Cornerstone 2011 was my fifth year at the festival, and my first as a married man. I knew this year was going to be a little different due to the lack of big names in the lineup. David Crowder Band, mewithoutYou, Switchfoot, Relient K, Underoath, The Devil Wears Prada, Skillet, Red, The Almost, Emery, Family Force 5 – several of these bands had packed Main Stage each of the last four years but none of them were to be seen this year. This didn’t matter to us – we’ve grown to love the Cornerstone atmosphere and community as well as many of the smaller bands over the years, but it clearly mattered to some. This happened to be the first Cornerstone where we didn’t wait in a line of cars at the gate, and we heard talk all week about it being a “down year.”
But there were still plenty of people filling the familiar campgrounds, and we set up our tent and prepared for another classic week of music, community, and God.
Day 1 – Tuesday
For the second year in a row, the first show we saw was The Skies Revolt, a dancey band from Michigan. The bigger tents and stages wouldn’t get going until the third day, but there were plenty of generator stages up and running already. The band temporarily blew the power on the Solace Stage (I think that’s the second year in a row for that, too), and they were using a track for their broken keyboard, but it was still a fun introduction to 2011.
We headed back to our campsite but saw some posters for Poema and walked into the Texas Stage just in time to hear the sisters play “Blue Sweater” and “2 AM.” Later that night we stumbled onto a bit of Khadag Blue, which are self-described as “gut bucket blues meets central asian ethereal.” The lead vocalist has a really interesting deep, growly voice.
The last show we saw on the first night was Flatfoot 56 on a generator stage. They would play under an overpacked larger tent later in the festival, but here was a chance for the earlycomers to see them in a smaller setting. I pressed into the crowd at the front, but there were too many stage divers taking advantage of the lack of stage diving rules on the smaller stage, so I ran around in the circle pit for a bit. They played a couple of new songs, including one about “Latchkey Kids” who have a key to their house at a young age because their parents either work late or aren’t around (with an encouraging introduction from frontman Tobin Bawinkel about how we need to support such kids). At the request of the audience they also played “Shiny Eyes,” a love-song ballad rarely played at their rowdy live shows, so that was a treat. We were also treated to an appearance by Josh Robieson, the original bagpiper (and mandolinist) who left the band to settle down with a wife a couple of years ago. He joined the stage with current member Eric McMahon for a double-dose of bagpipes on “Brotherhood” and, of course, “Amazing Grace.” I’d been waiting for an excuse to start my vinyl collection, and after the show I picked up Black Thorn – one of my favorite records from 2010.
Day 2 – Wednesday
Wednesday morning we went to the book sale tent, where I picked up a handful of used books, including Watership Down, some Kipling, and The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds On Prayer. In the early afternoon I checked out a couple songs by These Hearts, a group of something-core youngsters that recently received a terribly nice review on IVM. I actually found them better than I was expecting, and they seemed to be having fun, but I didn’t stay long.
Come & Live! Day was underway at The Anchor tent, although I wasn’t familiar with the first acts. Our campsite was near the tent, though, and I heard some ethereal worship wafting through the air. Lovelite wasn’t scheduled for the festival, but I walked up to the tent just in case… It was a group called Kye Kye. They’re not on C&L’s website but I’ll have to keep an eye out for them.
Nate Allen (of the moniker Destroy Nate Allen) gathered a crowd in a circle to play a mostly solo show at the Sanctuary generator stage (although his wife Tessa left the merch table for a couple of songs), and he broke an expected number of guitar strings along the way. He was followed by Tyler Hentschel’s band Insomniac Folklore. Actually, I played with them… my forgotten teenage dream of “playing Cornerstone” was resurrected when Tyler married my sister-in-law and started spending too much time in the Midwest for his Portland bandmates to follow him. (I guess God knew along that I needed to wait until I was older and wiser and didn’t care about being a rock star but could just have a good time playing in Tyler’s band in front of fifty-plus people. Now I’m so glad my nerdy high school band never actually got to play Cornerstone shows that no one would have watched anyway.)
Emily and I hopped over to the Underground tent to catch the end of Listener‘s set. There was a pretty good crowd, and Dan Smith was as charming as ever: “You all are doing such a great job listening – On a scale of one to two you’re all a two!” I bought the Wooden Heart album I’d been planning to get for several months, and I stuck around to say hi to Dan. He still remembered us from the interview we did with him last winter, and he wrapped me in a big, sweaty hug.
We saw some Men As Trees Walking back at Anchor/Come&Live. This extended-family lounge-reggae Jewish-Charismatic worship act is fun to watch, and while their theology may not completely overlap with your own (though they’d be happy to discuss it with you), you can’t say they’re not unique. One of the fans was wearing a goofy shirt from frontman Allan Aguirre’s old band Scatered Few. Allan joked that the shirt should be banned, but then spoke appreciatively of the fact that his 18-month-old daughter came to Cornerstone with him 20 years ago, and now she sings with him and has her own baby child.
A few hours later it was time for Showbread, who honestly sounded a lot better then they had the last two years. No excuses about this being their first show in six months this time, and they even played a lot of older songs (like “Dead By Dawn” and “Naked Lunch”). Josh Dies, always aware of Showbread’s critics, seemed very grateful to have so many people watching. They closed with “The Fear of God.”
We headed over to Main Stage where Andy Hunter‘s dance party was underway. We got some exercise jumping around with the smallish but energized crowd. It was mostly non-stop techno bass pumping from Andy’s electronics, and I caught snippets of “On Automatic” and maybe at least one other track from his excellent Collide EP.
Next we sat down at the Chelsea Cafe for the folk group The Hollands. Cornerstone has a strong community of musicians – especially from the Portland and Nashville areas – and there are many groups of friends who will play on each other’s records, even though they usually tour on their own. Cornerstone is the one time where they all get to play with each other again. Now this is a unique and beautiful thing, but part of the reality of it is that it can take a long, long time to sound check when a normally-two-person group suddenly turns into a dozen people and their instruments on a stage. Half an hour into their scheduled set, The Hollands finally started playing. It was lovely, and I would have stayed longer, but it was time for The Ember Days back at the Anchor. And after some restful worship, it was time to sleep.
Read Part 2 (Thursday and Friday) here.
Read Part 3 (Saturday and Sunday) here.