ItÕs a summer tradition for me, making the drive through two-lane roads from St. Louis northward along highway 67 through a familiar stretch of towns: Jacksonville, Beardstown, Rushville, until I reach the small town of Bushnell. But when I pulled through the main gate of the Cornerstone music festival for the eleventh time, and saw the same dusty dirt roads, the acres of tents, the rows of port-a-potties, I smiled, because I felt like I had come home again. A former farm now turned into a site hosting five days of Christian rock bands, seminars, and world cinema, Cornerstone has become home away from home, that I have visited many summers since the first fest I attended in 1991. And itÕs a lot closer visit than the Greenbelt festival in England.
By the way, I guess I should post a link to this shindig so you have some vague idea what I'm talking about:
As I drove through the gate, I got a cell phone call as I idled down the main camp road. I was surprised that I even had cell phone coverage anywhere on the site. The call was from a friend of mine I met on the Arts and Faith site, and he offered me a space to pull a tent next to him behind the Encore 1 and 2 tents. So I pulled onto a smaller dirt road, which turned into a path through grass matted down by other cars and campers, and ended against a line of trees, where my friend Brandon waved to me. I pulled next to his truck, greeted him and his teenaged son, and we had a classic camp meal, barbequed burgers.
After setting up my tent, the same one IÕve used in numerous Cornerstones and other camping trips before, I strolled around the grounds. The lake is still there, and Main Stage is still standing. ItÕs sloped hills and open space in front of a large stage will hold thousands of fans during the concerts by the most popular bands over the next four days. However, none of the featured acts will likely tickle my fancy enough for me to make the long trek from my tent down the long and winding dirt road to the stage. When Steve Taylor and Five Iron Frenzy quit playing Cornerstone, I decided to leave Main Stage to the kids who love Pillar and Switchfoot and the hot ŅemoÓ bands. But IÕm sure theyÕll have a lot of fun.
My wardrobe choice for the day was a Cardinals 2006 World Champions shirt to celebrate our championship somehow. I did manage to find one Cubs fan who acknowledged me, David, a friend of mine IÕve met through the Daniel Amos discussion list, numerous Lost Dogs and DA/Terry Taylor related activities. I hung around the Press Tent, where I met Brandon again, and we listened to Mike Hertenstein, leader of the Flickerings film festival and the Imaginarium tent and an all around nice guy, talk about the non-musical activities that keep me coming back every year: foreign films and lectures about subjects from the odd corners of popular culture: as diverse as Elvis, movie monsters, kitsch toys, and zombies. Those people have quite an imagination, that's for sure. I also met up with J. Robert Parks, who happened to be wandering around the vicinity. He's a film reviewer extraordinaire and another really cool guy, and someone else I've met at Cornerstone before.
After that, I stopped by Camp 77s, where I met up with a group of loyal fans of stalwart bands of Cornerstone from the old days: 77s, Daniel Amos, the Lost Dogs, and Gene Eugene, may he rest in peace. After chilling for a few minutes, I walked over to the merch tent to do my annual CD shopping spree. At Cornerstone the past few years, I have gotten many bargain CDs from Rad Rockers and other merchants for bands whose heyday arrived ten years before. So there werenÕt too many CDs left that I was interested in, but I did find great bargains on the only Galactic Cowboys CD I donÕt have, as well as an Atomic Opera and classic Mike Knott/LSU CD.
After ducking an early evening rain shower, I stopped by the Imaginarium Tent and caught the last part of the original Japanese Godzilla movie, Gojira. IÕve never watched a Godzilla film all the way through, but I was impressed by the bittersweet tone that reflected the sadness of Japanese culture since the atomic bomb went off in Hiroshima. Then I walked back to my tent and climbed in for a nightÕs sleep on my air mattress. Project 86 was so kind to serenade me in a loud rock show over at the Encore 2 tent. Of course, I appreciate a little night hardcore to put me in the mood to sleep.
Funny thing is when IÕm camping, I tend to wake up with the sunlight. Today the sun rose just after 6:00. I lay in my tent for a while, but when I didnÕt fall back asleep, I got up and made it an early morning. I walked to the showers, but was greeted by several dry people milling around, holding towels, each of them with confused expressions on their faces. It turns out the showers were broken this morning, and word on the street was that they wouldnÕt be fixed until this evening. So I wandered back to my tent and drenched myself with my water canteen, which provided a reasonable facsimile for a shower. At least as compared to the thousands of unwashed masses I would be sharing the Cornerstone grounds with that day.
