Getting the most out of the festival

With over 300 bands to choose from during Cornerstone, and with upwards of 15 bands often playing at once (maybe more if you counted all the generator stages!), how can you possibly know which shows to go to? You can simply go thru the program and mark bands you’ve heard of, or use one of the online schedule makers to print your own schedule. I took that approach for years – and it worked fairly well. But, what about the bands you haven’t heard of yet which might be amazing? Every year, I’d hear about some great band that I missed. All too often, I missed their show while merely tolerating another band or just sitting around the campsite.

Over the past few years, our group of friends has come up with a pretty effective way to make sure we spend our festival time wisely and don’t miss out on new bands. We review the bands in advance, make notes & print up our own program. Since we’ve started the program, we’ve done a lot less random walking back-and-forth between shows, and we haven’t often missed something spectacular.

These directions won’t help much now that the fest is just hours from ending, but read them, file them away, and try it out with your friends for Cornerstone 2010.

Step 1: Recruit some friends. It’s crucial to have similar interests in music. (Your friends using my list wouldn’t work so well, since we probably have very different tastes in music.) You might also look for people you think can hear a band and accurately identify the style. Basically, you want to choose people so what one of you says is awesome, the rest of the group would also agree is worth seeing (or vice-versa), and who can identify a genre well enough to help you choose what to see.

Step 2: Set up a wiki or shared document (use your favorite web 2.0 tool, such as google docs, so you can all access the file & make changes to it).

Step 3: Grab the schedules at www.cornerstonefestival.com and copy & paste it into your shared document. Sort as desired.

Step 4: Get your friends started. Assign all of your friends to start with a different section of the schedule. (i.e. alphabetical, by day, by stage, whatever)

Step 5: Preview the bands. Using albums you already own, previews on iTunes, myspace pages, or whatever else you can find, listen to samples from each band.

Step 6: Write a short paragraph identifying the style of music and giving it a brief review. Merely saying “This is awesome” could work, but something like “Post-hardcore band that put on a great live show last time I saw them. Definitely worth seeing” works better.

Step 7: Compile everybody’s contributions, and email or print your own cheat-sheet reference guide to each band. You could arrange them alphabetically or by day/stage. Jerry, who compiles our programs, color codes everything: Green is for bands we all know & already love. Blue is for bands that we’re not familiar with but which seem solid. Yellow is borderline. Purple bands are random, but possibly good (that color also goes for most seminars). Red are bands that don’t suit our style at all.

Step 8: Use that info to make your schedule. There will still be schedule conflicts, but at least this way you can make a more informed decision which band to see.

Step 9: During the fest, when you’re not sure what to see next, simply look at your cheat sheet. Enjoy being able to see your favorite bands without as much stress, and also being able to catch great new music.

Day 4, Now With Rain!

Rain fell hard last night so many tents were flooded and washed out.  The rain has slowed down a little bit, but it hasn’t dampened spirits too much.  For sure by the end of the day we’ll be seeing kids covered in mud.

The big news of the afternoon is that the Main Stage acts of the day have been moved to covered tents for the evening.  The times are the same, but War Of Ages and Living Sacrifice will be playing at the Encore 1 stage while The Devil Wears Prada and Underoath will be playing at the Gallery Stage.  Those shows are going to be crazy.  I might have to at least take a peek at those shows.

Meanwhile, there’s fun in the afternoon to be had.  Seabird started out the day on the Indoor Stage.  This piano-based band sounds great and they will be performing again tonight so I’ll have to drop by again.  Afterwards, a large crowd was present for The Classic Crime as they delivered a high energy show.  The last band we saw on the Indoor Stage was The Fold who actually delivered the first full Micheal Jackson cover of the day, playing Billie Jean, complete with a kid brought onto the stage to do MJ’s moondance.  The band threw beach balls into the crowd, which after hitting the muddy floor, managed to spray every one with mud as they flew around.  Good times.

It’s time for a little dinner break, my last one at Cornerstone this year.  After that, the craziness with the Main Stage bands starts.  I’m probably going to check out Nitengale and Seabird again, but I can’t possibly pass watching some of the wild action going down just a tent or two away tonight.

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.

