As we’ve blogged about several times already, Cornerstone Festival is known for diversity in musical selection. So many genres of music, including many I can’t define nor identify, are present at both the “official” and generator stages.
I’ve heard from several people (both at the fest, and since returning home) who were under the impression that most bands at Cornerstone were “harder.” So, to help these people (who, by the way, are not all “old” – some are in high school!), here’s a list of some things I enjoyed, on the softer side of Cornerstone. These aren’t sleep-inducing bands, they’re not all acoustic, they’re not all worship acts – this list is actually fairly diverse. The common thread seems to be intelligent lyrics, strong melodies, and an overall softer sound than some of what you hear around the festival grounds.
- Photoside Cafe. They describe themselves as “aggressive, acoustic, art rock band” and that fits well. Mixing in violin, piano & distinctive vocals, Photoside Cafe definitely found a place with many new fans at the fest. They do bring a bit of rock, so they’re not entirely “softer” but I know many people who would like this band a lot.
- Andrew Oliver. (I can’t find a link, sorry.) I know of Andrew from his drumming with Jeff Elbel + Ping. I was happy to wander in to the Ping set early to catch Andrew behind the mic instead, sharing stories about the prodigal son.
- Carolina Story. Generator stages, while often being venues for harder music, work remarkably well for acoustic shows – something Carolina Story demonstrated well when I saw them at the Arkansas Stage near the showers early in the week. This recently-wed couple met in college and clearly loves to play together. They managed to draw a satisfied crowd, despite having to compete with a hardcore show just across the road. Their song, “The Unseen Sin” (available in acoustic format on their myspace page) impressed me most. Thoughtful lyrics sung with a soulful voice.
- Erich Siemens. Hailing from San Marcos, Texas, Erich brought a beautiful singer-songwriter set to the Grrr/Project 12 tent on Saturday evening. He lists Rich Mullins & Brennan Manning among his heroes. I’d be very happy to sit and listen to Erich again – next time hopefully with a cup of good coffee!
- Brian Beyke. I missed his shows on some generator stages at the festival, but have been enjoying his beautiful acoustic/instrumental/ambient music since returning home. No vocals (other than a few tracks with some spoken-word overlays). Very pretty.
- Hiram Ring. His show was another suprise, this time via the Impromptu tent. This is fairly rhythmic acoustic music, clearly influenced by the songwriter growing up overseas in a missionary family.
Bands that also vaguely fit into this “softer side” category, mentioned elsewhere on the blog already:
- Men As Trees Walking. Sweet, soothing, fascinating worship music that’s otherwise hard to describe. Listen for yourself here.
- Nitengale. This is the kind of music that just makes me smile. It also gets me dancing in my chair.
- Seabird. I’m really enjoying what these guys are up to. They rock more than some others on this list, but I think most fans of acoustic music wouldn’t mind adding a little Seabird to their iPods.
- The Square Peg Alliance. Any of these individual singers who performed in the Gallery (plus Derek Webb who took the stage after them) would be a great addition to the library of anybody who likes intelligent, melodic music. I love how they emphasize presenting beauty & truth in their music.
- Terry Taylor. Older fans should know Terry Taylor from Daniel Amos or the Lost Dogs. I’m more familiar with his solo work, surprisingly. I always get a tear in my eye when he sings about his dad dancing in the street. I hope to catch his solo tour when it rolls thru my hometown in a few weeks.
- Hand Drawn Mountains. From the new band showcase.
- Maron. Beautiful voice!
- Deas Vail. Their albums are a frequent companion during my work-day. They, too, bring a bit more rock than some on this list, but you ought to check them out.
- Anchor & Braille. Side project of Stephen Christian (of Anberlin). Album releases August 4th.
I know there’s a lot I missed – let us all know what else you’d recommend by posting a comment!
I’m finally home after the 1000 mile post-festival drive. I’m sure I’ll have more cogent thoughts later, but here are a few of my observations as I look back at this year’s get together. Please note that this is just one man’s opinion – I don’t speak for the other festival bloggers, and certainly not for the festival itself or JPUSA.
Favorite Show: Anberlin on Main Stage
I realize that it’s horribly, horribly unhip of me to pick a headlining band that’s playing mainstage. But what can I say? This was a rock and roll band at the height of its powers. They were tight, they had great energy and song selection, and really connected with the audience. Their cover of New Order’s “True Faith” put them over the top.