After visiting a familiar morning tradition, the Alliance World Coffee tent, I set off to explore the grounds with a mocha mint frappucino in hand. I walked through the merch tent to see some more good old-fashioned American capitalism in action, as well as to visit a corner with a banner proclaiming ŅOld School MetalÓ. Ah, that brought back memories of growing up a Christian kid in the Ō80s with a taste for Christian metal bands like Stryper, Bloodgood, Saint, Bride, and Zion. It was almost like it was 1988 all over again, except nobody around me was wearing leather pants.
After that, I hiked to Camp 77s to hang out with that crowd for a while. We lounged in camp lounge chairs circling a campfire with one tiny thin plume of flame struggling to achieve the pyromaniac properties of one of those lighters sold at the merch tent with a band name imprinted upon it. Later I would find that even the Lost Dogs sold its own brand of lighters, which would come in handy if one got lost on the way to the Gallery Stage for their midnight show and stumble onto a reunion concert for one of the ŅOld School Metal BandsÓ. But more on that later. In the meantime, at the Camp 77s tent we jammed on a classic Resurrection Band cassette one of the guys started up in the cassette player in his van. Now thatÕs Ņold schoolÓ done right, with no lighters or mullets required.
At 11:00, I made my first visit to by the Flickerings barn, where I would be spending quite a bit of time perusing the film festival. This yearÕs theme is ŅJ-POPÓ, which is not as I first suspected, the nickname of the New York Yankees new shortstop. Instead, this refers to Japanese popular culture and anime. I have a passing familiarity with anime, having watched Speed Racer and Battle of the Planets as a kid, and I have been watching a number of Miyazake films this month, including Princess Mononoke and Castle in the Sky. So I am looking forward to learning more about this genre of film. I watched a few minutes of the morning film, which is called Space Battleship Yamoto. It reminds me of the kind of sci-fi adventure cartoons I watched when I was a kid. I wish I could stay, but I had to head out to the Press Tent to catch another Cornerstone tradition, the RMC Barbeque. As I have noted on previous yearsÕ Cornerstone reports, the RMC was a newsgroup from the early days of the Internet devoted to discussion of Christian music. It spawned email discussion lists and message boards devoted to various bands, of which I have spent much computer time perusing the files of the Daniel Amos Discussion List. That gets me invited to this affair every year where I see friends I have known from past Cornerstones. And this year we have some acutual BBQ, Barbequed pork, which was quite tasty. Also we were treated to cake for dessert and the opportunity to grab free cassettes from the kind of bands featured in the ŅOld School MetalÓ section of the merchandise tent. I grabbed a handful to keep me awake when driving home, and headed back to Flickerings and caught the end of Space Battleship Yamoto.
Then I caught a seminar by Jason, a guy I met on the Arts & Faith internet message board, about the whole anime and J-pop culture. The seminar was quite interesting and Jason and his wife are both are both pretty cool. After that was over, I hit the Cornerstone food court. The same vendors were here as usually are: the Pizza Hut, the Subway, the Gyros place, and one of several spots one can purchase an Elephant Ear with curly fries. While I was considering the health ramifications of consuming enough grease to power one of the generator stages, my eye caught a colorful banner I hadn't seen before advertising a vegetarian stir fry. Intrigued, I ordered up a bowl with some lettuce sprinkled with various exotic spices, tofu, and other mystery substances that turned out to be quite tasty. I never imagined tofu could resemble something edible, but you learn something new every day at Cornerstone.
Infused with a sufficient amount of vegetables to make me hum a Brian Wilson song, I set back toward my campsite. Actually, I would up wandering around some of the generator stages, and was disappointed to see a distinct lack of hair-flinging as compared to last year. However, at the Encore 2 tent I did catch a raucous show by Celtic-punk band Flatfoot 56. I had no inclination to squeeze into the sauna inside the packed tent. However, the people inside were entertaining to watch. They seemed to be practicing for an invasion of the Scottish army crossing Hadrian's Wall, as evidenced by the Pirate flags being waved in the air and the people running in a circle inside. Heck, the band even segued from a song featuring not one but two bagpipes, into a few bars of "Kung Fu Fighting". This is clearly above and beyond the call of Celtic-punk duty! After such stimulation, I decided I'd better take a nap so I didn't use all my energy. I had to pace myself for those midnight shows later on.
