Atmosphere

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 chuck-pearson.org 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 NoisyChristians.com 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.”

YES!

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.

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