Cornerstone – what I’m missing

From the Moveable Type blog, June 27, 2007.  If Jeff’s article on Cornerstone from 2007 is still extant, I’d appreciate if somebody’d say so.

In my crashed-out stupor this weekend, I forgot to note that an article by my good friend Jeff Elbel appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, on the topic of Cornerstone Festival in Bushnell, Illinois. This is where I’d really like to be this week, both for the sake of the music and for the sake of my dear friends who are live-blogging the fest this week.

It’s a great article. And I’m not just saying that because Jeff called me and my elitist-mates asking if we could help out with the “For every rocker there’s a Christian counterpart” section at the bottom of the page. (I don’t think Jeff would have written that if his editors hadn’t asked him to; Christian music counterparts tend to be a dumb idea, especially when you have people like Flyleaf, Relient K and Family Force 5 who are pretty big in their own right; that said, it worked out AMAZINGLY well. I’m still in awe of calling Tess Wiley a mix of Shawn Colvin, Regina Spektor, and Liz Phair – that is just about DEAD ON. If you’ve never heard Tess before: here, have some.)

I’m also not just saying that because Jeff asked me if I could come up and help him out with mediastuff surrounding his band’s show at the fest, as if he liked having me around and stuff.

By the way, Jeff Elbel is an amazing human being. By the way, Jeff’s band is called Ping, and you can buy tracks from their latest album The Eleventh Hour Storybook on their MySpace page (including “Bark Along With Cody”, featured on the Dr. Demento radio program!), or you can order all of Ping’s albums through Marathon Records.

By the way: PLUG PLUG PLUG.


I got one chance to cover Cornerstone Festival on my last occasion attending, in 2006; what you read below was originally posted on the 2006 Cornerstone Festival blog on July 6, it no longer exists, and so the fact that I reposted this on the Moveable Type blog on June 22, 2007 is probably the last record of me having taken that gig.  So many of my other friends participated in the live-coverage blog, and it’s hard to know that the end of Cornerstone Festival in 2012 means I’ll probably never get a chance to work with them again in a capacity like this.

I fixed some linkrot, but probably not enough.

My postscript to the repost intro:  “Remember, as you read through this whole enterprise: this is a snapshot from the past. Any resemblance to this year’s fest, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”

The word stuck in my head, as I leave Wednesday and go into Thursday, is atmosphere.

I had a question yesterday as I did a bit of wandering about the grounds. One of the things that is has really sprouted like mushrooms since the last time I was here in 2001 is what I hear referred to as the “generators” – the little tents, and sometimes no tents at all, that are set up just so a smaller band can play and get some attention. (That’s theoretically the purpose of the New Band Showcase / Underground Stage / whatever it gets called these days, but there are only so many slots to play, and there are SO MANY bands.) I have no idea of the official status of these stages; I can’t imagine the artistic band that’s playing Encore 1 can be terribly happy about the thrash metal growlers right next door, and the acoustic people playing certainly aren’t (he attests from personal experience). But if there is a truly creative band doing their thing, that’s potentially one of the things that makes the fest for me. Hard question.

The problem is, most of those bands playing those “generators” don’t grab you at all. One of them sounds just like another, and I want to offer respect to all these guys putting together their own things, but dang it, how many random screamo bands can you listen to without getting a headache? I don’t want random screamo, I want something like The Juliana Theory (so sorry they had to call it a day) to smack me upside the head – yeah, Brett could scream when circumstances demanded it, but the melodies and the sound they generated was absolutely unmistakable. When you were listening to Juliana, you could tell it was Juliana.

All of this setup to say: I had something of a revelation while watching Bernard last night.

I’m not convinced that Bernard is that special technically. There were times in their set when they just boiled down their playing to the absolute simplest concepts. A chord on a keyboard, then a single note struck. Repeat several times. My daughter could do that, technically. Other times a guitar solo would borrow almost exactly from something you could hear a band like Dredg do on the radio. Because they only have three instrumentalists, they canned a great deal of the background stuff – and there are times in the audience where you don’t know what to do when you’re hearing music, but the present band isn’t playing.