Shows I Wish I Had Seen: mewithoutyou, Derek Webb, the Lost Dogs
The festival always presents me with tough decisions, and this year was no exception. I went to main stage for Family Force 5, Relient K, and Anberlin. But that meant missing out on the Lost Dogs and Derek Webb. I usually catch the Dogs at the festival – not only is the music solid, but the banter between them is easily worth the time. And I would have loved to have heard Derek Webb, as he’s an artist I’ve admired for years. Finally, I got to main stage late on Friday because I wanted to catch some of Terry Taylor and Ramoth-Gilead (both of whom were great, by the way). But that meant missing out on mewithoutyou, who had a truly massive crowd.
Artist Development Awards: Seabird and All the Day Holiday
It’s been a real treat to get to watch these two bands develop as they’ve played the festival the last several years. The new material that ATDH played is solid, and I look forward to giving the new CD a good long listen. Seabird has matured as a band tremendously as well. They’re headed into the studio soon to record their sophomore effort. I can’t wait to hear what they come up with.
Favorite “Only At Cornerstone” Moment (Part 1)
During The Fold’s set on the Indoor Stage, they launched into a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” Midway through, they noticed a kid dancing like crazy in the audience and pulled him up on stage. Whaddya know, he knew just about all of MJ’s steps, right down to the crotch grabs.
Favorite New (to me) Bands: Owl City, Quiet Science, Don’t Wake Aislin
One of the reasons I go back to Cornerstone year after year is that it’s such a great chance to discover music I’ve never heard before. So it was with this trio of bands. Owl City brought their intelligent electronic pop to a packed New Band Showcase and left the audience impressed. The only disappointment was that they didn’t have their CD with them. It comes out later this month. Watch for it.
I think Quiet Science played 23 sets during the festival this year. I was excited to see them, as the material on their myspace page sounded pretty promising. But I kept missing them due to schedule conflicts. I finally caught them on the New Band Showcase and came away impressed. They mixed influences like U2, Death Cab and the Killers into a melodic but still intense blend that sounded great.
Like Quiet Science, Don’t Wake Aislin fought for the title of “hardest working band at Cornerstone.” I’m not sure who won, but DWA should get bonus points for playing most of their shows in the blazing sun at the Texas stage. This wasn’t their first time at the festival, but I had somehow managed to miss them previously. I won’t make that mistake again.
Favorite “Only At Cornerstone” Moment (Part 2)
Looking around the crowd during Owl City’s New Band Showcase set and realizing that Crouton and Phatty from Family Force 5 were standing right behind me. I’m pretty sure Soul Glo joined them later in the set. I love that at Cornerstone, the artists and the fans can mix like that without it being a big deal.
Song I Never Thought I’d Hear Live: “Deathbed” by Relient K
I’ve always had a place in my heart for this self-contained rock opera. But I never thought Relient K would mix it into their set. It’s 10 minutes long, virtually a self-contained rock opera, for crying out loud! Who breaks that out at a summer festival? Evidently, Relient K does. The only way it would have been more of a surprise would have been if Jon Foreman walked on stage to reprise his performance on the CD.
Most Missed Band: Over The Rhine
There is something simply perfect about a midnight set in the Gallery stage with Linford, Karin, et al. The festival was great, but I missed that this year.
Most Welcome Trend: Hooks
I have nothing but love for all the hardcore bands that play the festival. Metal and punk can be fun too. But it seems like this year saw a resurgence in the number of bands that rely on a catchy melody. I was glad to hear it.
Superlative, adj. of the highest kind, quality, or order; surpassing all else or others; supreme; extreme.
Now that everybody is getting home from Cornerstone, we’ve had a chance to think about our favorite fest moments. Jeff has listed his top 10 shows already; expect more in that in the days to come. Rather than focusing on music, I wanted to make up a list of other superlative moments from Cornerstone 2009. Matt kicked us off with the funniest moment of the fest on the blog earlier.
So, in no particular order, here’s my list of the best, most, muddiest, loudest, and craziest moments of Cornerstone 2009.
(links generally take you to photos, but some go to band websites)
Best homemade costume: Knight & Dragon. Whoever made these out of cardboard boxes has too much time on their hands. Nice work, though! We caught these guys fighting outside one of the Encore stages early in the week. Not only was the costume fascinating, it was also the most creative way I personally observed to promote a band – At Cliffs End. Thinking of costumes – the platypus gets the award for “Most Photographed Guy in a Costume.” And, Scooby Doo of Audio Strobelight gets the award for “Best Ironic Costume for a Band Member.”
Geekiest place to hang out: The First-Ever Tweet up. Yeah, I helped put this on (in a small way) so I’m biased, but it was a good way to meet people and hopefully form some new connections. Check out the video from www.cornerstonefestival.com to learn more, or follow @cstn on twitter.
Most under-appreciated festival job: TP distributor. The garbage haulers always do a great job. But, this year, I was told of a guy named Steven (I think that was his name) who is the one who services each & every porta-pottie with fresh tp. Hats off to you!
