A simple message… or is it?

Over the past several years, the band Graverobber has become one of the most popular bands at the festival. I caught a few songs last year and was intrigued. This year I was determined to make it to a full show.

If you don’t know who they are, they play old school thrash/punk music while dressed as skeletons and monsters in bloody outfits. The lead singer, Wretched, also has a very scary voice. While it is spooky and schticky, it all has symbolism and a purpose. I am not going to get into all the details here of why they do what they do; if you want to know more, check out a show here at the festival this week or look them up on the internet to read about them. The basic idea is that of dying to sin, hence the reason they dress like the living dead. They also have song titles like “Army of the Dead,” and “I Wanna Kill You (Over and Over Again).”  A couple times throughout the show, they douse the audience in blood colored water. If you don’t get that, then you’ve never heard the hymn “Washed in the Blood.” Graverobber just provides a visual aid to go with the idea. They also use terms like The Reanimator for Jesus (get it: he came back to life; he raises you from sin to new life?) and The Adversary for Satan, that one should be self explanatory.

I went in expecting to hear some creative lyrics and see some cool symbolism. I came away with a thought that I can’t get off my mind. Near the end of the show, Wretched preaches a sermon in which he discusses the two choices we have: dying from sin or dying to sin. He then encourages the Christians in the audience by saying, “Why can’t we realize what we are in Christ and just be that?” Wow. I can’t fully get my mind around that. It sounds so simple. What are we in Christ? Why can’t we just be that? I wish I was at a place where I could just be that. Seems like life would be so much simpler. I went in expecting to be entertained, and I was, but came away with something more valuable- I was challenged. At this point I don’t have all the answers, but I think the verse from Phillipians encouraging us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling definitely applies here. It’s a little easier to do when you are faced with the members of Graverobber in full costume.

Jesus Music – looking back & looking ahead

When you’re camping, I think you’re more likely to be thankful for things we usually take for granted. You might not know who all invented indoor plumbing, but you’re happy for those smart people. As you struggle to get enough wireless signal to check Facebook, you wonder what you would have done without a smart phone.

This year, Cornerstone is collectively thinking about the roots of something we all enjoy and often take for granted: music, specifically rock music from a Christian perspective.* By hosting a “Jesus Rally” on main stage Thursday night, we’ll be looking back at the Jesus Movement. This revival movement largely started on the west coast of the US in the late 1960s, then extended even into small towns throughout the Midwest during the 1970s. It was a time when the peace-love-and-rock&roll of the ’60s, changes in youth culture, and attitudes in the church combined to revolutionize how young Americans encountered their faith. Music was a huge part of the revival. Electric guitars and drums found their way into faith-based music, instead of just pipe organs. As people (mostly young people – but not all) encountered not just religion, but the real person of Jesus, they wrote songs about their faith. These songs became the first “Christian” rock.

The revolution these “Jesus Freaks” pioneered impacts each of us today. If your church sings more modern worship tunes or choruses than reformation-era hymns, if your hispter-ish church has ecumenical aspects, if you think that faith and social justice at least belong in the same building, if you think evangelism is about speaking the language of those around you more than delivering a rehearsed speech… you have likely been impacted by the Jesus Movement. If you like that you can listen to music about your faith in a style you actually like, then you, too, are the offspring of the original Jesus People.

I think most Americans know about Woodstock – but did we know that there were huge concerts with some of the early pioneers in Christian music, too? One of the largest, Explo ’72, was held in Dallas. They needed a space big enough for 80,000-100,000 people to see the show, so they actually used a huge piece of land that is now a highway. You don’t see that everyday. This sort of “Jesus Rally,” which in many cases is the precursor for Cornerstone, happened frequently in those days, with headliners such as Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, and Phil Keaggy.

After tonight, I will be able to say I’ve seen all 3 of those legendary rockers at Cornerstone.**

Of course, it’s not just about looking back – but looking ahead. Pioneers like these three, REZ, E Band, Petra & Daniel Amos led the way for the second wave (including such Cornerstone favorites as Steve Taylor, The Choir, etc.), many of whom inspired the bands of my era (like Five Iron Frenzy, Switchfoot, Anberlin, etc.)… and future acts (perhaps including some of those we’re seeing on the New Band Showcase or picking up slots at Generators) will carry it on in new & innovative ways. Cornerstone has a place for all of these.

I thank God for for indoor plumbing, easily accessed wireless internet… and yes, also for these “Jesus Music” founders.

*I’m not going to get into the whole “Christian music” as a term debate. 🙂

**I saw a press conference with Larry Norman at my very first Cornerstone. Sadly, he passed away not long ago. I think he’d be glad to know, years later, than the Devil does not have all the good music.