As the clouds darkened overhead, I anticipated a rain shower, which would be a relief, since I was sweating like a (insert your own clichˇ here). I did snap some photos, including a cool one of someone on the giant crane swing against the background of the dark clouds. I then walked to the Flickerings barn for the evening festivities. One item unique this year was the screening of a 13-episode Japanese anime series called Haibane Renmei. What this series seems to be about is shrouded
in mystery, except that it involves what looks like angels and the brief blurb stated on the Flickerings poster: "experience mysteries of birth, life and loss". The tiny picture on the poster features neither spaceships, swords, nor numchucks, so I'm a little skeptical going in. But after viewing the first three episodes, featuring the birth of an angel-type being, a friendship being developed in a group of other angels in a walled city, and the depth of emotion that comes through the angular animation, I think this series has potential.
I stayed for the evening film, a charming Japanese film called "Train_man: Densha OtokoÓ. Here a shy loner tentatively steps out of his isolated environment toward romance with a girl, all the while being cheered on by friends from the Internet, each of them sitting in their own isolated worlds. The film was enjoyable, while commenting on the nature of personal relationships in the age of the Internet, in a culture where many people have isolated themselves from everyone else, connected to the rest of humanity only via computer screens and data flowing through wires. Was this film a simple love story or a cry for help?
While contemplating that question, I stopped by the Gallery Tent where The Lee Boys, a group of Florida musicians who specialize in "sacred steel", were finishing their set. Man, their steel guitars were smoking. It reminded me of a very memorable set by Robert Randolph on that stage back in 2003. Then I had a late snack with a friend of mine from Camp 77s. I grabbed some French fries served in a cup filled with cheese. Not the most healthy snack, but quite yummy, especially with ketchup mixed in. It was just the thing to munch on while Glenn Kaiser and his band played some nice blues. He does it every year, and it never gets old.
After that, I stopped by the Imaginarium to see what was going on. They were screening the old James Dean movie "Rebel Without a Cause." I'd never seen a James Dean film, so I stepped in and had a seat. It was a little different from what I had been expecting. Dean's character was less the rebel of the title but more symbolic of a generation of bored youth in the 1950s who were desperate for something to do. An interesting Technicolor time capsule of the period, but not really a classic. After that, I walked back by the Gallery Stage and paused to see a couple songs by Cool Hand Luke. I've never been into them a whole lot, but they did have an intriguing moment stage-preaching at the end of the Cornerstone documentary "Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music," which was shot by two non-Christians trying to make sense of the Christian rock scene. Tonight the singer admitted to a hoarse voice from a sore throat, but I'll give him an A for effort as he sang some quiet piano-based songs. I would have stayed longer, but the post-midnight hour was getting to me, and I was ready for some sleep. I knew I was going to need a lot of coffee if I was going to make it through another few days of midnight shows.
It must have been a late night the previous night. I slept all the way
until 8:00, which is a full couple of hours after the sun rose. I poked
my head out of the tent and I looked toward the shower trucks perched
over the lip of the hill and beyond the pizza truck. Would the showers
be fixed that morning? I grabbed by bag and my towel, and to my relief,
they were open. I scrubbed away two whole days of my own sweat and
washed off with the most welcome dribble of water I've ever experienced.
Then I headed off for my morning frappucino, the twenty ounce of course.
It would be a long day, as they always are at Cornerstone.
My first stop was the Flickerings tent, where I wandered into the middle
of the program of short films they have each year. I only caught a couple, but one was a strange revenge film about a man who tries to track down the killer of his stuffed bunny, while imagining himself both as a WW2 soldier and as a Ninja. Pretty weird, just the way I like my films.
After taking a break to catch part of the writing seminar taught by Vinita Hampton Wright, I caught the Flickerings morning screening. The movie was called Kamikaze Girls, and it was a wild ride. One of the girls of the title dresses and cavorts like she is a member of Marie AntoinetteÕs court in 18th century France. The other girl is a tough-as-nails biker chick. The two form an unlikely bond in a film that has the punkish energy of Run Lola Run and the surreal visual style of Amalie or the Thai films of Wisit Sasanatieng (Tears of the Black Tiger, Citizen Dog). Just the energy of this film alone woke me more than a thirty-ounce frappucino would, or some Old School Metal.