Dirtiest way to have good clean fun: Mud, Mud, Mud. Friday’s showers brought Saturday’s mud. At least people made the best of it. Sorry to any moms stuck laundering muddy clothes this week!
Best picture from the festival photo team. These volunteers did a great job capturing hundreds of photos, which you can browse here. I’m sure arguments could be made for any number of best photos, but this one captured me in a special way. Check out more of Matthew Smith’s photography here.
Instrument we most need more of: the Keytar.
Female musician with the sweetest voice and most enviable hair: Maron. And, while I’m thinking about hair, I don’t even know the band name, but wow, this is amazing.
Most creative way for your little kids to have fun at Cornerstone: ArtRageous for kids. They’ve got face-painting, crafts, activities, and all sorts of great ways to entertain & enrich youngsters.
Largest instrument played at Cornerstone: The huge electronic juke-box-looking thing Family Force 5 had. I can’t find a photo of anybody playing it, but this picture shows what I’m trying to explain. Look for the large box with squares on it. The band members could press on the squares to control synthesized sounds.
Best way to take your favorite band to work, without blasting out your coworkers with loud music: Ping’s patches. Jeff Elbel modeled these with his band, Ping, on a work-shirt. You, too, could be a member of the Ping tour just by picking up a patch.
Longest song performed at Main Stage: “Deathbed” from Relient K. I didn’t wear a stop-watch for anything, of course, but this song is 11+ minutes on the album, which has got to be a record for a single song on Main Stage this year. Anberlin probably comes in second with “Fin.” I never expected to hear either band play either of these songs, which are both epic in length (but which are among my favorites to sing along to). Both songs were encores for their respective bands.
Biggest Main Stage Crowd: mewithoutYou. No, I didn’t count heads, but that’s what I heard widely reported. I was headed towards Main Stage as this show let out. For every person going towards Main Stage at that moment, there were easily 200 going away.
Most impromptu fun on Main Stage between acts: Playing Buck Buck. The most serious, but touching moment between Main Stage Acts was the artist who was “repainting Jesus.” He painted live, and then talked about how we’re all called to repaint Jesus to those around us.
Most enthuiastic parent: The dad who was passing out flyers for his daughters’ band, Poema. These talented teenage daughters put on a fun acoustic pop show, performing to plenty of their peers. Check out their music here. Their dad was definitely excited to see his daughters play – enthusiasm that was contagious.
Best way to justify buying new shoes: losing your old pair in the mud (a.k.a. “Mud vs. Shoes: Mud wins”). I wonder how many pairs of shoes might have been permanently swallowed up by some of the mud holes. My own shoes didn’t make it back home with me, but at least they found their way to a trash can! 🙂
Most flexible fans & most unique venue change: Moving Main Stage to The Gallery & Encore I stages. I only went to about 15 seconds of the Underoath show, but the tent was packed. It seems that everybody rolled with the changes easily. Rock on Cornerstone for being able to handle this crazy situation. If it weren’t for this unexpected change, I would have said that the Los Lonely Boys were the act I least expected on the Gallery (they did an amazing show on Tuesday night! Hope they consider coming back to Cornerstone again someday).
That ends my list. What would you add? Post a comment!
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!
So, I’m home from the long drive back from Cornerstone and just starting to sort through my photos and CD’s from the week. It’s been a great week and the organizers of the festival should be saluted for once again giving us a music and arts festival that just barely kisses the edge of chaos, but at the same time gives us the freedom to enjoy music in whatever manner we like. Whether it’s moshing in a pit of crazy kids, sitting in our chairs in the back, taking photographs, journaling, or hanging out with our friends before they turn up the amps and crank it to 11 on a stage powered by a generator on the side of the road, I think everyone enjoyed Cornerstone in their own way. Yet, through all of it, things go mostly on schedule and everyone stays safe and has a great time.
Looking back on the week, I wanted to give my list of favorite performances of the week. I already KNOW Anberlin and Family Force 5 were two of the highlights of the week and yes, I’m a fool for missing them. Unfortunately, they were both playing at the same time as friends of mine performing on other stages and friendship is a closer tie than rocking. So, I know I missed some awesomeness at the festival, but at the same time I think my friends appreciated me showing up for their shows and letting them live the “rock star” dream for a day.
Here’s my Top 5, in no particular order of the shows I actually did see:
- The Square Peg Alliance – 4 hours was a lot of time for them to fill, but fortunately each of these talented artists has a pretty extensive library of songs to draw from. I love the comraderie and friendship these guys and gal have with each other and it shows on stage.
