I have been informed that Cornerstone Festival will be shutting down after this year’s event. (Link working at time of writing, but I would assume not for much longer. Here’s hoping it doesn’t lead to porn in The Future. Or that it does. Whatever. Life’s too short.) I went to Cornerstone a number of times and enjoyed it quite a bit. I’m sad to hear that it’s going away…but at the same time, the last one I went to was somewhere like 6, 7, or 8 years ago, so I guess it’s not like it meant much to me in the last few years. Still it was good to know it was around, and I’ll miss it being a thing. Thought I’d eat up some time and bandwidth by writing a post about some of my memories from Cornerstone. We’ll go point-by-point and kind of randomly, because that’s easiest. This is non-linear for the most part…mostly because the memories from different years kind of blend together.
- My first trip to Cornerstone was the year they did the Rich Mullins tribute show. Rich had just died and Cornerstone got a bunch of his friends and band mates together to send him off in style, with several performances including all or at least most of The Jesus Record. That was awesome. Dave Knobel and I went for just that one day, driving about 1000 miles per hour. Dave got a speeding ticket. I offered to pay some of it. He refused.
- I went with a variety of people over the years, but my good friend Amanda and her son Tobias were almost always constant companions. I remember hanging out with them at many a performance and at the campsite. Particularly enjoyed playing Hearts with Amanda and several other people during some downtime one year—which was also how I (and I think she) discovered the music of Waterdeep, which was playing in the background. Tobias celebrated his first birthday at Cornerstone. He was years-later baptized at the Festival…and he is now a teenager. Where does the time go? And how did I get so fat???
- Of course, the main reason anyone went to Cornerstone was for the music. I came to love a LOT of bands through Cornerstone’s influence, and I got to see and celebrate the music of some real heroes of mine. Here’s a short list of some of my favorites…
- Of course the Rich Mullins tribute and Waterdeep, both of which I’ve already mentioned…
- Saw the Ragamuffin Band in the year following Rich Mullins’ death, when they toured in his memory. I filmed that one with a camcorder borrowed from Dave Knobel. I meant to film more, but didn’t. I enjoy shows too much to be a bootlegger, for the most part.
- Madison Greene — They’re no longer together…but a lot of the appreciation I have for folk music can be traced to Madison Greene. They combined celtic, tribal, and various other influences to create something completely unique. Their MySpace page still exists for some reason. So check that out. (Again, sorry if that’s somehow porn by the time you get to it.) Plus, their lead singer (Michael Blair) kinda looks like me…so there’s that, too.
- Relient K – Yeah…I know…sorry. I really only have the one record, and given who I was at that time in my life, I stand by it.
- Denison Witmer – In the first few years I went, I would frequently hang out at the Main Stage, but in the last couple of years I mostly frequented the acoustic stage. (As a side note, I find most Christian rock acts “cute.” I find Christian metal “adorable.” I find Christian folk to be Christian music at its finest and most dignified.) Hanging out at that stage, I ran across Denison Witmer. He’s kind of Jackson Browney…kinda Graham Nashy…like super-laid back, what if Paul Simon slipped his shoes off and sat down a while–ish… And I love every note.
- Miranda Stone – Opened for Madison Greene a lot. I maintain that her “7 Deadly Sins” record is one of the bravest records I’ve ever heard any female songwriter produce, and it means a lot to me. Got the chance to meet her at Cornerstone one year and she was very sweet and polite and funny. Really wish she’d put out a new record.
- Caedmon’s Call – I was certainly aware of them by the time I saw them at Cornerstone (roundabout the “Long Line of Leavers” record), but Cornerstone is the only place I’ve ever SEEN them to this day, and it was outstanding.
- Steve Taylor – I went to the 20th Anniversary show (wow…that was a while ago, wasn’t it??!) and Steve played a set. It’s a rarity for him to do that, having burned more bridges than most places have bodies of water that would necessitate a bridge… The set was one of the best Christian shows I’ve ever seen, and his performance was definitely in the top five performances I’ve seen any artist give in ANY genre. Go to eBay RIGHT NOW, and try to find a copy of “Liver.” You’ll thank me.
- There would always be at least one day with really bad, sometimes SCARY rain. I slept in my car, so I stayed drier than many…but there were some years that it was really bad. I remember one year that generators kept flooding and shorting out. Several shows got canceled when the skies opened… There was always a place in your mind that thought, “Great…I’m going to die in a tornado at a Christian music festival in the middle of nowhere…” But in hindsight, kind of a fun experience. We all made it through, after all.
- One year I met my Indian Spirit Guide at the campsite. (Stay with me.) I was sitting there at our site minding my own business when an elderly Indian man in full tribal headdress wandered out of the woods (I’m not crazy!) and sat down next to me. He looked over at me and said, “Do you want to learn how to cut a mango?” Of course, I said “Yes!” He then produced from some unseen pocket a mango and a fairly large bowie knife. He then showed me how to properly slice a mango, ate the mango, and buggered off back into the woods. I immediately shot to my feet and said, “Guys! Guys! I think I found my Spirit Guide!” It turned out that everyone else had seen it happen too though…so it was probably just some dude.
- One year my friend Ian was relentlessly mocked by the other members of the group for making reference to a skunk-based He-Man character. He couldn’t remember the name of the character and said, “I think it was called Stinkor or something like that.” People laughed at the absurd name, and mocked him for inventing it…except for me, who said, “I don’t know…I remember that character, and he MIGHT be right about the name.” And guess what… He totally was. I sent him a picture of the toy still in the packaging on Facebook a year or two ago and he thanked me for finally helping him prove others wrong. Say what you will…when Derek Brink has your back, he (by which I mean I) has your back! …it just might take a while.
I have a lot of good memories of Cornerstone…but then again, the last time I went, one of my friends who I was wanting to see didn’t show up. I left the festival early because I didn’t really have anyone to hang out with. And since then, Madison Greene has broken up, others of those bands have stopped releasing new material or retired completely, and I’m pretty sure my Spirit Guide is probably dead by now. And I’ve never really had the urge to go back… As much as I have fond memories of Cornerstone, they are memories of a specific time in my life which is now very much over. And now so is the festival. You can’t go back again, I guess…but I sure wish I could make it out there this year to say goodbye, nevertheless… Oh well… Could be worse. Could be raining…in a field…while I’m sleeping in my car…
Rest in peace, Cornerstone. Thanks for making a few summers really, really awesome.