Alright, it’s my last post of the year – let’s talk about bands! As you’ve probably ascertained, I’m an old guy (39), but I come to Cornerstone as much for younger bands (Deas Vail, Seabird, Eisley, Paper Route) as I do for the older ones (The Choir, Over the Rhine, Lost Dogs). I thought this year’s schedule was very strong in terms of Gallery bands (and Gallery-esque bands on other stages, like Deas Vail), but maybe a little weaker than usual in terms of newer melodic rock bands (Run Kid Run was a late addition and the Kicks were a fun new band, but in previous years we’ve had a lot more of that kind of stuff – Jonezetta, Capital Lights, Mae, and others of that ilk, many of whom have broken up in the interim). It seems to me that a lot of bands that would otherwise sound pretty good (polished, capable musicians) are still doing the screamy hardcore thing, and I just can’t get into that stuff. I’ll be kind of glad when the screamy stuff falls out of fashion a little bit.
I suppose at this point, the done thing is to list some superlatives.
- Best Generator Band. The best band I saw exclusively on generator stages was Oh! The Humanity!, a duo doing autotuned dance pop stuff. They did some nice covers (We the Kings, Owl City) and their original material was pretty good, too. They were one of the most fun bands I saw all week.
- Honorable Mention. The Rendition, the first band I saw during the fest, were tight and polished. It would be nice to see them graduate to a real stage next year
- Dustiest Road. Could the road between the big merch tent and the Rising Storm and Encore stages have been any dustier? Possibly, but I don’t see how. By the end of the week, there were stretches of that road that were nothing but an inch of fine grit. Nasty!
- Best Cover. As I wrote earlier in the week, I LOVE cover songs, and it seemed like there were a lot more than usual this year, including two entire cover sets (from Ping and Lightshine Theater). I think the coolest cover I saw all week, though, was Lightshine Theater’s cover of King’s X’s “Over My Head.” It’s a great song, and the band did a nice rendition of it, adding in a three-way guitar shred-off in the middle. I hope Lightshine Theater comes back next year – they’re a nice link to the old days of Cornerstone (REZ, Steve Taylor, Barren Cross, and stuff like that).
- Best Food. There were some new food options this year (a salad bar!?) that I didn’t get to try, because I stuck with some of the old standards. I think the best thing I ate this year was probably the Cajun Alfredo from the pasta trailer. That stuff is addictive!
- Honorable Mention. The $3 bag of like 100 chocolate and vanilla sandwich cookies from the grocery store is hard to beat.
- Most Improved. I think Quiet Science was probably the most improved band that I saw this year. I saw them last year, and they were good (and fun to watch), but their live performance didn’t quite measure up to what I heard on their EP. Even after seeing them a couple more times (once here at home, and once early in the fest), they didn’t quite reach their potential. But on the Impact Stage on Friday, they finally played the set that I thought they were capable of, and they sounded great. Hopefully that’ll become the norm for them, because I really like their music.
- Best New (To Me) Band. This one’s really hard to call, because I saw three very different bands that I’d never seen before, and all of them impressed me. Lightshine Theater was nostalgic and a lot of fun, but I can’t go with a cover band as my best new (to me) band. Campbell the Band had an impressive performance, handing instruments into the crowd and stuff like that, but I can’t really remember much about their actual songs, so I can’t say it was them, either. I’m going to go with the Kicks as the best new (to me) band that I saw. They play straightforward southern rock with a bit of a modern twist and some very nice Beatle-esque harmonies, and they’re very tight and polished. They were very impressive.
- Encore! Seriously! There were a couple of shows (from two of my favorite bands, Eisley and Over the Rhine) that ended up a bit shorter than they might have been for various reasons. I saw Eisley’s setlist, and they basically knew going in that they couldn’t play the full headlining set that they’ve been playing on their tour, so they crossed off some stuff that happens to be among my favorites: “Come Clean,” “Ten Cent Blues,” “Combinations,” and “Go Away.” Over the Rhine just ran out of time in their first set and had to cut “Poughkeepsie,” and skipped a planned 3-song encore in their second set, in what was a rather weird ending to their show. I know it’s tough for the festival to balance cramming in a lot of bands with allowing bands time to spread their wings a bit. There were a few shows that I saw this year that I wish had been a little more open-ended, time-wise.