After a lunch of veggie stir fry from the same booth I visited yesterday, I caught the next screening at Flickerings. The film was a documentary on a game called Darkon, which appears to be a real-life version of Dungeons and Dragons. Imagine grown men and women putting on full body armor like they were extras in the Lord of the Rings movies. Then they go out into parks and soccer fields in suburban Baltimore to act out their campaigns. Teams of opposing armies whacked each other with padded swords, maces, axes, tridents, and they also catapulted padded balls at cardboard forts. This may seem like a therapy session gone awry or the outgrowth of a group of teenaged boys who watched Braveheart one too many times. But these are normal folks: office workers, construction workers, mothers, and fathers. The film does a good job illuminating this unusual hobby and portrays these people not as freaks but as folks with the same day jobs, quirks, and hang-ups as anyone else. Some of the portrayals were touching, like the shy overweight guy for whom the game gave him an opportunity to develop the self-confidence that he had been lacking, and the single mother for whom the game gave her a sense of purpose. The camera shot fight scenes like something out of a Lord of the Rings movie, with sweeping overhead camera shots. ItÕs quite a fun documentary to watch, and one of my favorites.
That evening, I was faced with a schedule conflict. The Violet Burning was scheduled to play at 6:00 at the Gallery Stage, the same time that the next three episode of Haibane Renmei were scheduled at Flickerings. I decided on a compromise of sorts. I skipped the first episode to see the first few songs of the Violet BurningÕs set. After all, I saw them twice in St. Louis last year. The band sounded great and loud. Their guitar sound spilled out of the tent and reached all the way over to the food tents, and even to the large merchandise tent. I donÕt know if they interrupted anyone buying Amberlin and Switchfoot T-shirts or not, but Michael Pritzl was singing his heart out. I peeled myself away to the Flickerings Tent to catch some Haibane Renmei, and I wasnÕt disappointed. The series began to develop some interesting storylines, and I have to admit, I was hooked like when someone convinced me to start watching Lost.
After Haibane Renmei, I stuck around to watch the evening screening, a Japanese film called Bright Future. This film explores the culture of young twenty-something men who have gotten left behind in JapanÕs relentless pursuit of progress that started in the Ō80s, and became adrift as JapanÕs economy hit the skids after that. Unable to find suitable employment, these guys drift as purposeless slackers. This film is a haunting look at the choices two such guys make. One rebels in a criminal act, while the other tries to deal with his own failures while trying to take care of his friendÕs jellyfish. The jellyfish escapes, multiplies, and invades the municipal water system throughout the film, symbolizing both eerie beauty as well as the rebellion of JapanÕs lost youth. This was a thought-provoking film that doesnÕt lend itself to easy interpretation.
After the film, I headed back to the Gallery tent to try to clear my addled brain with some music. I saw Rosie Thomas sing some achingly beautiful songs and then watched her Ņalter egoÓ Sheila seem to campaign for a TV talk show with a hilarious act of self-confession. Then I hiked up to the Encore 1 set to see a band I had for some reason in fifteen years of Christian music festivals, had never seen live, Starflyer 59. IÕve never really gotten into their music or bought their dozens of CDs and EPs. But after missing his midnight show last year due to them performing a brief set recalling the brevity of Chevy ChaseÕs career as a late-night talk-show host, I wanted to see these guys, even if lead singer Jason Martin stared down at this feet the entire show (as I have heard he is apt to do). No, he didnÕt shoegaze this time. It was just Jason on guitar and a drummer playing some decent alt-pop tunes. However, the other member of their band, a laptop, kept going on the fritz, so we were surely missing all manner of Pro-Tools fused symphonic accompaniment. But it was a pretty cool experience, and now I can move on with my life.