Rain all day, I’ll stay with you*

Moisture is definitely encompassing the Cornerstone grounds today. It seems that some campers have packed up, but those who remain are in for an unforgettable day. For some, the unforgettable nature will come from the switch of Main Stage acts to Encore I and Gallery Stages (as mentioned by others on the blog already). For others, the unforgettable aspects may come as a result of a new Saturday feature: a general session with worship & speakers in the Gallery.

This afternoon, in addition to being a refuge from the rain & mud, the Gallery is home to a general session with worship led by Bifrost Arts, a keynote address from Phyllis Tickle, and a round table response/discussion. Those attending will have opportunities to participate in worship (which, as the speakers reminded “is not a spectacle”), and be challenged with big ideas about the future of evangelicalism and more. It’s an opportunity to take the seminar conversations to the larger festival, and hopefully also a good way for the attendees to reconnect with God.

Organizers welcomed feedback about this Saturday general session to info@cornerstonefestival.com

*For the old-time music geeks out there, yes, the title of this post is inspired by Fleming & John. We listened to that on the drive in today.

Mainstage Shows Moving!

UPDATE:  The mainstage shows are moving tonight!  War of Ages and Living Sacrifice will be playing at the same time as scheduled before, but they will now be playing on the Encore 1 Stage.

The Devil Wears Prada and Underoath will be playing at the Gallery Stage at the same time as originally scheduled.

Ok, I’m not really a hardcore fan, but the shows at the Gallery Stage and Encore 1 Stage will probably be epic.  It will be just like the old days when they were just getting famous at Cornerstone.  Should be crazy.

Rain!

Raindrops started falling during Shiny Toy Guns’ set Friday night, and kept on coming through the night.

The festival plugs along though. From where I sit I can hear the youth worship band at Breakaway. People are making the most of the weather, and getting excited to close out Cornerstone 2009 with Underoath tonight.

Anberlin

Honestly, last night’s Anberlin show on the mainstage was the best performance I’ve seen from them. The band was tight, Steven Christian’s voice was particularly strong, and the mix was decent. They added a great cover of New Order’s “True Faith” to a wide mix of material from their last three studio albums. It was worth sitting in the rain to get to see that show.

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:

“Ocupado.”

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.

Day 3 Report

Friday was the big day at the fest for me in terms of the number of bands I wanted to see. And given that the fest is more than half over, it’s fitting that I’m finally adjusting to the Cornerstone schedule of sleeping late (unless you need to get up and write a blog) and getting to bed in the wee hours of the morning.

After starting the day helping out some friends (jumping off a car battery, and buying some bread for the hard-working denizens of the web coverage trailer), the avalanche of bands began. First up was Everfound, a 4-piece made up of brothers who are Russian immigrants. They played piano-driven rock that was surprisingly mature considering that the singer and songwriter was, if I heard correctly, 19 years old. Quiet Science, who I’ve been missing all week long on generator stages, followed them with a high-energy set of melodic rock. They once again proved that bass players have all the fun, too – their bassist was wearing a lab coat and dancing all over the stage for the whole set. Poema completed my initial stint at the New Band Showcase. The band consists of two teenaged sisters playing piano and acoustic guitar, with a younger brother adding percussion. I only caught a couple of their songs, but what I heard sounded pretty good.

Don’t Wake Aislin was next, playing on the Texas generator stage. They’ve been playing everywhere all week, and both the singer and guitarist were having voice problems from all the wear and tear. They were a pretty polished female-fronted rock band that even sounded good on a generator stage.

Two other bands I wanted to see, Remedy Drive and Good Luck Varsity, were playing at the same time on the two Encore stages, so I caught a few songs of each. Good Luck Varsity had the best “seriously, we’re not hardcore” fliers up around the fest, and Remedy Drive was the most smashy, with the singer diving off his piano a few times, diving into the drum kit, jumping on the bass player, etc. Both were melodic rock bands (thank goodness that melody is making a comeback!), but Remedy Drive seemed a little more seasoned, and I’d have liked to have seen more of their set.

The flurry of bands continued as I briefly surfed by stages to hear bits of Flatfoot 56 (a wildly entertaining band to watch), Hand Drawn Mountains, Exit the Ordinary, and Spoken Nerd (whose song “I Love the Police” drew a chuckle from me).