And, with all that, Bernard’s set was one of the best I saw yesterday. Why?

Because Bernard has a sound. They have that distinctive thing that, for lack of a better word, I’m going to call atmosphere. It becomes apparent, while they’re constructing their song, that the song is building towards something – repeatedly I heard one of their songs start as a simple thing, add layers, build towards a climax, and then just blow at you with a WALL of sound. They know what they want to be, and they get there.

It didn’t work all of the time, but when it did work, it was absolutely phenomenal.

And at that point, I really thought about everything else I was seeing that was working, and started putting it into the context of atmosphere.

Take Jonezetta. What I heard going into the show was that these guys were something of a Franz Ferdinand clone or a Killers clone. And I could see how somebody who wasn’t looking for something could walk into the room and say “Yeah, that sounds like ‘Take Me Out’, that sounds like ‘Somebody Told Me’…” (What I thought, when I heard the first guitar riffs, was “bah! This is “10,000 Years” by Tim McAllister and Flock 14 all the WAY! I am so old.) All of that, at the end of the day, matters not – the band wasn’t trying to actively sound like anybody in any way other than employing any means necessary to get you off your feet and dancing around. (Was it Jonezetta who had the train of people marching around the tent getting their groove on in so many cool ways? Hey, I think it was!) Pulling in all of those tricks, a riff gathered here and there, the rhythmic pounding and pounding to set a pulsating beat, and even the old guys like me find ourselves doing that thing I can only describe as…erm…um…well, let’s just move on. [1]

As much else as I would like to have seen at that Relevant stage, because I am an older gentleman, and because I got into this Christian music scene by listening to bands like Daniel Amos and The Choir andthe 77s, I had to go to Gallery stage, set up the chair in the tent, and settle in for the night to hear old beloved songs that I only get to hear live every five years or so. Both the Lost Dogs and the 77s sets were outstanding, of course – they did put on “the most professional shows in Bushell, Illinois” – and others have already commented appropriately on this.

But this got me thinking about atmosphere as well. The Lost Dogs are Americana, thorugh and through. The music they’re doing and the style of their play fit into the great traditions of simpler rock and country. (Terry Taylor even joked last night that it was their dream to write a hit country song, and “If You Love Here (You’d Be Home By Now)” was just that dream. Agreed, agreed.) The 77s, in the incarnation they live in these days, are a blues rock band, and progressively turning more and more into a jam band with each passing year. (This causes great consternation because this consternation never crosses the path of songs like “Do It For Love” and “This Is The Way Love Is” often enough, but that debate is best saved for another day.) With the song that each set started with – the Dogs started with “Wild Ride”, the Sevens started with “Perfect Blues” – the tone for each set was established, and you knew what was coming. And you knew that nothing else played at this fest was quite like this, and you were so much the better for being there.

(Even if you were missing Underoath at Main Stage. I fully intend to be at Main Stage today. There will be Main Stage blogging. Thanks for your patience.)

A couple more things about the 77s and Michael Roe. I can’t give that man enough props for basically playing two separate shows in one night, over the course of three and a half hours, doing lead guitar for both, and having his creative juices flowing thoroughly through both. If you never have seen Mike Roe play, find a way to do so, even if you have to drive a few hundred miles to get there. It is well worth it.

And I know the man has heard the aforementioned consternation, and wishes that he could get people to love the stuff he’s doing right now half as much as they love the stuff he did 20 years ago. It has to get tiring to put out work that is what you love and adore and have a whole fleet of fans who do nothing but ask “Are you gonna play ‘The Lust, The Flesh, The Eyes, and the Pride of Life’?”

But “The Lust, The Flesh, The Eyes, and the Pride of Life” did get played last night. Twice. Once during the Dogs’ set, with Terry Taylor on lead vocals, and then once sung by Michael Roe himself.

And then – wonder of wonders – when it was time for the encore, Roe shifted gears on the atmosphere one more time, went from blues rock to nostalgia time, and broke out “I Can’t Get Over It” from what is, in my honest opinion, one of the greatest albums ever recorded.

