Day 2 – To Cover You

Thursday, as things turned out, seemed to be the unofficial “day of the cover song” at Cornerstone.  I love covers, especially when bands are playing live.  It’s interesting to hear different takes on songs, the songs that bands choose to cover often give you a little insight into a band’s influences (or at least into what kind of stuff they like), and when you’re watching an unfamiliar band, a cover provides something familiar to draw you into the set.  That said, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a day at the fest with quite so many covers, so I had a great time on Thursday.

I spent the afternoon wandering around to see various bands, most of whom were new to me: The Clutter, News From Verona (very high-energy and fun), Don’t Wake Aislin (better than last year, when the singer had worn out her voice from too many generator sets), Divided By Friday (who had a go at covering “You’ll Be In My Heart” by Phil Collins, of all things), and others.

One highlight of the afternoon was Crosswire, a young band playing on the New Band Showcase.  They play old-school 80s hard rock, a la AC/DC (the singer does a pretty dead-on impersonation of Brian Johnson at times), and they’re a lot of fun.  The guitarist was particularly impressive – he had some nice, shreddy chops (using all of Eddie Van Halen’s tricks), and a good start on learning some crucial rock clichés like Angus Young’s stage hop, splits, jumps, and holding the guitar aloft in various ways.  You don’t see that sort of stuff much anymore, and as a child of the 80s, I enjoyed it quite a bit.  They also covered Collective Soul’s “Shine” and Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

Completely different but also very nice was Brooke Waggoner, who played piano-driven pop songs accompanied by a drummer and bassist (and joined by harpist Timbre on a couple of songs).  Her stuff was quirky and fun, and her piano playing was enthralling.  I really enjoyed her set, and bought a couple of CDs that will hopefully represent her live set well.  No covers, though.

Jeff Elbel + Ping played their second set of the week at the Jesus Village, and as it turned out, it was an all covers set where Jeff got to pick some stuff he really likes, and have some fun with it with a bunch of talented musicians, including Harry Gore, Maron, and Mike Choby, and Andrew Oliver.  I had a blast listening to it.  They covered “Nod Over Coffee” by Mark Heard, “Violent Blue” by Chagall Guevara, “The Whole of the Moon” by the Waterboys,” and songs by the Magnetic Fields, Bob Dylan, and the Kinks.  Good fun.

I caught a bit of Phil Joel (he was a member of the Newsboys, so I’m not sure his versions of “Entertaining Angels” and other Newsboys songs count as covers, but they’re close enough) and The Almost (who covered Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’”) on the Main Stage.  Then I remembered that I was late for a set that I was really curious about, Resurrection Band tribute band Lightshine Theater.

I’ve never seen a tribute band (and it’s especially odd to see one playing Cornerstone), and I love REZ, so I was intrigued by this set.  As it turned out, it was probably my favorite thing that I’ve seen all week.  The band is made up of 5 “old guys,” including three guitarists that can really shred, and a singer that does a credible impersonation of Glenn Kaiser.  They ran through a number of REZ songs, including “Waves,” “Colours,” “Military Man,” “City Streets,” and “Alienated,” but they also mixed in a few other fun things like a Barren Cross song (“King of Kings,” as I recall), a Steve Taylor song (“I Want To Be A Clone”), a killer version of “Over My Head” from King’s X, and a very nice song  (“Vision of Perfection”) from a band called Legacy that two of the guys in the band were in back in the 80s.  The biggest highlight, though, was when the band closed with REZ’s “Love Comes Down,” and various stage hands and members of Leper (who were playing on the stage next) started mimicking the dance moves from the famously cheesy video for that song.  This set was made of win all around.

I caught a bit of I’m Not A Pilot, a very interesting band made up of piano, bass, drums, and electric cello.  Very pretty music, including a nice cover of the Cure’s “Lovesong.”  I wish I’d been able to stay for their whole set, but I had to run off to my final show of the night, the Choir.

The Choir is one of my all-time favorite bands, and they’ve just released a new album, Burning Like the Midnight Sun.  They don’t play much anymore, and they almost never play with bassist Tim Chandler anymore, so I was very excited to see them and took up a spot right down front.  They played a lot of my favorite songs from Chase the Kangaroo and Circle Slide, plus selections from some of their other albums and 3 new songs.  As Steve Hindalong described it, the set was “a little rough.”  The band was a little rusty, and it showed, but I was still happy for the opportunity to see them play again, and I’m excited to hear the new album.  (It’s available in the merch tent, but my preordered copy is probably sitting in my mailbox in Atlanta currently).

