I’d like to see today (not in order of importance, clearly!):

  • More time laughing with friends. That’s always good.
  • Eat a funnel cake.
  • Walk thru the art pligrimage (leading from near the big merch booth down to the footbridge)
  • Leadership Forum with Glenn Kaiser at noon (a forum for church staffers)
  • Anberlin at Main Stage. This may mean I miss Nightengale (the best new band I saw last year) but I can catch them on Saturday instead.

Here’s to hoping I can keep going strong and not miss out on all Cornerstone has to offer!

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.

So Much More Than I Expected

The Cornerstone Farm is filled with memories for me (Becky). Every year, as we roll into Bushnell and turn down the country road, my mind gets filled with happy thoughts – of bands, friends, food, worship, growing up, and more. As we pulled into the grounds Monday evening, I was remembering my first Cornerstone (1998), and thinking about what I expected out of it, and how most of my expectations were completely shattered, in a good way. For those of you reading along at home who have never made it to Cornerstone, maybe this will give you a taste of what it’s like here.

Photo by Azuree Witala for www.cornerstonefestival.com

Photo by Azuree Witala for www.cornerstonefestival.com

I expected formality & organized camping, like at a state park. I guess I expected things to somehow be strict – with people telling you where you had to camp & park, and maybe even telling you what time you had to go to bed or something. Camping at Cornerstone has a lot to offer – strict organization is not one of those things. And, that’s the beauty of it. Little things like tents set up in every direction, generator stages, and porta-potties covered in band posters somehow illustrates the freedom of Cornerstone for me. That freedom goes far beyond simple things like this, of course, but this is a very present reminder.

I expected the stages to all be outdoors. I know this expectation came from experience with other festivals, where you were guaranteed to burn like toast within the first day. I was so happy to see that Cornerstone stages (all of them other than Main Stage & the unofficial generators) are under the cover of huge tents. I am often thankful for whoever it was who made that decision!

I expected that 99.999% of all attendees would have been from Illinois or Iowa. For my first fest (1998) I drove over with my brother (coming from South Dakota). I figured that there wouldn’t be many people who drove longer than we did. How wrong I was! The grounds are filled with car license plates from Illinois & Iowa, obviously – and other surrounding states. But, you also find people who trekked much further – all across Canada, California, the southeast, around New England, etc. Funny how I had that expectation 11 years ago – but these days, my husband & I are quite happy to drive 1,000 miles+ from our home in Austin, Texas.

I expected people to present a put-the-best-face-on-it, youth-group-approved image. I don’t know that I would have used quite those words back in 1998, but I had the idea that people choosing to spend a week at a Christian festival would own a lot of rather cheesy witnessing t-shirts. I never expected the diversity that actually exists. I never expected to meet people like me, either. I didn’t expect to find so many people who love Jesus so much, and demonstrate it in such clear ways.

I didn’t expect to meet people who would be life-long friends. 11 years later… I’m married to a guy I (mostly) met at Cornerstone. Every Sunday night, we go out to dinner after church with 4 friends made mostly thru the fest. My twitter friends list is filled with Cornerstone-rs (is that a word? I never know what to call us!). I exchange emails, texts, and chats all the time with friends I’ve made here about not just music, but the stuff of real life – from weddings to funerals, from surgeries to new babies, from travel to work stress. I never would have expected for a week-long event in a cornfield in Illinois to have such lasting impact.

I certainly didn’t expect to still be coming back 11 years later. Yet, I’m always glad I do.

For those of you who have been here before, what expectations did you have your first year?