I caught about half of Terry Taylor’s set at the Gallery. It seemed odd that such a Cornerstone legend was playing a short set early in the evening, but even playing acoustically (with Steve Hindalong on percussion, Mike Roe joining him on guitar for a song or two, and his son playing bass), it was a fun set. I caught a Swirling Eddies song (“Outdoor Elvis”), some DA classics (“Walls of Doubt,” “Shedding the Mortal Coil,” “Mall All Over the World”) and some Taylor solo songs (“Papa Danced on Olvera Street,” “Buffalo Hills”). I hated to leave the set, but as was the theme of the day, there were other things to see.

Before heading to Main Stage, I stopped by for most of the set from Ramoth-Gilead. The name sounds like a death metal band, but it’s actually a clever soul singer with a good voice and an acoustic guitar.  His song “My Hoopty Flashy Thangz” brought several laughs (check it out on his MySpace page).  This was one of the more unique and enjoyable shows I’ve seen so far.

I made the trek to Main Stage to see Shiny Toy Guns and Anberlin.  I don’t know much about Shiny Toy Guns, so I was curious to see their set.  I arrived just as mewithoutyou was ending, and there was a mass exodus away from the stage.  There was still a good crowd for Shiny Toy Guns, so the mewithoutyou crowd must have been massive.  Shiny Toy Guns seems an odd fit for Cornerstone.  There’s a tie-in to the Christian industry (two members used to be in the techno band Cloud2Ground back in the 90s, and played Cornerstone a few times), but the band doesn’t really have any current association with this scene that I’m aware of.  Their set reflected that tension, as it switched gears a little awkwardly from dance rock tracks like “Le Disko” to a cover of a Delirious worship song.  The band even made mention of the MC Hammer show on Main Stage back in 1998, which was a similarly odd show.  Musically, the band sounded pretty good, with plenty of pounding bass, and the highlight was current single “Major Tom,” as heard in a current Lincoln commercial.

Anberlin closed out the night (in the rain) on Main Stage.  I like the band a lot, but they’ve been hit and miss at Cornerstone in the past.  A couple of years ago, the mix was so bass-heavy that the songs were unintelligible, and singer Stephen Christian has occasionally had trouble balancing the demands of singing and running around the stage.  Last night, the mix was a little bass-heavy, but that’s the only complaint I can find – the set was absolutely awesome.  I’ve never heard the band (and especially Christian) sound better as they ripped through an hour’s worth of songs from their last 3 albums and one cover that I’ll discuss below.  They proved that they totally deserved the headlining slot for the night, and if you missed the set, you missed one of the best shows of the fest.

The night ended with the Crucified on an Encore stage.  I’ve been aware of the seminal Christian thrash metal band only as the precursor to Stavesacre (both Mark Salomon and Jeff Bellew were in the Crucified before Stavesacre) up to this point.  I’m not really all that into the genre, but since this was kind of a big deal reunion show, I decided to check it out.  As it turns out, it was really good.  Salomon’s personality and stage presence are worth going to the show for, and both the band and the crowd are a lot of fun to watch.  It’s not really my thing, but I’m glad that I can say that I’ve seen them play.

Cover Watch!

Not a large quantity of covers on Friday, but the quality of the covers made up for it.  Shiny Toy Guns worked three covers into their set – the aforementioned version of Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom” (which was very cool), the Delirious song that I didn’t catch the title of, and Depeche Mode’s “Stripped” (not my favorite Depeche Mode song, but still cool to hear).  In addition to working in a chorus of U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)” at the end of “Dismantle. Repair.”, Anberlin also wins for the best cover of the day (and maybe for the week) – New Order’s “True Faith.”  It’s a great song, and their performance of it (especially with the massive cloud of smoke and light on Main Stage) was outstanding.  It sounded like Anberlin, while still maintaining the 80s dance vibe.  Totally awesome – look for it on YouTube.

And that brings us to today, the last day of the fest.  It’s rainy and cool and nasty looking outside, but there are plenty of bands playing (in tents, thankfully) that I’m anxious to see, including Seabird, Nitengale, and a band called Audrey that namechecks Anberlin, Copeland, Mae, Eisley, and Deas Vail on their flier.  If they can live up to half of that list, I’ll be really impressed.

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.