- Copeland – They brought out the more rock side of their music and I appreciated that. The band sounded great and the new stuff from their latest album mixed well with their classic material. This was, to me, one of the best examples of a midnight show at Cornerstone.
- All The Day Holiday – I really liked the material from their new album from the show and I can’t wait to hear it. They were dedicated in promoting their shows during the week and a large crowd showed up in response. They didn’t disappoint us.
- Terry Taylor – Great, intimate show where Taylor reinterpreted some of his older 80’s material in an acoustic setting. It was very cool to see his own son join him on stage on bass and watch the father/son interaction.
- Nitengale – My friends raved about this show last year and I’m glad I got a chance to see them this year. For the few of us not at the legendary The Devil Wears Prada show at the Gallery down the street, I think this show will hold fond memories.
Oh, why not, I’ll give you the next five favorite shows I that I saw too:
- Deas Vail – Indie Community tent show with an excited buzzing crowd was great, but the one at the Indoor Stage may have been even better.
- Jeff Elbel + Ping – fun, loose set at the Jesus Village stage.
- Lost Dogs – I’m loving the new route 66 material, I wish I could’ve stayed longer for this show.
- Quiet Science – Fun new band with a lot of energy and they draw from great influences (U2, Death Cab for Cutie, The Cure)
- Seabird – Fantastic way to end the festival with some intelligent piano-based rock music.
So, there you go, Cornerstone 2009 is over! Thanks to everyone in the media trailer who worked so hard this week. These folks essentially pulled all-nighters every day of the week to deliver videos, photos, and more to you almost immediately after things happened. Take a chance to surf around the site and take it all in and send them an e-mail of thanks.
I’ve uploaded many photos to my Flickr site and I’ll be upload more in the next couple of days, check them out and leave some comments!
Sum up your Cornerstone, what were your favorite shows of the week?
More later, but that’s the festival in a nutshell for me this year.
“We clean main stage every morning,” even if it means Kyle Anderson and the rest of the Clarksville First Church of the Nazarene climb through the mud on the hill.
“Today was especially bad,” Kyle said of this dirty job. With a large group it’s about a 30 minute job that entails picking up trash around the stage and behind stage too.
Senior Sam Wyatt says it’s the group’s second year volunteering, and third year He was especially excited by the music, especially Sleeping Giant.
Thanks to these willing volunteers, who take time to serve during the festival!
Saturday evening, six tweens lived the dream. With sounds of Underoath booming faintly in the background, these six people stood right down front at a show that might not necessarily have been targeted towards their stereotype. They bounced their heads, sang along, used the edge of the stage as a drum, and thoroughly enjoyed seeing one of their favorite bands, Seabird.
This wouldn’t be interesting if it weren’t for this fact: they were the only 6 people standing.
No worries that others sat still as they bopped along. They were living the dream.
No worries that the people directly behind were sitting as they stood. They were living the dream.
No worries that their peers were elsewhere. They were living the dream.
I sat in back, happy to see these 5 guys and a girl (I think that’s the gender distribution, at least, seeing them from behind) living the dream. I’m glad they did. I’m glad that places exist where all kinds of people can live out all kinds of dreams.
I love that there are places like Cornerstone where we can live the dream together. I’m glad we can live out a 26-year dream of JPUSA. I’m glad for the bands who lived the dream of playing one of their first “real” shows this week. I’m glad for the parents I met who were supporting their kid’s dreams of being in a band. I’m glad for the people who drove hours just to live their dream of one day getting to Cornerstone at all. I’m glad for the fulfilled dreams of those who sometimes feel left out at home, finding community here.
I’m glad for the visions God gives young men, and the dreams He gives old men. I pray that we all have the unashamed nature those 6 tweens did, so we, too, can live the dream.
The Gallery tent was overflowing with throngs of people at the The Devil Wears Prada and Underoath. I haven’t seen many shows that full and I’m sure inside it was chaos. Strobe lights blasted the night sky and the ground thudded from the bass. I caught a little bit of it, but there was some other music to see, also. I finished the night with Nitengale and Seabird at the P12/Grrrr tent, just a short slide through the mud from Gallery Stage. Nitengale comes all the way from Fairbanks, Alaska via Nashville. They are currently in discussions with Word Records, so you may be hearing from them soon. Seabird took the stage next and played everything they knew. It looks like the venue was willing to give them a little more time, but they were out of songs!
So, Cornerstone is now over. I’ll need a day or two to process it all and see if I can summarize everything up as far as what was my favorite show, what was my favorite new band, and what other superlatives I can think of. It’s been a great week away from all the of worries of the world where my biggest issue was which band to see. I’ll be heading back home tomorrow, but I’ll have a whole new group memories to take with me.