This post is quite overdue. It is also rather lengthy, but that's because it is chock full of good memories.
Cornerstone Festival was so much more than a music festival. The music is what first drew me in all those years ago, but the community I experienced there is what really kept me coming back.
The festival was started in 1984 by Jesus People USA (JPUSA) to provide a festival for Christians that showcased quality music that was not getting attention at other festivals and to celebrate diversity in Christ. They set out to not just provide entertainment, but to create an environment to participate in. Arts programs, seminars, discussions, and sports provided plenty of opportunities to engage.
The festival was held at the several-hundred acre Cornerstone Farm each summer and involved camping on the grounds. It was in rural Illinois around the Fourth of July, so there was usually some intense weather: heat, of course, and humidity; thunderstorms; and surprisingly cold nights sometimes. There was even a tornado one year. The sweat, dust, downpours, and resulting mud just helped hold together the community even more. :]
My good friend Josh Oberheide first told me about the festival and convinced me to go with him and his family in 1997. I was blown away. It was surprising to hear so many different kinds of music and see such a diverse group of people all in one place, brought together by a common thread of belief. It became one of the best pictures of “the Body of Christ” to me, and it kept me coming back for sixteen years.
I feel like most people hear the phrase “Christian music” and think of something like Sonseed's “Jesus is a Friend of Mine.” There has certainly been plenty of Christian cheese like that put out, but there has also been a lot of quality, meaningful music to balance it out. Cornerstone served as a showcase for the latter.
In all the years that I have been going, this was the first year that I spent much time at the Imaginarium. I wish I had done so sooner. By day, the Imaginarium featured seminars and discussions about movies, pop culture, and faith. The organizer described it as a place where doubters, misfits, cynics, and geeks could get together and realize they are not alone. This year there were seminars on Batman, the iconography of Alien, and moral and spiritual themes in the Josh Whedon-verse. By night, the Imaginarium featured movies and more discussions. Unfortunately, I missed the screening of Troll 2, but I did catch Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Rubber, Attack the Block, Blue Like Jazz, and the Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog sing-along.
JPUSA's primary ministry is a homeless shelter here in Chicago. The festival was also run as a ministry, with volunteers organizing it. They did not take a paycheck and any profits were put back into the next year's festival. In May, they announced that 2012 would be the final festival. Given the tough economy and declining attendance, it was just a sad reality that they could not continue. This also meant cutting the budget way back and not being able to pay bands for the final festival. The schedule slimmed down a lot, understandably, but there were still over 100 bands that came out of their love for Cornerstone.
There were fewer stages and attendance was way down, but I really enjoyed this final year. It felt appropriate, like a family gathering. We knew we were a community brought together by this wonderful thing and we got together for one last celebration together. My words are probably lacking to properly portray it.
I headed home a few hours early on the last day and I really wish I had not. I later found out that the odd-looking thing being built by the art area was actually a large Viking ship and they had a Viking funeral later that night. A bunch of people hoisted the ship up, carried it to the lake with a parade of people following, launched it, and lit it on fire. It seemed appropriate and I wish I could have seen it firsthand. It was captured at the end of this Cornerstone 2012 recap video, though.
The song in this video is “Farther Along” by Josh Garrels. I love it.
And now for a compilation of some of my favorite memories over the years. If you have been to Cornerstone, I would love to hear yours in the comments.
- My first year, there was a lady at our campsite who was a huge Rich Mullins fan. We were camping right by the main road and she put up a sign: “Please stop here, Rich Mullins!” He was quite a popular artist, so it seemed like a pretty slim chance. But he actually was walking by, saw it, and stopped by. He took a picture with us. Tragically, he was killed in a car accident later that year. Being able to meet him before he was gone meant a lot.
- In 2002, Cora introduced me to Moss Eisley, which led to many new friends, opportunities, and delightful music in my ears. Stacy was actually a widdle kid back then; now she has her own widdle kid. Dang.
- I never played, but it was fun watching the games of Buck Buck.
- I got to see the Stryper reunion. Oh yes.
- I got to see Five Iron Frenzy's homage to Stryper and Europe.
- One year we dubbed our campsite “Camp Dude” and the people across the street dubbed theirs “Camp Sweet.” Yeah, there were calls of “Dude!” and “Sweet!” back and forth.
- 2007 was a special year. I survived my heart incident and my recovery was so good that I was still able to attend.
- I got to see The Echoing Green, one of my all-time favorites, play a few times. They rarely toured, so that was a treat.
- I loved the midnight worship sessions on the beach. I also loved going to Cool Hand Luke shows; very worshipful in their own way.
- I volunteered for transportation for many years at the festival. One of the best times was when I drove P.O.D. to the airport. They had Blindside's latest album and asked if we could play it on the way. I happily obliged since I'm a fan of Blindside and had not heard it yet. Then they told me to turn it up louder, so we blasted it all the way to the airport.
- I loved being able to go with friends year after year, meet up with long distance friends, and make new friends each summer.
- A family knit-bombed the festival grounds this year, including one of the biggest trees (full picture).
- After this year's festival, I read about this note someone wrote in the shower changing room. It makes me happy and I feel like it captures the love and community represented at Cornerstone:
“I’m a non-Christian, I came here searching for… more. I was raised without religion so I’ve spent my life finding one for me. Never have I felt this okay or observed such happiness. I don’t know if I am ready to call myself a Christian but at least this is a start. Thank you so much for being you. I love you. - M.”
Cornerstone always felt like going home. I met amazing people, was refreshed spiritually, learned, and skanked a lot. You will be missed, Cornerstone Festival.