CORNERSTONE 2002

Lately, I have experienced a summer ritual. I travel hundreds of miles to a farm in Illinois for a week. Why do I go to all this effort and make this long trip to endure heat, dust, mud, and rain? Cornerstone is an opportunity to challenge myself by pushing the boundaries of music, meet friends from across the world, share some good laughs, and hopefully, let God teach me a little about myself.

TUESDAY, JULY 2

After a twelve-hour drive yesterday, we arrived to the Western Illinois University dorms sometime in the evening. This morning, we're up and ready to experience Cornerstone. Joining me this year is Jerry Ray, RMC friend, and my ride from last year. We've had a nice smooth ride in his Aztek. Sure, it may not be a sexy car, but it's comfortable and got us here safely. Also with me is David Richardson, here to hang out with his techno friends and veteran of Cornerstone 2000. This is also the first year for my wife, Adriene. The four of us will join friends from around the US and Canada to catch a variety of bands. Alternative, rap core, folk, and everything in between.

We've arrived at 3:00 and found that the Phantom Tollbooth tent has moved. The Phantom Tollbooth, an online magazine covering Christian music. The tent has been our gathering place and home base during the festival. This year, the Tollbooth is running the press tent, so we've got the side benefit of dropping by the tent during key interviews with celebrity. This gave us great opportunities to see some musicians close up.

We start the festival off with Tooth n' Nail day, a pre-Cornerstone day that consists mostly of bands from the T&N label, plus a series of folk bands on the Gallery Stage in the evening. Fine China starts off the day, an 80's style band, only partially paying attention. We're still getting to adjusted to the festival. Next comes old style punk rock from The Huntingtons. (Think the Ramones) Jay Bakker, yes, son of that PTL couple, now a minister to youth, joins the band on stage for their last song. Eh, don't quit your day job, Jay.

Havalina Rail Company plays next, though I confess that every time I see the band I feel like I'm seeing a huge inside joke that I'm just not getting. There we meet up with most of their other rmc folks from Cornerstones past.

The evening is spent at the Gallery theater. Stickman Jones starts the evening, followed by the charming folk music of Ticklepenny Corner. We can only stay for a couple of songs by The Wayside because I want to see Poor Old Lu, but it's a shame we have to leave as it looks like True Tunes mogul John Thompson and his wife Michelle are smoking hot tonight.

Back at the Tooth and Nail Encore stage, after Poor Old Lu, we see Further Seems Forever, which Adriene quite likes, for a short show and then it's down to the beach for a worship session with Michael Pritzl of The Violet Burning. Michael sings "Open The Gates, Lord" as we all wait behind a gate to the beach until security can find the combo to the lock. We sit there on the beach, before the campfire, praising the Lord like an old time evening camp retreat. However, we haven't adjusted to "Cornerstone time" yet, and wrap up the evening. We are exhausted.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 3

We ended last night with Michael Pritzl, so we started today with a press conference with The Violet Burning singer/songwriter. The soft-spoken Pritzl talks about making future songs more structured and accessible. His twelve-minute meandering songs may be beautiful, but they aren't selling many albums. Great conversation about how to bring quality music that's accessible to everyone.

Bill Mallonee shows up next wearing a U2 "War" shirt. Nice! He jerks the chain of a press member that hasn't done his homework and discusses touring as "solo" artist and putting the name Vigilantes of Love to rest.

We're too late for Kemper Crabb, but we can hear "The Warrior" during the press interviews. We do catch Further Seems Forever for a second time. After that, we head over to the acoustic tent and relax to a second show by Ticklepenny Corner. Then, it's a quick dash over to see Starflyer 59 on the Indoor Stage. I'm not really familiar with their music, so I couldn't really say much, but I really, really liked the last couple of songs by Sleeping at Last that we caught before Starflyer 59 started.

Bill Mallonee and The Trophy Wives perform at the acoustic stage, playing many songs from Bill's solo album, Fetal Position. Bill jokes that maybe the next band will be Bill Mallonee and The Battered Husbands.

For the first time at 2002 Cornerstone, it's time to head down to the main stage, passing silly youth groups and all sorts of other insanity. Stavesacre blows our brains. I'll have to pay attention to this group a little more. Adriene particularly likes them.

We head back for a break and dinner before things kick up again.

I thought Justifide sounded like Creed. Um, not quite. More like most every other screaming band and Cornerstone (and there are a lot lot of them. We closed the night out with the fascinating "Are we a Goth Band?" Rock and Roll Worship Circus. A worship band that doing some really cool hard-edged music, but its clear who the focus is on at this show. The night concludes when the power is cut and the crowd sings praises to God along with the band.

Ding. Waffles.

THURSDAY, JULY 4

Independence Day! After the past year, it's hard not to see an American flag and not still get strong emotions welling up. Macomb is covered with flags. Everywhere. We start the day out the traditional RMC BBQ, which is now not really a BBQ (it's a picnic) and not really made up of RMC members (more like mailing lists), but it's still a good time for good laughs with rarely seen friends.

The acoustic tent is oppressive and muggy. We're sweating like crazy. Jeff Elbel and Ping start the day off with work from Jeff's "pretentious art-rock concept album." The "Guitar Tech to the Stars" has technical issues himself when he tries to do a Bill Mallonee style leap and breaks the guitar cord. After his show, I run over to catch old school punk band, One Bad Pig. What a crazy band, with flying stuffed pigs, skateboarders on stage, and burning guitars and a cover of "Rock the Casbah." I always get a kick out of this band, because they remind me of old high-school friends.