Derri Daugherty of the Choir

So, lots of covers and then one of my favorite bands.  That’s not a bad day.  Today, though, promises to be even better, with a great lineup that includes Deas Vail, Paper Route, Over the Rhine, and Eisley.  I can’t wait!


so it goes

the Choir is my favorite band, and i feel really lucky that I got to see them play again … 21 years after the first time I saw them on their tour for Wide Eyed Wonder. I missed everything before that, and wished I had seen them during the time supporting Chase the Kangaroo, but I made up for lost time. I’ve seen a LOT of Choir shows, and I was beyond eager to see one more.  which i did, tonight. and i’m glad i did. but by the band’s own admission, it was a rough gig, noticeably underrehearsed.

nonetheless, the sound the band makes is unmistakeable, and i still find it to be a beautiful thing. i hope they come back again before long (not another 5 year gap, please) and maybe work in another rehearsal or two ahead of time.  i love the fact that they’re playing new material, and that the new material is so good.  i’ve heard “Burning Like the Midnight Sun” once now, and it sounds like the work of people with a rare gift.

A little bit of everything

I’m starting to lose track of what day it is. To me, this means Cornerstone is a success. After staying up to have my first taste of celtic prog legends Iona last night, and getting back to Macomb in the wee hours of the morning, I’m happy to say that I haven’t yet fallen asleep during a show today. That’s likely because today has truly been filled with a little bit of everything.

I’ve heard snippets of ska (Send out Scuds), singer-songwriter acoustic (Brooke Waggoner), hardcore, electronic pop-punk (Oh! The Humanity), some old-school punk, hip-hop (Da MAC), rap (John Reuben), various flavors of rock & roll (ranging from Jeff Elbel + Ping doing a bunch of fun covers, to The Clutter and Don’t Wake Aislin), pop-punk (News from Verona), old school 80s rock (Crosswire), and even a bit of post-rock instrumental (Brian Beyke).

There have been good crowds at all those shows, proving that whatever your Cornerstone experience, there’s somebody else here who’s having just as much fun, but hasn’t seen any of the same shows as you.

And… the day goes on. A little bit more of everything to come this evening.


What about the music?

Movies, church services, goth parties- have you seen any music yet?

Yes. Music is alive and well at Cornerstone. Here is a breakdown of what I have seen so far:

Tug Fork River Band- Southern metal at the Sancrosanct Records Stage- These guys are very talented, but it wasn’t my thing so I didn’t stay around too long.

Hand Drawn Mountains- Dreamy pop at the Chasing Canadia Stage- Saw a flyer and thought this sounded great, it was. They are playing the Gallery stage tomorrow.

News from Verona- Pop rock at Love Can’t be Baht Stage- One of the band members stopped me and asked me to listen to his band on an Ipod. I liked what I heard so went back. Good for fans of New Found Glory, Further Seems Forever, etc.

Flatfoot 56- Irish punk rock at the Legacy Stage- Saw these guys a couple years ago. CIRCLE PIT! When the pit is churning, even if you aren’t in it, you better be aware, moshers are always flying into and over you.

Switchfoot- Pop rock on the Main Stage- Not much needs to be said about this amazing band. John Foreman is an awesome frontman.

mewithoutYou- Artsy rock on the Main Stage- mewithoutYou has become one of the fest’s favorite bands. The only stage big enough to hold their crowds is main stage which is strange, because their brilliant music is not exactly radio friendly. It is poetry.

Brooke Waggoner- Piano rock on the Gallery Stage- I had heard this gal was good, so after today’s seminars I headed over to hear. It was beautiful; the addition of artist Timbre on harp made this some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard.

And there is more to come: All the Day Holiday, Over the Rhine, Living Sacrifice, Dignan, Seabird….. So yes, I have definitely seen plenty of music, and there is plenty to come. I hope this post has given you some insight into both my diverse musical tastes and the diversity of music that is available at the festival.

Thursday – Feeling the Cornerstone burn

The second or third day is when the “Cornerstone Burn’ kicks in. You aren’t used to this kind of sleeping schedule. You aren’t used to this kind of noise all day. You aren’t used to walking this much. This is when you start to wear down. Keep on going! We’ll all settle into “Cornerstone time” soon enough.

I started out the day with some newer bands at the festival. The Clutter played first today for me with some instrumental songs mixed with some rock music. Over on the Label Showcase stage, News From Verona and Don’t Wake Aislin got a great reaction from the kids. News From Verona leaned towards the power-pop side while Don’t Wake Aislin delivered powerful driving rock with female-led vocals.

Continuing the theme of women bringing great music, Brooke Waggoner, joined by harpist Timbre, played a fantastic set at the Gallery stage. From there, I finished the afternoon with a very loose and very fun second set by Jeff Elbel and Ping, consisting mostly of covers.

I’m dragging a little bit, but I need to get a second wind, because The Choir plays at midnight tonight. I’m pushing through the “Cornerstone Burn” because the best stuff is yet to come.


The Hippies…They Are a Dancing!

