Blackout!

OK, first things first.  It’s hot.  Like, circus hot.  Having daytime shows out in the open at Main Stage really hammers the point home, and today’s going to be worse, so remember to get out of the sun when you can, and drink more water than you think you need.  Cornerstone’s no fun if you’re passed out in the first aid trailer.

Day 2 of the festival, the first “official” day with all of the stages fully up and running, was eventful.  An hour-long power outage took down just about everything on the grounds (and, from what I hear, some stuff out in Bushnell, as well) except for the generator stages and Main Stage (which also runs off of some industrial strength generators).  That ensured that the schedules were in complete disarray on most of the stages.  Some artists soldiered on, like Mike Roe playing his set unplugged (literally).  Others, like Vinacious (whose sound is mostly keyboards and electric guitar), just had to call it a day when the power went out.  Even the giant inflatable water slide went flat.  But everybody took it in stride, the generator stages got a good boost, and eventually things got back to normal (or as close as it gets out here).

The big event for the day was the Jesus Rally on Main Stage, with a full day of classic Christian Rock pioneers (some of whom hadn’t played a show together in 20 years or more).  It, too, was on “Cornerstone Time,” running about an hour late all day due to some late arrivals and extra-long sound checks.  The older folks were out in force, braving the heat to see the bands of their youth, and there were a lot of younger fans there too, which was nice to see.  I fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, so for me, it was a mix of artists that I’m a big fan of but have rarely seen (Resurrection Band, Petra with Greg Volz, Daniel Amos) and artists that I’m aware of but had never really listened to (Barry McGuire, Phil Keaggy, Servant, and others).

Barry McGuire was my favorite out of the artists that I wasn’t that familiar with.  He was obviously enjoying himself, and his enthusiasm was infectious as he told the stories behind songs like “Bullfrogs and Butterflies” and “Eve of Destruction,” led the crowd in sing-alongs, and shared his testimony (which involved marijuana, the Mamas and the Papas, and Good News for Modern Man).  And I’m pretty sure he’ll win the award for the most unexpected cover of the week with his version of Madonna’s “Frozen.”

Daniel Amos, who have actually been out on the road for the last few weeks on their first tour in a decade or so, played a fun, tight, hit-laden 45 minute set that spanned their career, from the first song they ever recorded (“Ain’t Gonna Fight It”), to the last song on their latest album (“And So It Goes”).  In between, they hit a lot of favorites, like “Mall (All Over the World),” “Walls of Doubt,” “Sanctuary,” and “I Love You #19.”  It was fantastic seeing Terry, Jerry, Greg, and Ed playing together again, and bassist Tim Chandler (who couldn’t join the tour due to other commitments) was missed, but touring bassist Paul Averitt was incredibly fun to watch.  He played with authority, sang most of the background parts, and stomped around the stage like he was playing with Anberlin instead of DA.  My only complaint is that there wasn’t more of the set to love.

As John Thompson pointed out in his introduction, without Resurrection Band, there wouldn’t be a Cornerstone Wendi and Glenn Kaiser of Resurrection BandFestival.  Glenn and Wendi Kaiser and their cohorts were one of the first Christian hard rock bands, tackling issues in their lyrics that a lot of other bands wouldn’t touch.  The music and the message both still resonate today.  The band sounded great, and played with a lot of fire.  Wendi, in particular, gave it everything she had – at rehearsal the day before, she was using a cane to move around the stage, but during the Main Stage set, she had the crew bring her a wireless microphone so she could get out on the catwalk to speak and sing and get closer to the fans.  I’m thankful for every opportunity I get to see REZ play a show.

I literally ran from the Resurrection Band set to the Gallery to see Paper Route, who delivered my favorite set of last year’s festival.  After the departure of one member, they added a couple more, so they’re playing as a six-piece now.  Lead singer J.T. spoke about how hard the last year had been for him, and his gratitude for the support of the fans who packed the front of the stage was evident.  The set drew primarily from Absence, along with a sneak peek at a song from their forthcoming album.  The set was great, and I can’t wait to hear the new album.

Back at Main Stage, a reunited “classic” Petra lineup (singer Greg Volz, drummer Louie Weaver, bassist Mark Kelley, keyboardist John Lawry, and guitar stalwart Bob Hartman) closed out the Jesus Rally.  If I’m honest, things didn’t go too well for them – Greg stumbled on a few lyrics, and not even Guitar Hero “Star Power” could keep them from failing out after they started “Clean” in about 3 different keys and had to have a band huddle to sort things out.  But I was a teenage Petra fanboy who never got to see the band with Volz, even though I always liked that era of the band the best, so even though the performance wasn’t great, it was still fun to have the chance (which I never thought I’d have) to sing along with the band on songs like “Bema Seat,” “Angel of Light,” “It Is Finished,” and “All Over Me.”  I wish they’d been a little tighter, but it was still really cool to see them play.

So I made it through the day without bursting into flames, I saw some of my favorite bands from back in the day, and I saw one of my favorite current bands.  That’s a win all around.

Day 2 – Jesus Music and Superheroes

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The Jesus Music Rally was on the minds of almost everyone at Cornerstone on Thursday. Even Paper Route’s lead singer admitted to wanting to see Petra right as his show was about to start. The sun and heat made it a bit of a challenge of endurance, but the unique opportunity to see artists, some who haven’t performed in 20 years, draw people to sit in the open sun.