Day 1 – The Cornerstone Way of Life


The first day of the festival is all about easing yourself into the “Cornerstone Festival Way of Life.” Most normal people don’t stay up to 2 AM listening to loud music all day, cooking food over a camp stove or getting something fried from a vendor. Most people don’t have face the conundrum of “should I see this band or this other band that’s playing half a mile away at the same time?” It takes a day or so to get used to the “normal” way of life here, but once you do, you start to think of your life at home as “odd.”

So today we eased into the Cornerstone Way of Life again for another year. I started off with some nice acoustic music by Tim Serdynski and Ryan Shelley. Along with Preson Phillips’ show on the Anchor Stage, there was some nice worship music on the first day to get people in the right frame of mind for the week.

My friends and I do hours and hours of research on all of the hundreds of bands that play at Cornerstone on the real stages and the generator stages so that we know who is playing and who we think we would enjoy seeing. Even still, the unpredictable nature of the generator stages at Cornerstone mean a band can still surprise you. On the Arkansas Stage, Sunset delivered a nice set of rock that reminded me a little bit of a rawer, simpler Further Seems Forever. We totally missed them when doing our research, but sometimes to only way to discover a band is to walk by the tent and say “hey, this sounds pretty good.”

It’s gotta be tough to be a band from far away that no one has heard of and try to make a beachhead at Cornerstone. Some bands like Campbell The Band have it figured out. Just like last year they are walking around the festival like a traveling minstrel band stopping for a moment to play a song and then they vanish into the Cornerstone dust to play at another location. Quiet Science is hard at it, too, dressing up in elaborate costumes and marching through the grounds. That’s why I always root for the bands that drive thousands of miles to Cornerstone without any support to play at a generator stage (and I and my friends are the only four people watching them.) That was the case for Belair and Stone Throw Second, but as they started playing people started wandering into the tent to check out a band they surely have never heard of before. It’s always a good sign when there are more people in the tent when they have finished then when they started. Both bands are playing multiple sets this week at generator stages so there is plenty of time to build up a new fan base far from home. Other bands benefit from the serendipity of good scheduling. Witness 7 and Adelaine were lined up in front of the increasingly popular Don’t Wake Aislin and girl-rock power was strong in the Impact Stage for the evening.

DJ Andy Hunter started the Main Stage off tonight with a dance party. Kids were dancing all around the stage as Hunter exhorted them to praise, worship, dance, and have fun. We’re starting to get into the groove of things here. The festival is heating up (both musically and literally, stay cool and drink lots of water kids!) and The Cornerstone Way of Life is starting to take over.


As I walked the dusty roads to a friend’s camp, my ears were met with something new. In the earlier days of the fest before the scheduled bands get going, there is a lot of heavy music and metal. While I love a good, active punk show, metal just isn’t my thing. The sound of a guitar sound checking with a reggae beat and a walking bass line was enough to draw me into the tent.

Men As Trees Walking combines a great reggae feel with honest and beautiful lyrics of praise and adoration to, as they call Him, the Lion of Zion. This 8-piece group dressed in steam-punk garb will make you want to sway, clap, and have a good time in general.

As a new song began, the two female vocalists in the front began swaying their arms back in forth in front of them. They explained that the people of Ethiopia praise by dancing in this way, much like the way we might raise our hands. As the song built, they raised their arms above their head, still swaying. When the song would decrescendo, they would bring their arms back to waist level. Seeing the whole group praise in a way that was new to me was a truly beautiful sight.

The diversity of acts at Cornerstone gives you a never-ending flow of things you’ve probably never seen before, if you can only step outside of what is comfortable and familiar to you. Although I never would have guessed that reggae praise music was something I would enjoy, I was delighted to find that with a band as great as Men As Trees Walking, I could feel right at home swaying to the rhythms of the Lion of Zion.


Things Are Heating Up

Dude crashed on the ground at the first band of the day.Admit it – we’ve all felt like the guy in the picture from time to time at Cornerstone.  Although not usually at the first band on the first day of the fest – dude, you’ve got to pace yourself!  It’s amazing to see what people (including myself) can manage to sleep through.  Brain-thumping dance music?  Check.  Two hardcore bands at the same time?  No problem.  I once saw a guy sleeping on the ground in the crowd outside a Flatfoot 56 show.  Everybody deftly avoided him, somehow – I almost felt like I should go kick him in the head (lovingly) just to get the inevitable over with.  Anyway, remember – Cornerstone is a marathon, not a sprint.

(Seriously, though, if the forecast that I’ve been seeing holds, it’s going to be hotter for the next couple of days than it’s been for several years at the fest, with a heat index of 110 on Saturday.  Wear sunscreen, get into some shade when you can, and drink more water than you think you need – if you’re not visiting the Little Blue Room a few times a day, you’re probably not drinking enough.  Take care of each other!)