Last night proved something to me that I already knew….hippies, head-bangers, Goths, etc. cannot resist the sounds of growing up. When Toby Mac hit the stage last night I will admit I was thinking what many were saying, “Toby Mac? Cornerstone? Really?” You could hear people jokingly say how much they don’t care for his music. Some where I was sitting would even leave and then come back. This concert by far was the largest production on the main stage so far. From dancers to full band Toby Mac was in full effect.
I have come to the conclusion as a person that grew up listening to DC Talk that Toby Mac is today’s Carman. It should come as no surprise because when Carman was at the top of his game it was Toby Mac and DC Talk that were touring with him.
This is why I say he is today’s Carman. If you grow up with a certain artist that you listened to and years later get to hear him again, though your music likes have changed….sometimes you cannot beat listening to music that you can sing along with word for word.
On my way to see Iona last night I saw a sight that confirmed this. My wife and I were walking and I turned to her and pointed, I said…”The hippies, they are a dancing!” It was a great sight to see people with dread locks and sundresses dancing hip hop to the tunes of Toby Mac. Cornerstone once again knows what it is doing by bringing in the likes of Toby Mac. It is a place for everyone!

Irish Day, then Canada Day, then USA day …

Iona and the Choir are the big draws for me as a fan this year. It’s a little bit weird to say that about Iona, since I never bought any of their CDs before last night … But I”ve  had one of their songs stuck in my head for the 14 years it’s been since the last time I saw them at Cornerstone.  That song is “Irish Day,” and after a gorgeous set full of pipes and reels and prog rock riffing, the band gave me another treat by playing “Irish Day” in the encore.  I loved it.

Today is Canada  Day, and we started Gallery with native Beth Holtby on Gallery.  Very nice.

Now, counting down the days to USA day … two more days, and then the 4th of July. In the meantime, I’m counting down hours and minutes until the Choir’s set tonight!

By the way, I got my recording rig working. If anyone needs to set up a Mac with two MOTU devices, I can give you the tutorial.  Just be sure you’ve got all your cables and drivers ready.

p.s. Thanks to anyone who came to saw Ping yesterday.  That was such an excellent time.  Absolutely loved it.

Movie Zombies…

What really sets Cornerstone apart from other festivals is the abundance of things to do that are not music related.  One Cornerstone tradition that developed a few years back is the Bad Movie Night. Geeks gather in the Imagnarium tent long after the seminars are over for the day to laugh at and make fun of extremely bad movies. Past movies that have received the honor of being chosen for this screening include Frogs, Plan 9 From Outer Space, and this year’s movie: Troll 2.

Troll 2 has nothing to do with Troll 1, has no trolls in it, and was made and written by people who spoke English as a second language. They insisted the all American cast (it was filmed in Utah!) follow their poorly written script EXACTLY as it was written. What ensues is a complete ripping apart of the English language coupled with very amateur acting.

The basic plot goes like this: the ghost of a little boy’s grandfather warns of vegetarian goblins who haunt the forest and feed humans a potion in order to turn them into vegetables so they can eat them. Conveniently, after this warning, the family goes on a vacation to the remote, woodsy farming community of Nilbog (try spelling it backwards).  You can guess what happens from there.

After this movie, a documentary about the making of the film was shown: Best Worst Movie. This movie follows the actors around 20 years later as they try to embrace or escape the small group of rabid fans who see them as stars. The documentary states that Troll 2 is the Rocky Horror of this generation, a film so bad you can’t help but watch.

After all the laughter died down and the documentary played, one realized that these actors are people struggling to make their living and live their lives like everyone else. It added a real human touch to the film. While we had a riotous time laughing at these people, it was eye opening to realize most of them didn’t even realize they were in a bad film until they saw it themselves on HBO or VHS.  Some of them are embarrassed by what happened; one, like the dentist from Alabama who had the most memorable line in the entire movie, embraces it; the mother from the film was perhaps the most touching as she has tried to escape the fame and spends her days taking care of her disabled mother.

Both the film and the documentary were a hilarious eye opening look into the desire of the human spirit to create art in its many forms. While I don’t think this film could be considered art, it certainly has developed its fan following and continues to pack out theaters (and tents at funky little music festivals).

If you get a chance to watch the film, enjoy it for what it is, a very badly made movie, and whatever you do DON’T DRINK THE MILK OR EAT ANYTHING OFFERED TO YOU BY A GOBLIN IN THE WOODS!

Real stories. Real music. Real God.

Before I ever came to Cornerstone, I was rather star-struck. I waited in lines to get autographs. Every band was “the greatest ever.”

I think that’s a common phenomenon, and I don’t criticize it. I had *finally* found music I liked that reflected my faith.

But, perhaps in part due to watching band members eat a ribeye sammich for so many years around Cornerstone, things are different for me now. (Or really, it’s probably more that I’ve actually befriended people who used to be in bands… and their spouses, left at home while the band is touring.). And, maybe, just maybe, I’ve changed a bit myself.

