A SURPRISE TRIP TO THE FARM:  CORNERSTONE 2001

   What do I share in common with Cornerstone Festival?  Well, very little actually.  Cornerstone is in Illinois.  I'm southern as can be.  Cornerstone is trendy.  I'm as unhip as they come.  Cornerstone is full of art, emotion and music.  I'm a computer programmer.  For one week out of the year, however, for some strange reason we converge.

   This is my third year at this festival in Illinois.  Three out of four years I've come here.  This was an unexpected year.  I hadn't planned to go, but I found a ride and couldn't pass it up.  Three years ago, I came here with Joel and Elaine.  One year ago, it was with David.  This year I would ride with Jerry and Chuck.

MONDAY, JULY 2
    Amazingly, the trip from Atlanta to Western Illinois is uneventful.  We are astounded by how quickly we made it back to the farmland.  We arrived on late Monday and called it a night.  Tomorrow would be Tooth and Nail day, the prelude to Cornerstone.

TUESDAY, JULY 3
    Tooth and Nail Day consists of bands (mostly) from the Tooth and Nail label, mostly alternative rock, rapcore, emo bands.  Stuff the kids like.  But that doesn't mean there's nothing here for us to see.  Our Cornerstone karma ran out and the rain began around noon today.  The trip up to the farm had been too easy, so it was time for something to happen.  A lightning bolt strikes close enough to make us jump out of our skins!  Since the festival is located on a farm.  Rain turns the dusty fields into a soupy muck.  However, the rain was short and everything remained dry.  Amazingly, this would be the last rain we would get all week.

    The first show was caught was Flight 180, a band that reminded me strongly of No Doubt.  You know, chick fronted ska/pop.  This year it looks like our base of operations will be the Phantom Tollbooth.  Most of my friends are writers and editors for this online newsletter, so it gives me a special chance to see things from behind the stage.  Following the first show, we next went to see Fine China, who reminded me of All Fall Down era-77's.  After lunch, the sun finally came out and began to dry things.  So, we're resting now.  There ain't too much to see right now, so we'll enjoy the shade.

    This afternoon, I swung over the large Main Stage, a large bowl-shaped area with a huge stage at the bottom. There's nothing going on there now, but tomorrow there will be mass of people, singing, dancing, praising.  And it will be loud.  Very loud.  So for the moment, I'm stopping to renew another ritual, my quarterly dissertation (see Vinings #1)

    4:00 pm:  Got to see a real live game of Buck Buck!

    The Austin contingent arrives sometime this afternoon.  The afternoon bands consist of Element 101 and the Ramone's-like The Huntingtons.  (In fact, later this week, Michael Knott will join them and do a short tribute concert for Joey Ramone.)  After another short rain, a gorgeous sunset closed out the day.

    I'm taking a gamble on a rock band called Jacobstone to start off the evening.  Lots of echo, sustain, and feedback on the guitar combined with emotional vocals.  There are probably one or two albums away from being amazing, but they have lots of potential, even if they do seem borderline pretentious.  A 15 minute closing song?  (With the last three minutes consisting of nothing but a droning guitar solo?)

    The Wayside teases us with "To Hell With the Devil" (It's obvious that this is Stryper's festival) during their soundcheck.  We close out the night with a set by Joy Electric, a synth-pop band, but technical difficulties hamper the band and they give a somewhat disappointing set, especially given how much I enjoyed them last year.  So that's it, time to go home.  Tonight will be an early evening.  We're going home at 12:30am.  Tomorrow, Cornerstone truly begins.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 4, 2001
    The Fourth of July.  Macomb is decked out with American flags.  We arrive on the grounds to spectacular, if a little warm weather.  First up today are Jeff Elbel and Ping.  Jeff is "Guitar Tech to the Stars"  and has headed up bands such as Farewell to Juliet, Marathon Records, and now his newest band, Ping.  He brings out guests such as True Tunes guru John Thompson and "Buckeye" Dan Michaels to round out his band.  Following Jeff's work from his new conceptual album, The Poor Claires of Uptown, a band of JPUSA members do an acoustic set featuring the Gillian Welsh song, "Orphan Girl"

    I decided to kill some time and stroll down to the merchandise tent.  I broke down and bought the Choir boxed set.  Its hard to resist the peer pressure when everyone, including band member Dan Michaels saying, "You need to buy this.  Its cool."  So I succumbed.  We then spent some time with Joey Belville of The Echoing Green, who is by far the most personable rock star I've ever met.

    Mmmmm.  Ribeye sandwich.

    Back to the acoustic tent for Randy Stonehill.  Kemper Crabb was to perform first, but unfortunately, when we arrived we found the power was totally out.  A truly acoustic set, indeed.  Silent Planet Records and CCM Magazine writer, John Fisher entertained the crowd with some renditions of some patriotic songs followed by some popular praise choruses.  This is what we call a Cornerstone moment.

    Finally, the stage was powered up from a generator on an RV behind the stage.  Kemper played right from the amp for his show.  I then stayed for a couple of songs by Randy Stonehill.  He mostly played children's songs from his new album for kids called Uncle Rand's Hat.
I wanted to catch a little of Kendall Payne's show, so Becky White and I quickly head to the mainstage.