Then I moved on and checked in some of the smaller music tents while waiting for the Over The Rhine show to start. In the Sanctuary church tent, I saw Rex Carroll, guitarist extraordinaire for Ō80s Christian metal band Whitecross, play some smoking blues with his band. That was very cool, even better than listening to one of his five-minute solos on the old Whitecross albums. Then in the next tent I saw an energetic old-school rock band called Jonezetta, and they were fun. I was relieved to hear a singer do some actual singing instead of growling, which is the trend I have seen at Cornerstone over the last few years, which is why I have been eschewing bands in favor of films lately. However, this year I decided to try to see more bands, and have been pleasantly surprised at the number of melodic rock and keyboard-oriented bands I have seen this year, with names like Deas Vail, Paper Route, and Redflecks. ThereÕs so many bands here I canÕt keep track of them all. But itÕs fun trying. I even picked up a book of prayers commemorating the ŅhoursÓ method of scheduled prayers practiced by monks the world over. The booth I purchased the book from advertised itself as Ņmonk rock.Ó Do monks rock? Is there anywhere at a monastery to plug in an electric guitar. Do they jam on John Michael Talbot (an early 70s Jesus music singer who become a monk)? If not, then they should.
Now it was nearly midnight and time to see a band I have been familiar with at Cornerstone since 1992, Over the Rhine. Their midnight shows are things of legend around here, and tonight was another terrific evening of jazzy kind of ethereal songs, led by KarinÕs wonderful voice. Their drummer Mickey in particular was a standout. In the middle of the show he did a drum solo that would have impressed Neal Peart, with a kit approximately 1/8th the size. Then the entire stage went dark. The band had rocked so hard they flipped a circuit breaker. Now thatÕs high praise at a festival with a number of bands trying to generate the sound equivalent of a freight train colliding with a herd of rumbling buffalo. Fortunately, after half a minute, the power came back on, and Mickey continued with his solo! ThatÕs what rock and rollÕs all about. Over the Rhine excelled with some softer numbers as well, such as a cover of Gillian WelchÕs "Orphan Girl", and the late night torch-song sounding ŅFoolÓ. A lovely note to send the crowd out to their tents. I had an air mattress set up, thank God, so I didnÕt have to sleep on the ground. Well, I was so tired I could have slept on the ground, as I fell asleep as soon as I hit the mattress.
Linda! Linda! Linda! That is the name of the morning movie to be screened at Flickerings today. I was promised that this movie about an all-girl Japanese high-school band would make me hum the theme songs for days. In that case, I had better be prepared, so I grab my usual mint frappucino so IÕll stay awake all day and well into the night. Because tonightÕs midnight show, The Lost Dogs, will be the highlight of this yearÕs Cornerstone. I already feel like howling. To prevent myself from such socially unacceptable behavior so early in the morning, I ducked into the Flickerings tent and caught a documentary about a town in Washington and their efforts to reach out to a local Native American tribe. The efforts to overcome the abuse inflicted on the natives by ignorant Americans, and the subsequent healing and restored relationships made for an inspiring story. Then I caught another writing seminar before seeing Linda! Linda! Linda! True enough, the title song is pretty catchy, and this coming of age story about Japanese high-school girls is well done and touching. As I headed out to get some Gyros for lunch, I couldnÕt get that song out of my head. I must resolve this dilemma by seeing more bands.
I stopped by the Encore 2 Tent to catch some upbeat keyboard-oriented rock by a group named All the Day Holiday. They were pretty decent and their stage presence was energetic, although those Japanese girls could mosh circles around them. Then I caught a band to which I was looking forward all along, The Dark Romantics, since I heard one of their songs on the local St. Louis community radio station. For them to get on the playlist of the coolest radio station in St. Louis is surely an indicator of quality. And the band put on a really groovy show of alt-power-pop. The kids in the crowd standing by the stage were swaying back and forth, getting into it too, and crowded the bandÕs merch table after the show, which is a good thing to see. IÕll keep an eye out for them in the future. Hopefully theyÕll show up in my town on tour sometime, providing a relief from the countless emo and punk-pop indie bands that pass through clubs around here. Heck, they might get a job touring with the Linda Linda Linda band and become big in Japan. (OK, I promise thatÕs the last time IÕll say that.)