But, back to 2002. Cornerstone veterans, Phil Maidera, Terry Taylor, The Choir, and Mike Roe all play at the acoustic stage. The Choir plays a particularly entertaining version of Bad Company's "Shooting Star" and Mike Roe delivers much of the 77's new ep and some of his new solo album. Then, Mike, Terry, Derri Daugherty, and Steve Hindalong all return for a Lost Dogs set.

We check in briefly for Kevin Max's interview with the press. He announces that this will be his last Christian festival as a solo artist. Not sure why, but he makes it a point to say he wants to play his music for audiences of all sexual orientations. Okay.

The heat and humidity of the tent were seriously getting to us so we had to get out, even the open sun and heat felt good. We had considered going to main stage to see Five Iron Frenzy, but were simply too drained to make the long walk. So, we stayed to see Daniel Amos resurrect their 80's albums for an enthusiastic crowd and then Bill Mallonee and the Trophy Wives play an electric set. "Putting Out Fires" twice in one week. What more can you ask for?

The Violet Burning takes us deep into the night with an awesome, awesome set. What a band. The repetitive, trite, choruses in many churches just don't inspire me to worship. But, this music, this stuff makes me want to stand up and shout to the heavens. What more can music do?

FRIDAY, JULY 5

The dry heat continues. No rain in sight as the dust continues to swirl around the farm. A triple header of The Choir, 77's, and Over the Rhine mean today is Gallery Show day for Jeff. First, we stop of for a press interview with a band called The Benjamin Gate, a band slowly starting to gain some popularity.

The best part of Cornerstone is meeting various band members. Since some camp and others stay at the nearby hotels, you can find singers, guitar players, and drummers, walking around the festival grounds, hanging out with other musicians, checking out their favorite bands, or meeting with their fans. We get a moment to stop and talk to various members of the Vigilantes, um, excuse me, Bill Mallonee's band. Conversations like ours make these people more real and less like "famous stars."

First band of the day is The Benjamin Gate who the teens quite dig. We take a chance to catch various musicians at The Brian Wilson Tribute before it's time for The Choir. It feels so strange seeing the Choir during daylight hours. They just seem to be a midnight band to me. So strange to see a band that supposedly finished up their days as a band almost five years ago still making that yearly trip to Cornerstone to give their fans one more show.

Despite the mocking of my friends, The 77's play a fabulous three part set of classic songs, the new ep, and an amazing medley to close things out. Silly as Mike Roe looks with the towel around his neck, a la James Brown, he really tears it up on guitar.

Adriene returns from mainstage, having seen The Altar Boys and Kevin Max. Uh oh, Linford's Hammond organ just crashed to the ground and looks to be out of commission. Hopefully the replacement will ok.

Fireworks accompany Over the Rhine in another fabulous midnight show. The show has a sad overtone with guitarist Jack Henderson moving to Scotland after Cornerstone, but the band also feels like celebrating as this is their tenth show here at the farm. See my review of the show.

SATURDAY, JULY 6

It's breezy today. Rain looks like it may come, but it never does. However, today is the only day of the entire fest that is totally comfortable. Not hot, not muggy, just nice. We start the day at Jennifer Knapp's press conference. I run off to catch a couple of songs by Greg and Rebecca Sparks before returning to the press tent for an interview with Terry Taylor and Mike Roe, however they don't show up on time, so I go to catch lunch.

Today is a wacky day, running from tent to tent to catch as many bands as I can. I run over to see Brownhouse on the new band stage, where their friends, Over the Rhine, started their career ten years ago. Then it's over to see Michael Pritzl's solo show. Next, it's a couple songs by Jeff Elbel and Ping before I run back over to the Silent Planet stage for Over the Rhine's acoustic set. See my review of the show.

After the show, I run into a younger friend from Georgia and get the opportunity to talk to him for a couple minutes. I so wish I had more time to just talk to people, to learn more about what's going on in their life and what God is doing for them. Maybe it's time to make it a higher priority. So much to write about and so little time to do it.

Adriene heads down to main stage for Jennifer Knapp's show while I go to see Jacobstone. This is a young band that I continue to maintain will do great things with a little more experience. They have a new CD, with music mostly from a soundtrack that they did for an independent movie.

Afterwards, it's time to walk down to main stage for one last show, as Sixpence None the Richer is finally moving forward and performing again and ready to release a new album. The band plays almost nothing but new songs from their much-awaited album. I relax on a blanket on the hill, staring at the stars and taking in the dying moments of Cornerstone 2002.

After show is done, we walk up to the dance tent where we meet up with David. It has been a festival of fellowship for David meeting with friends from around the nation and even overseas, joining them in prayer and conversation. What more can you ask for? It's time to go home.

CONCLUSION

Cornerstone 2002 ended in a very subdued manner. The Sixpence show was kind of quiet, the crowd only partially got into the new material, and the band isn't exactly an exciting "jump up and down and wave your hands" kind of band. Plus, normally there are a whole lot of exciting Encore shows to close things out. However, this festival only Ghoti Hook and the techno tent is playing music late into the night. Oh, well. We'll call it a week. Cornerstone 2002 was a whole lot of fun, and despite the frantic pace, the were great glimpses of what the Kingdom of God will be like. Some of the festival had a "been there, done that" feeling, what with having seen some of these bands three or four (or more) times, but there were great new bands to see, too, in between the flavor the week youth group bands. It's hard to tell if we'll be back next year, but then again, I would've never known five years ago that I would've made it here four times. Thank God for those four chances.


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