After my experience in 1998, I was bound and determined to eventually return to that farm in Bushnell, Illinois for a week of church that featured a choir of singers and electric guitars, drums, violins, cellos, and a whole lot of dirt. My good friend, David Richardson, was able to join me this year which meant the trip up there would be far more enjoyable than going alone. For David, this was almost a business trip. He was loaded down with promotional CD's, flyers, and a schedule of meetings with other dance artists. As for me, I'll just settle for being a fan this week. For just a week, Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys would not rule the airwaves. Here at Cornerstone, the artists all pointed to a central figure, the Creator of the earth and the heavens.
July 3 -
David and I started our trip a day early to make driving a little easier. We traveled up to Nashville, a city that I am now well familiar with. Nashville is strange without Anita living there. My reason to come to this city was always more or less to visit her, but now she's in Atlanta. I kind of felt like I was visiting someone's house and the owner wasn't there. Anyhow, we had a night to kill, so I suggested that we make a traditional visit to the Altar of Bob. You see, Bob Hartman of Petra had a guitar hanging in the Hard Rock Cafe of Nashville, so I had dubbed it the Altar of Bob. David agreed and so we went downtown. We ate at the Hard Rock Cafe and walked around the Bicentennial Mall. It was strange to think this might be my last trip to Nashville for a long time. There wasn't much reason to come around these parts anymore. Anyhow, no time to sit around and reflect, we had to get to sleep quickly because tomorrow would be a long haul into Illinois.
There is a lot of driving to do between Tennessee and Illinois and after you get through southern Illinois, there isn't much to look at other than cornfields. Finally, around 5 PM, we exited the freeways and started making our way west on Illinois backroads. About an hour away from Macomb, the sky opened up and rained and rained hard. This was a bad sign, because if the festival got this saturated, it would surely be a very muddy festival. When we got to Macomb we had to search around for a while to find Western Illinois University where we would be staying for the week. The roads around the university were under a lot of construction and I got very disoriented driving around the campus. After being here two years ago, I felt like I knew the university fairly well, but all the road closings left me driving in circles. Finally after finding the dorm, we quickly dropped our stuff off and headed out. David wanted a real meal for starting the festival, so we opted for the Ponderosa in Macomb and stuffed ourselves with steak and the buffet. Unfortunately, dinner ran long and so we were scrambling to get out to the festival. From here, the drive became very familiar. Last time, I was in the back of Elaine's Ford Probe driving through the farmland on the way to Bushnell. That trip seemed like a dream, but this trip was very real as I drove off of the main road and onto the dirt road that would take us onto Cornerstone Farm. As I feared, the roads were a muddy mess. On top of that, the staff wasn't directing traffic and I ended up driving right into the festival. After navigating through the crowds of people, we finally got the car back out to crowds of people. But now, time was running out and I was in danger of missing the only band I wanted to see this night. Cornerstone began early this year with Tooth and Nail night, but the band I wanted to see was not a Tooth and Nail band at all. We ended up showing up late for Monk, Ric Hordinski's band. Ric is a guitar virtuoso who used to play for one of my favorite bands, Over the Rhine and he was joined by two other former Over the Rhine members, Brian Kelley on drums, and Mike "Bass Is Good" Georgin. Riki Michelle, who would appear all over the festival, joined the band for vocals on a couple of songs. Ric used an e-bow, delay, and looping to put down some incredible guitar work.
After the concert was over, we strolled on over to the money-changer's tent where all sorts of stuff was being sold. I wandered past the Over the Rhine booth and who should be working the booth but Linford Detweiler, the band's keyboard player and song writer. I couldn't resist by stop by and talk to him. I felt strange, because here I was talking to one of my major literary influences and I wanted to be witty, discuss deep topics, and be interesting, but it mostly came out as "Wow, y'all are SO awesome!" Sigh, I'm just another fan boy, I guess. Still I did get to talk to him about the Over the Rhine website that I maintain and I got some free goodies out of the deal!
Afterwards, David and I decided to call it a night. The trip had really worn us out and the mud was awful, causing us to slip and stumble in the dark. I was still very disoriented from driving around Macomb and I still hadn't gotten fully accustomed to the location of everything at the festival, leaving me confused and wandering around through slippery mud. Not a good combination. Tomorrow, Cornerstone would truly begin.
Okay, now it's really time for Cornerstone to begin. We first stopped by Wal-Mart for David to get some shoes so he could have a pair for the mud and a pair to wear in the car and around the dorms. We found another parking spot in dryer lands. God was very good to us because the parking was a muddy mess and somehow, my little Acura avoid getting stuck during the entire weekend. Truly, He does not "allow us to be tempted with more that we can bear" because I don't think I would've handled getting mired down at 2AM very well. David and I first strolled over to the acoustic concert stage to see the Choir's Steve Hindalong and Derri Daugherty. They played an acoustic set of old Choir songs and also the gorgeous "Beautiful Scandalous Night" which still knocks me off my feet. After that, we hung around for a couple of songs by Kemper Crabb before taking off for the Indoor Stage.