And then, one more. Despite myself, I found myself pleading to myself. “Come on, man. You know you want to. You know you NEED to. Come on…”

And, as brightly as I ever remember, the guitar riff to “Do It For Love.”


I think I dreamed last night leaving a 77’s fan in 1986, walking away from Main Stage, singing repeatedly “do it for lo-o-o-ove, do it for lo-o-o-ove…”

Okay, whatever pretense I had of being a serious music critic is now officially shot.

[1] I simply could not type “getting jiggy with it” on the Cornerstone blog. I apologize for even THINKING it.

A word about blogs, and anonymity, and memes

From the Moveable Type blog, June 15, 2007.  Linkrot is left in place this time, because it’s a wonderful snapshot of what I was reading at the time – seeing what’s changed six years on is fascinating.

As you might notice, this thing doesn’t get used quite like a blog should.

I could always do this the easy way, of course. There are HORDES upon HORDES of academic blogs that are published anonymously, which are updated every far more frequently, and where the writer is much, much freer to vent their spleen about whatever sets them off about academic life. (With all appropriate warnings about content if you follow the links, here are any number of fine representative examples – some of these very worthwhile reading in which pseudonymity is essential to making the blog work, some of them not worth a second glance.) Or religious life, for that matter; when he started writing Real Live Preacher, Gordon Atkinson didn’t let his identity be known, and I’m sure if I cared to look very hard I could find a couple of pastors behind pseudonyms online in this day.

But very early on in my internet life, I saw the danger in establishing this alter-ego persona and how that could literally change people INTO the alter-ego, and I made the decision that I would stick my name – my real life name – behind everything I published. Yes, I’ve left a paper trail (or a pixel trail?) throughout the web. But each statement I’ve published reflects who I really was at the time, and as messy as that can be, it’s honest.

And there’s a Margaret Becker song stuck in my head, with a lyric along the lines of “God’s not afraid of your honesty/He can heal your heart if you speak honestly.”

But there’s a catch. The catch is: Words can also hurt people. Words do damage your employment prospects. Words do cause people to change how they see you. There is real talent required to describe a situation and put the words out there in a way that will edify and teach, and won’t destroy others. And when my name is sitting there up top, I can’t escape the consequences of what I write.

Now I’m thinking of Garrison Keillor, telling a story of when the neighbors are coming to visit and everybody in the family is scrambling to “make the house look presentable.” “Make the house look presentable”, of course, is code for “pretend we live neat and pristine lives so nobody finds out we’re really slobs.” And when the neighbors arrive, of course the closests are looking like they’re going to explode with all the stuff that’s been crammed in there at the last minute, and of course the throw blanket looks like it’s been draped over the couch hastily, but of course the guests remark about how lovely the house is, and of course the matron of the family brushes her hair aside like it was nothing at all…

“Sometimes you have to look reality in the face and deny it!

We live in a world that’s good at looking reality in the face and denying it. We see something going wrong, and we want to say something to somebody about it, but there are a lot of feelings wrapped up in that thing that’s going wrong, and we know that if we call it out in the wrong way that we’re going to do damage that’s irrepairable. So we say very nice things about our mission, very nice things about the quality people around us, very nice things about our ministries, very nice things about the person who’s leaving to go to another job, very nice things about the wonderful place where we live and work. And it’s anybody’s guess whether we really mean them or not.

I’m not good about that sort of thing. But I’m not good at speaking the truth in love, either. I know that if I leave myself unchecked, I’m going to damage people.

So I say nothing.

You want to know what honestly inspired this post? Brant Hansen. As a gag, when he posts something out of line, or when he just doesn’t have time, what does he post? Cute animals, that’s what.

And how many people do we know who post cute, entertaining stuff to distract from the real issue at hand? Those are the people who we dismiss as hopelessly shallow, right? They contribute to the “entertain us all the way to hell” faction of society, the people who just want something more fun or more hip or more quirky so they can keep looking reality in the face and denying it.

And I honestly have a hard time doing that.

Unless, of course, I can find a rapping physics geek.

Now, what was I talking about again…?

(Physics Guy permalink.)