    We arrived just in time to catch her two radio hits.  What a bummer, nothing I hadn't heard before.  Next up is Waterdeep, fresh off a new worship album.  Worship albums have become something of trend in Christian music lately, but this album made perfect sense for a freestyle jamming band known for slowing down hot sets with praise choruses.  Unfortunately, power problems struck again and right as Don and Lori Chaffer began their rambling conversation with the audience, the power cut out again.  That was too bad, as Waterdeep was really hot and the crowd was really into it.  Waterdeep was also a band that really needed an excited crowded as their financial struggles have been well documented lately.  Hopefully that's not the last time I've seen this great band.

    The infamous drum circle started up again while the power was out.  Finally, after 30 or 40 minutes, the power returned in time for the 77's to take the stage.  I was mildly disappointed by their show as they performed virtually all of the same songs as last year, though the sound was much better this time.  Mainstage sounded very good this year, not as loud and muddy as previous years.

   The bugs flying around the stage became a theme of the evening as they flew around Mike Roe and the band.  The bugs would next drive Caedmon's Call crazy.  The band struggled through a tough show, distracted by bugs ("If this one stays here for two more songs, I'm going to name it."), elusive bass sound, and incorrectly tuned guitars.  They delivered a set of classics including a new song from an upcoming album with Kemper Crabb.  The band was in awe of finally making to mainstage at Cornerstone.

    I hurried from the main stage afraid that I would miss the Encore Stage shows, but as it turned out the power outage had delayed the Encore Stage, also.  I arrived in time for Mike Knott, backed up by Ticklepenny Corner.  Knott was much more enjoyable this year than the last time I had seen him in concert, sticking mostly to classics like "Rocket and A Bomb" and new songs written with members of Ticklepenny Corner.

    Cornerstone 2001 would be my inauguration as a fan of The Choir.  Late into the night, the band delivered a powerful show of crowd favorites.  Watching Steve Hindalong play the drums is worth the price of admission alone.  After buying the boxed set, I'm looking forward to hearing all these songs again.

    The first real night of Cornerstone has gone extra late.  We arrive home at 3AM (4AM for this body) but I'm holding up well.  So far, it's been a lot of fun.

THURSDAY, JULY 5, 2001
    Today starts out with the annual RMC BBQ, a gathering of online friends.  The event didn't have quite so much meaning since I'm not active on Usenet anymore and the RMC newsgroup has essentially gone dormant.  I had already been hanging out with many of my online friends from the beginning of the week already.

    I step over to the nearby tent for the back-together-again Poor Old Lu.  Next, I walk over to the acoustic stage.  Brave Saint Saturn, the serious alter ego of Five Iron Frenzy, has got the tent packed out.  The tent is so packed that the best I can do is stand behind the stage and catch glimpses of the drummer and the backs of musicians.  Afterwards, I stay half-awake through Dan Zimmerman's set.  Finally, the day at the acoustic stage finishes off with Ticklepenny Corner, a band with an odd combination pop, rock, and old style country music.

    I return back to the Tollbooth tent where Jerry and Matt have dyed their hair.  Look out world.  According to the box, the dye is "irresistible."  The "Legends" take the stage for the evening show at the Gallery tent.  First up is Uncle Randy Stonehill, who plays most of his standard classics including the old standby "Shut De Do."  Next is a reunion concert for Sweet Comfort Band, playing together for the first time in 18 years.  The band includes Randy Thomas, former Allies guitar from way back into my old music listening days.  He is truly a talented guitarist, featuring old-school jazz and blues licks.  Also featured is singer/keyboard player Bryan Duncan, who I would've never imagined seeing at Cornerstone.

    Rock veterans Daniel Amos plays some of the new album, Mr. Buechner's Dream.  Terry Taylor quickly leads the band through many songs, including their very first song, "Ain't Gonna Fight It."  Last on the Gallery Stage is the 77's.  Mike Roe is determined not to be fossilized at the "Most Professional Show at Cornerstone" as the augmented five-piece band tears through a set of new songs from their latest album, A Field of Radioactive Crows.

    The Lost Dogs close out the night.  Despite the absence of Gene Eugene, the Dogs were still out in force tonight.  Derri, Mike, and Terry are joined by Mark Harmon and Bruce Spencer of the 77's and also Phil Maidera for a night of wisecracks about Terry's "country band" and Mike's Elvis antics (including a guest appearance by Elvis played by Randy Stonehill!)  These shows are what Cornerstone is all about, once a year opportunities to catch shows you won't see anywhere else.

    We are staying up way too late.  Tonight we hit that hour where everything is funny.  Its like being in high school youth group all over again.  Do we ever really grow up?

FRIDAY, JULY 6, 2001
    The power-outages have rescheduled Philmore's concert at the Label stage for right now.  I'm relaxing over at the Tollbooth tent where I can hear the show.  The quick set includes covers of Bon Jovi, Spinal Tap, and Steppenwolf.  Rock on, dude.