“Day 0” of the festival is in the books.  I spent a lot of time catching up with friends (including some folks I wasn’t expecting to see, like Mark from Scotland, who came all the way from, well, Scotland for his second Cornerstone in a row).  Musically, the day was heavy on bands playing the generator stages, along with some unexpected surprises.  Some bands worth mentioning:

  • Tim Serdynski – Some nice acoustic music to kick off Cornerstone 2011.  Very pleasant stuff – if you’re looking for something to chill out to, he’s playing a ton of generator sets through the week.  There’s a trio playing similarly acoustic-driven worship music that usually plays before or after him (sorry, I didn’t catch the name) that’s also worth a listen.
  • Belair, Stone Throw Second, and Adelaine – Honestly, there’s a bit of a dearth of melodic but rocking bands at the festival this year if you’re not into the screaming.  Anberlin on Main Stage is going to be great, but a lot of other bands in that vein either aren’t here this year or have broken up.  All of these new-to-me bands filled that niche admirably, though.  They’re all playing several more generator sets this week, so if non-screamy melodic rock is your thing, check them out.
  • Rodent Emporium – OK, so the music (bizarre and occasionally indescribable Scottish punk) isn’t necessarily my thing, but this is still a must-see band.  They’re outrageously fun.  Just watching the crowd dance and enjoy themselves with reckless abandon is totally worth it.
  • Resurrection Band – So the on-again, off-again “open rehearsal” by Daniel Amos on the Gallery last night fell through (there are still rumblings of efforts to secure them another slot besides their all-too-brief Main Stage slot today, so keep your ear to the ground), but that meant we got an extra-long rehearsal set from REZ.  I admit that I’m a total fanboy for REZ – I only ever saw them once during their heyday, back in 1991, so every chance to see them is exciting.  Wendi, Glenn, and crew are parents and grandparents at this point, but they can still kick some butt when given the chance.

Today gives us some new bands worth checking out (Dead American Radio, Milano), some legendary artists that laid the foundation for literally all of the music that we’re listening to this week (Stonehill, Keaggy, DA, REZ, Petra), an agonizing choice (Paper Route versus Keaggy and Petra), and a Flatfoot 56 people-watching extravaganza to top it all off.  Should be great!

Free. Feast. Friends.

Free hugs? That’s, like, so 2007.

I’ll still happily take a free hug,  but free ramen is where it’s at these days.

Wander through a few competing hardcore bands, then head behind the Gallery stage and you’ll see an unexpected red and white tent that is not on any map. Get up the courage to go in, and you’ll see friendly people sharing what they have: camp stoves, boxes of ramen noodles, and the remnants of pbj. Signs ask you to not only clean up after yourself (your mom is not here, after all), but also to cook your own food. Considering that it is all free, that’s not such a bad trade.

I talked to the tent’s founder, now in her third or fourth year hosting this simple feast. I wanted to know what inspired her. Was she wanting her favorite band to stop by? Was  she wanting to teach others about loving your neighbor? I asked why she went to this much work, feeding hundreds of her fellow fest-goers. She responded in true Cornerstone fashion, authentically, down to earth, and rooted far more in real faith than plastic religion. She started giving away ramen as a way for a shy person to meet people and help them out, since everybody needs to eat. Judging from the crowd happily cooking, hanging out (and, yes, I think a few were cleaning up), I think she had met her goal.

Free ramen plus authenticity apparently equals community.

I can get behind that.

Wandering around…

The first couple days of the fest don’t really have a defined schedule. Most of the official stages aren’t open and the legendary generator stages, unique to this festival, are open. They are literally called generator stages because they are powered by generators set up by fans and small, indie music companies or ministries. I like to think they are called generator stages because they generate interest in a band most otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance to hear.

I don’t spend a lot of time at the generators, most of the music there skews towards the hardcore variety, a type of music I can only hear so much of. Having nothing else to do, I wandered into the Arkansas Stage for the last song of an instrumental band called Analecta. Whenever I hear the first band at the festival, I feel like I am really at the festival; it is here again. Must admit I loved hearing Analecta and wish I could have heard more, maybe I can catch them again before the weekend is over.

Wander around, find a band, enjoy the music…

Tuesday Night

Ah. Well, friends, it’s great to be home.

Arriving late at night was new for me this year. Driving on unfamiliar country roads put me on edge even with my boyfriend navigating from the passenger seat, but about the time we hit Canton, I could feel that I was close to home. The anticipation that had been growing for a year was building to the point of bursting, and I considered taking up my co-pilot’s offer to drive so I could just sit and bounce in my seat. “Looking familiar yet?” he asked for about the tenth time. As a sign emerged from the shadows reading CORNERSTONE: 5 MILES, I couldn’t help but yell, “It looks familiar now!”