I then wandered back to the Gallery Stage and settled in for a set by ŅDoctor LoveÓ, the one and only Mike Roe. Mike performed solo, which is just fine, because he can command a stage by himself better than countless other sensitive guys with guitars. What was cool was that the powers that be at the Gallery Stage bestowed a gift on Mike, a bowling shirt with ŅDr. LoveÓ stitched upon it, as a tribute to one of the most influential artists that many of us grew up with on the alt-Christian music scene. IÕve been a fan since I first heard his band the 77s blow my mind with their unique new-wave-styled hard rock on their very first album in the early Ō80s. Mike did a number of hits (OK, they werenÕt ŅhitsÓ on the radio, but they were to the true fans who exorcise the gift of discernment.) Impressively, he even pulled off a solo acoustic version of ŅMTÓ, a song that was originally recorded on a sequencer and drum machine. Then he left the stage to thundering acclaim (OK, more like the joyful polite applause of sun-baked folks who had endured three days of heat and rain) of a couple hundred fans in the tent. But he would be back.
After some dinner, I sauntered by the merchandise tent. I saw the guys from Bloodgood hanging out at the ŅOld School MetalÓ booth, and I got to shake the hand of Les Carlson, their lead singer. Some folks got their pictures taken with the band and got autographs, but IÕm not that crazy about obscure Christian metal. I mean, IÕve moved on from that sort of thing. Now if the Lost Dogs were there, that would be a different story. Haha.
I then headed over to Flickerings and caught some more Haibane Renmei episodes. Then I returned to the same tent to watch a musical event advertised as ŅRoe vs. PritzlÓ. OK, this wasnÕt a karate showdown and the Gallery Stage was not transformed into an octagon. Notwithstanding the strange introduction by a guy dressed as Bruce from the classic spoof kung-fu movie ŅThey Call Me Bruce?Ó, this was going to be an acoustic set by two very talented artists: the aforementioned Mike Roe and Michael Pritzl from the Violet Burning. They traded songs by their respective bands, while engaging in humorous banter. This involved Sunday School flannel boards and whether the word ŅhitÓ as regarding each of them should be rendered in the singular or the plural. I enjoyed the performance a lot as well as the opportunity to see these two guys on stage together for the first time. Mike Roe in particular was going well above and beyond the call of duty, since this was the second of three sets he was doing that day. After all, he still had to go on stage with the Lost Dogs that night.
My friends from Camp Ō77s had already thrown their camp chairs down at the foot of the stage in anticipation of sitting at the feet of the Lost Dogs for their show in four hours time. The next singer, Tess Wiley, formerly of Sixpence None the Richer, next took the stage. Her songs were lovely, but I had to leave for now. After all this acoustic music, I needed to get some rock on. In fact, I was ready to take a major nostalgia trip. And the Encore 1 tent was serving up plenty of it for teenagers who grew up in the Church in the 1980s and couldnÕt stand listening to the Carman and Amy Grant albums the rest of the kids in youth group were digging. For tonight was Ō80s Christian metal night. Or would a more appropriate moniker be ŅOld School Metal night.Ó In any event, I hiked up there ready for some songs about stomping Satan, killing demons, and smashing the gates of Hell. I missed the first band of the night, Whitecross, but Bride was on stage when I walked into the tent. The crowd was a mix of guys my age who were fans back in the day, and of curious kids wondering if these old guys really could rock. Yes they could. Bride tore through their set of stomping hard rock. The lead singer couldnÕt quite scream like he used to, but he could growl in a way that could compete with the kids on those generator stages. A few in the crowd raised lighters in tribute. Yes, this is truly Old School Metal. Not that I know what New School Metal is, but IÕm not going to bother educating myself in Wikipedia to try to discern the difference.
Next, X-sinner took the stage, and their singer could screech just like the best screamers could do in the Ō80s. After the traditional standard rock opening required of all bands of the era, ŅHello (insert name of city here)!Ó, they ripped into their Ratt and AC/DC-inspired songs with gusto. Then Bloodgood took the stage and rocked the tent, along with the entire Cornerstone site and most of the surrounding county. With Oz Fox from Stryper helping out on guitar, the band played forty-five minutes of speed metal classics, even breaking into StryperÕs ŅTo Hell With the DevilÓ during one song. Oz Fox and the Bloodgood guitarist did some terrific twin solos, and performed some classic back-to-back raised guitar metal poses to boot. And the lead singer, for his age, ran around the stage with abandon. After they were finished, I was screaming along with the guys in the crowd with graying ponytails and leather jackets. But I couldnÕt linger for too long, because I had to get back to the Gallery Stage to stake my spot for the Lost Dogs.