These days, I’m more interested in seeing how people in bands are real people, just like me. They have bad days, stressed relationships, and ask real questions.

Whatever your festival looks like… whether you hang out at the Gallery with immensely talented songwriters who share deeply personal lyrics in their songs, attend talks put on by your favorite bands, or wander up and down generator stage row, I challenge you to look for the very real person behind the music. You’ll find many real stories… real music… and a very real God.

I had a few such moments on Wednesday:

  • Listening to Nitengale. I sat back and listened to someone telling stories that sound like my own. Stories of faith mingling with doubt. Stories of love. Stories of blame. He even talked about finding critters in his walls (oh, how I wish we didn’t have that in common…).
  • Watching Quiet Science. It was a rough show, with the lead singer’s guitar dying half way through. But, even through some musical hiccups, I heard a story of a real guy (the lead singer works in a psych ward with patients who have attempted suicide), who sees real ways that his faith, his art, and his passions intersect.

Look for these moments, and I think you’ll find them, too.


Day 1 – Swing, Swing

Wednesday was the first full day of Cornerstone 2010 proper, with all of the stages getting into full swing.  Thankfully after an exhausting Tuesday, I was finally getting into the swing of things as well – my body finally clicked over to “Cornerstone time.”

The day started with one of the bands that I was most looking forward to seeing after previewing them pre-fest, the Kicks.  They’re a 4-piece from Nashville that plays southern rock with a modern slant.  They’re tight, and their harmony vocals are great.  I really enjoyed this show – my favorite of the fest thus far.  You can download their album for free at

After the Kicks, I did a little stage surfing, because several of the bands I wanted to see ended up not playing.  Then I headed over to the Gallery stage to catch a couple of sets from some long-time Cornerstone vets – Terry Taylor of DA (with Mike Roe of the 77s and Steve Hindalong of the Choir backing him on bass and drums, respectively), followed by a set from Roe and Derri Daugherty of the Choir.  Their set was surprising – I expected it to focus on stuff from Derri’s solo EP, but instead they played a couple of Roe songs, some Lost Dogs stuff, and a couple of Daniel Amos songs.  Good stuff, and they’re working on an album together, as well.

Next, Jeff Elbel + Ping played their annual Gallery set, with a wide array of musicians on stage (drums, percussion, more percussion, organ, violin, and more besides).  It was great – they played some oldies from Elbel’s previous band, Farewell to Juliet, some older Ping songs, and some brand new material from Ping’s forthcoming CD.  If you like straightforward rock and roll, well-performed by a bunch of solid musicians, come check out Ping on the Jesus Village tonight at 6 PM.  Also, visit to download a free Ping record.

After Ping’s set, I was adrift for a couple of hours once more, as a couple more bands that I wanted to see were no-shows.  I had dinner and checked out a few different stages, up until the hard choices began around 10 PM.  At 10, there were three bands that I specifically wanted to see: tobyMac on Main Stage, the Lost Dogs on the Gallery, and Quiet Science on the Jesus Village.  I eventually settled on starting out with tobyMac.  His set was very much like what I’ve seen from him in the past, but he does what he does so well that I don’t mind seeing it again.  With a 9-piece backing band flying all over the stage, and a couple of big LED-curtain backdrops that were a first for Cornerstone as far as I can recall, this was a band that was perfect for Main Stage.  I enjoyed about 30 minutes of the set, and then moved on to Quiet Science.

I first saw Quiet Science at Cornerstone last year, and I’ve seen them once more since.  Their songs are quite good, but it’s been my experience that they don’t completely come across live just yet.  Last night’s set was hindered by some technical problems (the singer broke strings on both of his guitars), but in some ways, that just made the set cooler.  The band soldiered on sans-guitar for a song, and then a guy showed up with a rockin’ Gibson SG for the singer to borrow, which he seemed excited to play.  So, although it wasn’t the most polished set, it was one of the most fun that I’ve seen this year.

I missed the Lost Dogs (but then found out that they’re playing in my hometown next week, so that worked out), so I ended my night at the Gallery with Iona, a Celtic progressive rock band that’s been around for a long time but apparently doesn’t make it to the States very often.  I’d never seen them live, so although I never got into their music, I was curious to give them a listen.  The individual performances were outstanding (as befits prog rock) and the Gallery sound was pristine, so they sounded really good.  I wasn’t as into it as I might have been had I been more familiar with their music, but it was good stuff that I’m glad I got a chance to see.

So, that brings us up to today.  There are only a few “must-see” things that I’m scheduling my day around (Ping, the Choir), so I’ll be spending a lot of time checking out new-to me stuff like The Clutter, News From Verona, Bleach, The Almost, and Lightshine Theater (a REZ tribute band, of all things).  Should be a fun day, and thankfully devoid of hard schedule decisions.