At the Indoor Stage, the Violet Burning was about to begin their show. Here I ran into the crowd from RMC, a group of friends from the Internet. I am fascinated at how I hardly know these people other than through the computer screen and yet we are all together reacting like we are best friends. There is something good to say about technology because otherwise I would've never had the chance to meet these wonderful people. The Violet Burning put on a powerful show of driven, emo rock. Unfortunately, Michael Pritzl had to cut his show short as he ran out of time and missed out on giving tribute to Gene Eugene. When I was here last time, the festival was feeling the absence of Rich Mullins. This year, Gene Eugene's presence was missed as he had joined Rich in heaven.
Rain began to fall as David and I ate dinner. Not a good sign as everything was already a soupy muck. David dropped some flyers off at the N-Soul booth and briefly talked to N-Soul president, Phillip Kim and then we headed down to the main stage. Fortunately, the rain tapered off. We arrived in time to catch most of the Skillet concert and then Dave took off and I stayed around. The W's came on stage, but I didn't really pay much attention. Their blend of ska and swing doesn't really appeal to me, so I killed some time until Jennifer Knapp took the stage. She pulled off a fantastic show, featuring Mark Townsend (DC Talk, Steve Taylor) on guitar. She even covered The Foo Fighter's "Learning To Fly" and did a very good job at that! After that, it was time for "church" with Third Day, a band that I hadn't seen in a while despite the fact that they are an Atlanta band. The show was solid, including all of my favorite and the crowd was really into it. The band even finished the evening with "Sweet Home Alabama" for all of us Southern boys! After the show, I left quickly and waded my way through the throngs of people to get back up to the Encore Tent.
Mike Roe, Terry Taylor, Derri Daugherty and Gene Eugene made up their own version of "The Traveling Wilburys" as The Lost Dogs, a supergroup with members each a star on his own. Tonight, however, the band was a "Three-legged Lost Dog" with Eugene's absence. "One Down, Three To Go" quipped Roe as the band took the stage. Strangely, this show seemed more to me like a tribute to Gene than the actual tribute a couple of days later. The band was augmented by Steve Hindalong on percussion and Phil Maidera on the Hammond organ and slide guitar. After we heard "Pray Where You Are", David and I decided it was time to call it a night. We still hadn't adjusted to Cornerstone time yet and the roads were foggy and treacherous. Slowly, I was settling back into the 3 AM nights, but it sure is a shock after giving up the late nights after graduation.
After yet another trip to Wal-Mart for chairs we headed back out to the festival grounds. NO MORE TRIPS TO WAL-MART. We arrived just in time for the RMC Barbeque where I re-met several of the folks that I saw at the lunch two years ago. Of course, I had already spent a lot of time with many of the RMC'ers so lunch was just a continuation of the whole festival. At the barbeque's book and CD exchange, I scored an old Petra button, which took me back to a time long, long ago. We took off for more music. I accompanied David over to the Mike Knott acoustic concert. Lack of sleep and the heat were starting to get to me and Knott's music just didn't do anything for me, so I drifted in between sleep and consciousness. After the show, we left from there to go to the Altar Boys concert where old-school punk ruled supreme. Some of the members of today's punk bands even showed up. The high energy show more than woke me up and got me going. Even still, my blood sugar was dropping and we had to run for lunch. After lunch, we split up and I returned to the Indoor Stage to see The Normals. The concert was a fair one and the guitarist was quite talented, showing Edge-like style.
From The Normals show it was off to the mainstage, where the day began to improve. After a mediocre beat yer brains out concert by Fono, The 77's put on a smoking hot show consisting of a lot of their newer material. Mike Roe appeared on the stage in a #77 Packers jersey and the new four-piece tore through their new singles and a couple of old pieces. Mike was amazed that the band appeared at the first Cornerstone in 1984. Their single "The Lust, The Eyes, and The Pride of Life" hadn't even been conceived yet. "Some of you hadn't been conceived yet." remarked Roe. Burlap To Cashmere followed and while their set was par for the course, their band had shrunk to four members. Rumor going around the festival was that the end was near for them. I only stayed for a couple of songs because I had to hot foot it back to the Cornerstone Mag tent.
Waterdeep is a band that I had the fortune to catch a couple of times. The last time I saw them in concert, my fiancee and I had a hair-raising drive back from Birmingham through freezing rain and hail. That's the last time I schedule a road trip in January when rain is predicted. Tonight, however, all I had to do was enjoy the concert. The band featured a new bass player for only his second show. The show was tight and I loved it. After the show was over, it was time to run again because I had to get to the Cush show. Mike Knott had teamed up with the band members of the Prayer Chain. Unfortunately, I showed up late and the concert was already over. David was there and had a glowing review. There were still huge beach balls left over from the show. Undercover followed with their alternative style. This was Dave's day for great shows, but as for me, I had run out of energy. Time to call it a night.