The Lost Dogs stage setup was the most unique I had ever seen at the festival, due to the hand painted backgrounds painted by Mike Knott. The southwestern vistas fit perfectly with the DogsÕ Americana-fueled alt-rock. And the Dogs put on a terrific set of a full two songs. OK, they then came back and did an hour and a half encore. Always count on Terry Taylor to give you a little bit of ŅschtickÓ. However, he left the Annointing Meter at home this year. During a couple of songs, the band did invite fans from the audience to do karaoke. The results were similar to the quality exhibited at your usual suburban strip mall bar, except the Lost Dogs songs donÕt suck. Their set ended with a heart-rending guitar solo by Mike Roe (decked out in his bowling shirt) during ŅEleanor ItÕs Raining Now.Ó It was a marvelous way to end another Cornerstone day.
Afterward, as satisfied patrons filed out of the tent and crowded the merchandise table, the folks from Camp 77s milled about. A couple of kids were sleeping underneath the feet of one of our friends. Others basked in the glory of the spirit of rockness we had all been blessed with. Then the killer fatigue hit me big time, and I sauntered back to my tent, managing to reach my tent before I fell asleep. Two-o-clock in the morning sure feels different than it did fifteen years ago when I wandered around the grounds wired after an Adam Again midnight show. I was content to let the country-rock melodies of the Dogs resound in my mind as I collapsed on my air mattress.\
I must have been beat last night, because I slept later this morning than IÕve ever done at Cornerstone. It was nearly 9:00 by the time I emerged from my tent into the outside air. After a shower and coffee, I was late to the writing seminar, but I took a few notes and wound up learning something about tapping into my well of creativity. This is presumably the same well of creativity that I am tapping into to bring forth my wry commentary on my Cornerstone experience, so donÕt expect it to be too deep.
I next caught the morning film at Flickerings, a Studio Ghibli film I was excited to see, Only Yesterday. Directed by Isao Takahata, a contemporary of Miyazaki, this was a beautiful coming of age story about a 27-year-old Japanese girl who tries to figure out what she is going to do with her life, when she visits a friend in the countryside. In a parallel storyline, she relives experiences from her fifth-grade year. She considers those experiences that have shaped her, as she learns to make peace with her past and move into new experiences. An excellent film.
After that I stopped by the Imaginarium tent and caught a lecture titled Monsters on Maple Street. It was interesting hearing about the culture of fear that gripped artistic expression in America during the 1950s, and its parallels to today. I also got some seeds for ideas that might take root in my own writing. I wish I was able to catch more Imaginarium seminars one year, but maybe one day IÕll figure out how to clone myself to catch all this cool stuff.
I caught some lunch with a friend of mine while listening to a band on Gallery Stage called Spoken Groove. The name sounds like some kind of hip-hop collective, but these guys were a pretty good indie rock band. I then walked back to Flickerings to catch a documentary called Czech Dream. This was a stunt set up by some filmmakers, advertising a new big-box department store to see how many people they could get to show up. This was an interesting exercise in the impact of advertising and tapping into peopleÕs hidden greed and materialism. By putting out colorful ads and using reverse psychology in telling people not to come, many people wound up coming anyway to the premiere. Here a fa¨ade for the store was set up in the middle of a field. Nobody seemed to be clued into the fact that wasnÕt any sidewalk leading to this place. When they reached the fa¨ade and realized the ruse, the predictable happened: complaining and threatening to sue. But in the end, everyone was too embarrassed at their naivetˇ to do anything that rash.
After the film, I walked back to the Gallery Stage to catch the annual gig by Jeff Elbel and Ping. Like they do every year, they get eight or nine musicians on stage and do some nifty pop rock tunes, as well as digging back for an oldie by JeffÕs former band, Farewell to Juliet. The highlight was a visit by JeffÕs assistant guitar tech, the one and only Mike Roe! Now that is how youÕve made it on the underground alt-Christian out-of-the-mainstream music scene, to be blessed by the king of the underground alt-Christian out-of-the-mainstream music scene.
After Ping, I took one last spin through the merchandise tent. I was nearly out of money, so I didnÕt get anything. But I am fascinated by the annual final-day atmosphere as things start to wind down. T-shirts were being hawked at a discount, and a few booths emptied out as other bands hit the road early. Cornerstone was heading into its stretch run. It was hard to believe there was only one more evening left at Cornerstone.