- Practice Makes Perfect. It pains me to say it, but the Choir was a little bit disappointing (though I must make it clear that I was still very glad for the chance to see them again). That’s mostly because my expectations were just so high, though – they play very rarely, and the last few times I’ve seen them at the fest and elsewhere, they killed it. But Thursday, alas, just wasn’t their night. They were pretty loose as they struggled through their set, the set itself was fairly short, and while it contained a lot of my favorite songs, it was also a little on the predictable side. Hopefully they’ll find a way to do a little mini-tour in support of their new album (which is wonderful, by the way) to shake off the rust, and I’ll get to see them in better form down the line.
- Loudest Band. There’s a surprising winner in this category. I figured the last night on Main Stage, with The Devil Wears Prada and others would be the loudest, anticipating that it would sound like (as Mike Roe once described a Stavesacre set playing on a stage near him) “they were raising the lid of hell over there.” But actually, the Skillet set was far and away the loudest thing I heard all week. I never got particularly close to the actual show, but it was freakin’ loud even as I was walking down the road over to the Chelsea Café. They apparently also win the award for “most fire” and “most smoke.”
- Sorry I Missed It. Even with all the pre-fest planning that I do every year to try to find bands that I want to hear, there are always a few things that I want to hear that I miss out on. This year, I missed the Lost Dogs, and I heard they did a really good show. Thankfully, I got to see them here at home a couple of days after the fest, so that makes up for it a little bit. I’ve heard good things about SHEL and The Farewell Drifters, but didn’t make it to either of their sets. I’m bummed that I missed out on Run Kid Run, because their music is right in the wheelhouse of stuff that I enjoy. Oh, well, there’s always next year.
- Favorite Set. There were a ton of great performances this year, so I’ll count down to the one I liked the best (a very hard choice).
8. Future of Forestry. One of the most musically diverse bands I saw at the fest, Future of Forestry played as a 3-piece (drums, guitar, cello, augmented with harmonium and other stuff) but created a remarkably full sound nonetheless.
7. Jeff Elbel + Ping. An underrated Cornerstone mainstay, Jeff and friends played a set of original stuff (new and old) that I really liked, and then played another set of covers that I may have enjoyed even more. Make it a point to check them out next year.
6. Over the Rhine. Two sets from Over the Rhine, with no repeats. That’s an embarrassment of riches, and the band was wonderful as always. They’d be higher on the list, but I’m getting just a little weary of this “mellow and sophisticated” phase that they’re in and wish they’d change it up a little (rocking it up a bit, or going full-on into a bluegrass album, or something). I’m looking forward to hearing where their forthcoming album, The Long Surrender, takes them.
5. Deas Vail. I was worried that Deas Vail would get swallowed up on the Main Stage during the day, but they did an admirable job of expanding their stage presence to fill all the extra room, and they sounded great. I’ve been listening to Birds and Cages a lot since it came out, so I was more familiar with the material this time around and really liked it.
4. The Kicks. I mentioned this band above, so I won’t go into all that stuff again, except to say that this was the only band that I previewed before the fest (back in March or so) and then went and downloaded their album immediately.
3. Lightshine Theater. Not many folks saw their set on the Sanctuary Stage, and it was mostly a bunch of old guys, but we really got a treat from this band. It was a fun show all around, from the REZ songs, to the other covers they did, to seeing Glenn Kaiser enjoying their set, to watching some guys from other bands mimicking the dance steps from the awesomely cheesy “Love Comes Down” video backstage.
2. Eisley. Simply sublime. I’m amazed every time I listen to this band at just how mature beyond their years they sound. The harmonies are beautiful, the songs are great, and they know how to rock. I’ve been talking them up to my friends for a couple of years, and thankfully, they totally delivered, so I didn’t sound like an idiot.
1. Paper Route. I’ve seen this band a few times in various settings, but there’s just something about playing at Cornerstone that seems to bring out the best in bands. There was a small but fanatical group of fans standing down front at the Gallery, and I was right in the middle of them, enjoying every note this band played. My only regret was that they couldn’t play longer. I can’t wait to see them again.
So, that’s it from me on the blog this year. Hopefully you’re stumbling across this post sometime during the Cornerstone offseason, and it can bring back some good memories of the 2010 edition of the fest. Please jump into the comments and discuss what you thought about Cornerstone 2010, and then go buy your tickets for 2011 – it’s not the same without you! (Yes, even you, Mr. Hardcore Singer, growling at me from afar.) See you all next year!