    Now I'm heading off to the acoustic stage to bunker down for the band of the day for me.  While waiting for Over the Rhine, I see Aaron Sprinkle of Poor Old Lu followed by Jason Herrod of Herrod and Funck.  Next, southern singer Claire Holley sings with Beki Hemingway, sharing folk songs about towns and hymns.  Skatman Meridith is after them.  The tent packed out for an acoustic show of Over the Rhine.  It's not really an acoustic show, but it does showcase the softer side of the band.  We'll get to see the butt kicking side later this week.

    Following Over the Rhine, I stuck around for Derri Daugherty and Steve Hindalong, also featuring Phil Maidera and Dale Baker.  After some unplugged Choir and Skinny songs, The Lost Dogs take the stage, featuring Taylor, Roe, and Daugherty with Maidera, Baker, Hindalong.

    I skipped the Miranda Stone show for dinner.  I could hear the show and she was audibly unhappy with the monitors and apparently also sick with the flu.  I rejoined everyone for The Echoing Green.  There's no doubt, Joey Belville is one of the coolest rock stars ever.  Even with a sub-par sound system with no soundman,  (In fact, Lisa Reid's husband, Robert had to volunteer!)  the band put on a high-energy show with the first song dedicated to RMC.  Their short set kicked off the "Dark Rave" night at the dance tent.

    Lisa, Matt, and I stopped in for Prom Night where kids were wearing thrift store Prom dresses and suits (including someone in a duct-tape suit!)  Denver and the Mile High Orchestra provided lively big-band swing.  I got in a quick dance with Lisa before getting back to our seats in the Encore tent.  I miss so much those days that defined the summer of 1998 when I stayed out late at night in swing clubs.

    We got our seats for the midnight Gallery show.  Chris Taylor led a cast of stars including Mike Roe, Steve Hindalong, and Phil Maidera.  You know, that funnel cake was really rich.  After that, Bill Mallonee closed the night out with the Vigilantes of Love.  He played much of his new album, Summershine, and even gave us a sneak preview of the album after the concert.  And so that's it, tomorrow is the last night of the festival.  Hard to believe it's almost over.

SATURDAY, JULY 7, 2001
    The last day of Cornerstone looks to be a hot one.  We've been blessed with good weather, with increasing heat each day.  Today is the hottest of all of them.  Stryper is by far the main attraction today.  You can't go anywhere without hearing about it.  Kids walking around in Stryper t-shirts that may be as old they are.  Cars have Stryper logos written in the dust on windows and hoods.  We're starting the day an artist that claims to sound like the Vigilantes of Love, Cowboy Junkies, etc.

   Well, his claims were right on, Steve Thorngood was quite enjoyable.  From the new artists stage, we go over to the acoustic stage for Phil Maidera.  Surprise, surprise, the back up consists of Mike Roe, Steve Hindalong, and Jeff Elbel.  It's hard to miss them this year.  Phil plays most of his songs from his album Three Horseshoes.  Next, Terry Taylor delivers some of his solo work, including a touching story about his father's recent death with the song, "Papa Danced on Olivera Street."

   We next went over to see The Echoing Green for the "real set" at the Underground Stage where it was oppressively hot and muggy.  Everyone was dancing and going crazy.  Overheated and sweaty, we headed over to the Hy-Vee for ice.

   After cooling off, it was time to walk down for the last time to the lake and main stage.  Earthsuit was onstage as we arrived, followed shortly by Larry Norman.  I skipped Larry Norman's show to help Chuck pack up.  As we walked back to the car, everyone was starting to break his or her tent down and pack up.  Things were beginning to wrap up and build to climax for Cornerstone 2001.

   Even Third Day is in tribute to Stryper with Mac Powell sporting the ubiquitous black and yellow shirt.  The concert was particularly memorable as the band led the crowd through several worship songs.  I missed the now-famous show in Atlanta that was put on DVD, but seeing them with 30,000 people at Cornerstone was a nice substitute.

   I wish I could've hung around to see at least the opening song by Stryper, but I couldn't miss The Violet Burning.  Last year's show had been remarkable and it would be something to pass the time while I waited for the show that always closes out my Cornerstone experience.  In another oppressively hot and muggy tent, the oddly glittery Michael Pritzl and band played through many of their songs from their newest album Faith and Devotions of a Satellite Heart.

   Now its time to wrap up Cornerstone.  The band the marked a new era in my life, Over the Rhine, is taking stage.  Tonight, the band is rocking it out, featuring their newest album Films For Radio  After the show, I am totally drained.  There's nothing left to do but say our goodbyes and close it out.

   I tried sneaking over to former Sixpence bassist J.J. Plasencio's show after the Over the Rhine as I had heard that Dale Baker may be joining the band, but by the time that I arrived, they were already tearing the set down.  So now we're done and Cornerstone 2001 is already a vivid memory.  Tomorrow will be a long drive home and then the shock of re-entering the real world, but for now, on this last 3:00 AM night, I'll stop and reflect on this virtual community. This church of odd sorts, where God is praised in an amazing myriad of ways that I would never conceive.  Only 360 days until Cornerstone 2002.
 

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