I then caught the final episodes of Haibane Renmei at Flickerings, and wow, the series wrapped up in an emotional and poignant conclusion. The themes of redemption nearly brought tears to my eyes. Rent it on Netflix, it is well worth it. It made for a fitting end to another outstanding Flickerings program. There is one more evening film, but after catching the first few minutes of Fellini's "I Vitteloni", I decided I would have to Netflix that one. There are another couple bands I wanted to see.
I headed over to the Anchor Stage, where I saw a harp player performing under the name Timbre. The harp is one of the coolest instruments ever invented, and there is only one other harpist performing in the indie rock scene, Joanna Newsom. To her credit, unlike Joanna, Timbre has a lovely voice that doesnÕt recall the bizarre falsetto of the Danielson FamilyÕs Daniel Smith. She was accompanied by two of the other coolest instruments ever invented, accordion and oboe. This may have been the first ever oboist to ever grace a stage at Cornerstone. I played clarinet in high school and it was hard enough trying to find the right way to blow through the reed so as not to cause an ear-piercing squeak. The reed on an oboe is even tinier, so I deeply admire anyone who can produce melodious sounds from the instrument. And what lovely music it was. We need more oboists and harpists everywhere!
After the conclusion of the harp show, I wandered over to the next tent where the band for the Sanctuary church was singing for their evening service. The Sanctuary church is from Los Angeles and was started in the 1980s specifically oriented toward rock and heavy metal musicians and fans. The leader is Pastor Bob, a stocky man with long black hair who looks like he could step in as the bass player for Quiet Riot and nobody would know the difference. The church road trips to Cornerstone every year and sets up church services in their own tent. I listened to some livelier than usual church music for a couple of minutes, and then Pastor Bob stepped on stage. I remember how every time I purchased a cassette tape in the 1980s of a Christian metal band, the insert packaging contained a picture of Pastor Bob and an inspirational message. I actually listened to one of his sermons one night at Cornerstone in the early Ō90s, and was surprised at how intelligent and articulate he was.
After taking a trip down memory lane and listening to him speak for a few minutes, I checked the time and then scurried over to the next stage. Another very cool band called Photoside Cafˇ was just starting. They featured a guy on violin who also played with Ping, and the violin sound added an unique texture to an upbeat acoustic indie guitar-bass-drums collective. This band was my favorite discovery of the entire festival, and IÕll have to keep an eye out for them in the future.
I then caught up with friends I met at the fest while hanging outside Gallery Stage watching a band called Leland. They played worship-type music, and reverence permeated the air like the Holy Spirit hovered over the packed tent. It was a nice way to close out the festival.
There was one more thing to do, so I walked over to the Imaginarium for their traditional last night final film. This is always one of the highlights of the fest as they usually bring out a film that is a classic or a weird cult film or both. TonightÕs feature was the Korean monster movie, The Host. Not only is it a great monster movie with special effects that arenÕt overdone like most Hollywood films, this film has a nice theme of the redemption of a family. It was the second time IÕve seen it and it was just as good the second time around. Afterward as everyone in the tent put up the chairs and tore down all the decorations, I got to hang out with another friend of mine who would be leaving in a couple hours time to drive 14 hours home to Maryland.
Then as I walked back to my tent after midnight, I saw Cornerstone had wound to a close. Clusters of people hung around the food court snacking on whatever was left. What memories did they have of the fesitival: friendships made, friendships renewed, shoes ruined in the mud, barbequed burgers, Elephant Ears left uneaten, and ears ringing? Throughout the campsites, people gathered around campfires talking and laughing. The music tents were silent: no more growling, drumming, crunching guitars, or oboe-playing. It was kind of a bittersweet feeling. But IÕve had a blast. Cornerstone is always a lot more fun than vacationing in Branson or New Jersey.
The next morning, I tore down my tent and packed up my car. As I drove over the grass, prayed I wouldnÕt get stuck in the mud, and then cruised down the dirt road out of the site, I reflected back on another fun Cornerstone experience. Then I heard a familiar sound from someoneÕs car stereo: the Decemberists' song Ņthe Crane Wife.Ó Wow, that was the same song I was playing on my car stereo when I drove into this place five days earlier. ThereÕs a symmetry in this, like the hand of God. Everything fits together somehow. Cornerstone will always be a big part of my life, and I look forward to many more. And next time IÕll try to remember to bring a lighter.