Before that, though, there were plenty of artists making their first appearance at Cornerstone. The band members of Dead American Radio had just been through the tornadoes of Joplin, Missouri, even lifting the guitarist/singer off the ground, but still made an appearance to play punk-pop music at the festival. On the Main Stage, Milano made a colorful debut at the festival festooned with paint and feathers. Things went a little out of order when Vinacious took the stage and the power cut out (even causing the Big Events slide to deflate, hope no one was one it when it happened!) Since they were a band heavy on electronics, there wasn’t much for them to do, but that’s the unpredictable nature of Cornerstone.

On Main Stage, Servant started the day off. The band hadn’t played in over 20 years, so this was a rare opportunity to see them perform. One of the surprises for me for the day was Barry McGuire. I really didn’t know much of his music, so I didn’t know what to expect, but he was comfortable and colloquial with the crowd. I enjoyed his comment about “stress identifying the parts of your life that you don’t trust to God” and thought about how that tied into my “Keep Calm and Rock On” theme for Cornerstone this year. On the side of the stage I could see Terry Taylor enjoying the show also, applauding as McGuire would play familiar favorites. Taylor’s band, Daniel Amos, was all business for their performance on the Main Stage. DA has been known sometimes for their Swirling Eddies antics and jokes on stage, but today they ran through a great set of favorite songs. The heat of the day was starting to get to me by this point and so I spent the next couple of hours trying to find shade where I could, but I listened to Randy Stonehill while eating dinner.

I had originally feared that I would have to make a choice between Phil Keaggy, Paper Route, and Petra in the evening. However, due to the delays from power outages and main Stage sound checks, I was able to see most of all of these shows. Paper Route returned to a very crowded Gallery stage and teased us with a new song in their set. The Phil Keaggy show ended up actually being a Glass Harp show and in the true ethos of 70′s music poured out some long jams on electric guitar. I was particularly happy to see Keaggy on electric guitar as I’ve seen his solo act on acoustic many many times, but seeing him in a band context was a new thing for me. Petra finished up the night, bringing back the 80′s with the lineup that produced Beat The System. Greg Volz had a marathon night, performing earlier with e Band.

On the way out, we couldn’t resist stopping by the Encore tent for Flatfoot 56. The Superheroes theme was on tonight and I loved the signs “Pow!”, “Boom!”, “Zot!” that raced across the stage as band fervently belted out punk rock with bagpipes and mandolins. The kids, of course, are almost as much fun to watch as the band as they raced around, bedecked with flags and costumes.

The heat is in full force at Cornerstone this year. Stay cool, drink water, and apply sunburn!

Sunscreen, shade, shake-ups

The heat was on Thursday at Cornerstone, and Friday may be even hotter. To help you beat the heat, here are some time-honored suggestions:

  • Drink lots of water, then drink some more. To quote many a youth pastor, “drink enough so you have to pee.” Sounds obvious, but I know people who have missed their favorite bands from not drinking enough water. After satisfying hydration needs with water, a lemon or strawberry shake up is refreshing.
  • Enjoy the shade, but don’t overheat in a tent without a breeze, either. You might even take a cue from some folks often found near The Asylum and pop open an umbrella for portable shade.
  • If it’s your turn to fetch ice for your campsite, believe me that it is remarkably satisfying to carry it on your head.
  • This might also be a good day to offer to make a run into Macomb for extra supplies…
  • Stay positive, laugh about the heat, help a friend or a total stranger, and enjoy another great day at Cornerstone!

The morning came too soon

Perhaps it was inspired by the retro music last night.

Perhaps it was inspired by going to bed sometime after 2am, knowing I had a date with a washer & dryer at 8am.

Perhaps it was inspired by a hot day Thursday, with an even hotter day predicted for Friday.

I’m not sure what, but I went to bed & woke up with these lyrics from 1992 in my head:

Sometimes the morning came too soon
Sometimes the day could be so hot
There was so much work left to do
But so much You’d already done

Some of my fellow bloggers are picking heat-inspired songs to listen to today. I doubt they’ll come up with this old ccm-ish Rich Mullins tune (in fact, I’m surprised *I* thought of it!), but I think it fits perfectly today. The morning has come way too soon, the day will most definitely be too hot, there’s a whole lot left, but there’s so much our God has already done!

Cornerstone-rs (is that what we call ourselves? I’m never sure) have celebrated what God has done a lot already this week.

I’ve heard female-fronted Witness 7 playing the Impact generator stage talking about surviving a suicide attempt. Lead singer for Paper Route, J.T. Daly, told the excited crowd at the Gallery about how this has been an incredibly hard year, but he still sees how God shows up. Some young guys from Joplin who make up Dead American Radio on the Ignite generator stage pointed out that their drum kit (and them!) had survived an EF5 tornado, with the lead singer sharing a remarkable story of surviving being yanked into the rotating cloud. Barry McGuire at the Jesus Rally talked about using way too many drugs, but encountering “Good News for Modern Man” and eventually surrendering to Christ.

It’s not just bands who celebrate… You can see the evidence of God at work as you walk by the Art Pilgrimage, notice people willingly choose to sit in hot tents to pray or listen to seminary-level talks, and catch snippets of conversations of friends gathered around campsites. It even happens for me: I’ve talked with friends, rejoicing that (for the first time in 2 years), I’m able to actually walk around the fest grounds without severe pain. I really & truly thank God for that.

There’s a lot left to do this week… There are more lemon shake-ups to be drunk. There’s a very hot day to be positive about. There’s at least one fried dough product in my future. There are several bands left on my must-not-miss list. There are seminars to attend. There are laughs to be had. The Cornerstone Coverage Team has a lot of videos to make (yes, videos are coming ). There are friends to hug. But, there’s already a lot that God has done!

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

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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.

Wednesday

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.

-Laura

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.