July 7 -
We showed up late today after a long nights sleep. We started the day off to a pretty good show by little band called Velour 100. They had sweet vocals and the guitar player had a keen sense of humor. After that, the bouncy Joy Electric took the stage with their strange analog electronica sound combined with an infectious beat. It's impossible to see this show and not be happy. We were particularly entertained by a group of kids in front of us working on some pretty funky dance steps that fit with the music.
Afterwards, I killed some time by chatting with friends, wandering around the grounds, and grabbing dinner. The Vigilantes, excuse me, Bill Malonee and The Vigilantes of Love were next at the Gallery stage. Bill loves Cornerstone and it shows. As is custom with a VoL show, there were lots of new songs for the concert including one so new that Bill read it off the sheet of paper from which the song was created. He had us all in rapt attention, all with his standard head turns, arm motions, and jumps.
Following the VoL show, we went over to Prom Night. Lots of kids showed up in old dresses and suits from thrift stores. Jason and the G-Men provided a slow swing beat and while my preferred dance partner was 800 miles away, some friends indulged me in a couple of dances. Seems like only yesterday I was in the swing clubs once or twice a week that some of my friends still frequent. The inside building was stifling hot, so we didn't stay long, but instead walked back out into the cool night and returned to our seats for the Gene Eugene Tribute. The Adam Again band was fronted by several singers including Karin Bergquist, Mike Roe, Steve Hindalong, Derri Daugherty and Mike Knott. The event was very different from the Rich Mullins tribute I attended two years ago. This tribute was very subdued, most of the artists I think were still feeling the shock of the loss of this artist and couldn't come up with any words to say. The fireworks exploded behind us during the concert, coincidental, but appropriately celebrating Gene's life. The show ended with a video and lights shined on a single guitar on the stage. Dave showed up late. He had been at the P.O.D. show where some kids had been injured and the raucous concert had been brought to a stand still. P.O.D. finished the night with praise songs and let the crowd quietly disperse. After the evening events, we were all tranquilized and there was nothing more to do but go to bed. Tomorrow would be the conclusion of the festival.
By now, the mud had dried and the Cornerstone dust was beginning to fill the air. We arrived around 1:00 for the last day of Cornerstone. I started out the day with the RMC'ers at the Earthsuit concert. These guys had a ton of energy, combining sounds from bands like 311 and dance house, rock, etc. I was left very impressed by them. Luna Halo followed with members from the old Reality Check band. I wasn't as overwhelmed by them as much as Earthsuit, but they put on a decent show. At this point, I decided to find a quiet place to sit down and rest for the remainder of the afternoon. I headed over to the Acoustic Stage where Jan Krist was finishing her show. I sat down and hung somewhere in that realm between barely awake and asleep as Skatman Meridith, Rick Unruh, and Steve Black performed. I woke up for the Phil Maidera concert as Phil played songs from his new album and then was joined by Terry Taylor, Steve Hindalong, and Mark Robertson as Terry also played songs from his new album.
What's so cool about Cornerstone is that the artists enjoy the festival as much as the fans. Most of the artists make sure to catch their favorite bands and hang out for the entire festival, unlike many festivals where the bands arrive in their tour busses, perform, and then promptly return to the tour bus and leave. There's something wild and special about sitting behind Linford Detweiler at Gene Eugene tribute as he watched on with all of his attention. I spotted Don and Lori Chafer at the Prom Night last night and then again today at the Jan Krist show as they chatted with fans and wandered around the festival grounds. Later that night, I would see Mike Roe totally focused on the Over the Rhine show that also captured me. It's what makes this festival seem less like entertainment and more like a community.
From here I met up with Jerry and Matt again and we found the rest of the group. They were setting up their chairs already to get good seats for the Choir reunion show. We strolled over for a Cornerstone gourmet dinner, the ribeye sandwich! Mike Roe strolled up to the line behind us as we left. After dinner, I caught a couple of songs by Stickman Jones while waiting for The Crossing show to wrap up. I then got my seats and waited for the best part of the festival, the reason I was here, the Over the Rhine concert. As I waited, I followed tradition and scribbled down some notes about the last couple of months, because there is a connection between this band, jotting down my thoughts, and remembering how much God has done for me in the past couple of years.
The show lasted late into the night, lasting two and a half hours. It was everything I could have asked for and then some more. When the show was finished, Cornerstone was over. I walked out in amazement, as the festival had now concluded. Thank you. I walked over to the N-Soul tent where David had been all day long. He had been having the time of his life, hanging out with other DJ's and artists, but now it was time to go home, back to the Western Illinois dorms for one last night.
We decided to drive the entire way back to Atlanta in one day instead of stopping on the road and that ended up being a good thing because there was so much to deal with back in the real world when we returned. All the way home, we recalled the good times that we had and the shows that we enjoyed. This trip to Cornerstone was a much more significant effort for me since I had to take care of everything instead of just flying to Chicago and letting everything fall into place, but it was worth it. I don't know when I'll return to that farm in Illinois, but someday I'd like to show my soon-to-be wife all the music and community that only Cornerstone has. With God's grace, maybe that time will come soon.