The familiar smell of the gravel road poured through my open window as we made our way through the gate and to our camp. Before I could even get out of the car, my younger brother ran up to us and said, “Laura! Flatfoot is playing RIGHT NOW!” He led us through the maze of tents to the generator stage where my favorite band was playing. I weaved though the croud, waving to many friends I hadn’t seen since the festival last year. I pulled my boyfriend along me. I’d been waiting for months to share a Flatfoot 56 show at Cornerstone. Being as this is his first year, I figured that now was as good of a time as ever to break him in.

After a few of the old favorites, Josh Robieson (the original bagpipe/mandolin player for the band), came on stage with his pipes in hand. Being a “seasoned pro” at Flatfoot 56 shows, I wound my arms around my friends on either side of me. “This one goes out to Levi.” Levi Thomas had been a friend from years past, whose untimely death had left a hole in the lives of those who knew and loved him. His presence here at the fest is definitely missed.

Together, with all my friends, family, and soon-to-be-friends around me, we sang Amazing Grace with the tones of bagpipes. I threw back my head and smiled. I was here, home after a long year, with my closest friends, at a show for my favorite band. As the band came around to the final verse of “Praise God,” I knew that a great week lies ahead.

Praise God indeed.



Opening Day…

Cornerstone has arrived. In a few hours the merch tents will be opening up selling all manner of music related swag and gear. The main stage opens up tonight with a huge dance party led by DJ Andy Hunter, there are a few films going on over at the Imaginarium, the generator stages are up and running, and tonight at midnight Grave Robber brings the scary.

What always amazes me most about Cornerstone is the variety of reasons people come to the fest. The obvious reason is the music, but think about why you come. What really draws you here? Is it just the music? The fellowship with other like minded people? The challenging teaching at the seminar tents? Gathering with other pop culture geeks at the Imaginarium? A combination of all of these? Whatever reason you are here, enjoy, soak it in, renew your self this week as we seek to get closer to God through the activities we all enjoy so much.

Day 1 Is Only Hours Away

Well, here we are in Illinois for another Cornerstone Festival. Thanks to the time shift I’m up at 7:22 AM, so I figure now is a good time to check in and introduce myself. My name is Jeff and I’ve been coming to Cornerstone now since 1998 (with a few years skipped in between.) I’ve seen some pretty epic shows and made a lot of good friends along the way and that’s what keeps me coming back year after year.

So, the theme for me this year is “Keep Calm and Rock On” which I stole from a sign that my wife and I picked up to decorate the house. It’s a play on the old British propaganda sign “Keep Calm and Carry On” but it actually fits well. I’m hoping to drop the pressures of work and life at home, just a for a couple days, and see some great bands, enjoy some great conversation, and pay a little more attention to what God has to say to me.

There are plenty of bands to look forward to this week. I’m especially interested in the Jesus Rally that will bring several bands that haven’t played at Cornerstone Festival in decades or ever to the Main Stage. I’m really excited to see Anberlin return (and as far as I know, no band playing at the same time that I also want to see! A common theme that happens every year is that Anberlin plays at the same time as some other band I really want to see.) I’m looking forward to Paper Route’s return after their breakout show last year and there is no doubt the “Superheroes” themed Flatfoot 56 show will be talked about for years to come. I’m also looking forward to seeing my friends perform on stage. Dave Richards will be bringing the beats at the AfterHours Dance Club, Jeff Elbel will be working as hard as he does every year at the Gallery Stage and bringing his band, Ping, to the stage with new music and also this year a friend of mine and his band, Songs of Water, plays at their very first Cornerstone. I love the intertwining themes of friendship and music here at the festival.

As for today, things get started right out of the gate at noon. We’ll be wandering the generator stages. These stages were once as simple as just three kids plugged into a gas-powered generator on the side of the road, but they’ve evolved into something a little more professional. However, they still embrace the chaos of their youth. Any band can play on a generator stage and most of them are bands just getting their start and trying to get the attention of a crowd that’s here to see one of any of hundreds of other bands, so anything can happen. Sometimes you might see the next big thing (several big name bands here at Cornerstone got their start on the side of the road) and sometimes you might just be hearing unintelligible noise. You never know, and that’s part of the fun of the unpredictable stages. Then today, the Main Stage fires up with DJ Andy Hunter which will introduce the AfterHours Dance Club to the whole festival grounds and start of a Dance Party to begin the festival. Everything is starting to get warmed up for incredible first day of Cornerstone Festival. Keep Calm and Rock On.