Each year, I try to reflect on the music and the seminars that I see at Cornerstone Festival (see past posts). This year, I started by reflecting on a sticker, and have since been distracted by several large decisions that we’ve had to make.
So I’m a bit late this year due to those decisions, but I still want to take a bit of time to look back at what we experienced there. Each year seems to have its own character between the music, the seminars, and the random folks we meet or reconnect with. It adds a nice bit of unpredictability, though there are always constants for us and it mixes together really well.
I’ve noted before that the underground music scene as a whole, not just related to Jesus music, has seen an influx of metalcore in the last few years. In some ways, this is a good thing as it replaced (to an extent) the huge influx of emo bands that was happening before that. We should be thankful for this. In other ways, it’s a really bad thing because there are lots of mediocre metalcore bands. We heard a lot of these this year.
But even so, there were also lots of great bands. I’m always thrilled when August Burns Red is at the fest. Their music is incredible, they have fantastic lyrics and a deep worshipfulness about them as a whole, and are a beautiful example of how good metalcore can be and how approachable a band with their success in the last three years can be. For me, theirs was the best show, as it was a long Main Stage one and it had been a couple of years since I’d seen them.
Others that were at the top for me were (sorry for the MySpace links; as you may know bands are the only ones that still use it these days) Becoming the Archetype, Living Sacrifice, Overcome, and A Hill To Die Upon. All of these artists bring great things to my life, from their passionate thoughts and love for folks who come to see them, to the depth and skill that is in their music. Aside from the metal, I was deeply moved by mewithoutYou, So Long Forgotten, and The Glorious Unseen.
mewithoutYou is a wonderful band, and I can’t say enough about the passion, depth, and art that is their music. In a similar vein, So Long Forgotten was one that I heard of prior to the fest this year, and though I have no idea what or where, whatever I heard made me want to see them. Their show, also, was a passionate time of songs of justice, and a unique essence of loving community. Beautiful stuff. The Glorious Unseen is a worship band, though they don’t fit that genre all that well. They have a willingness to lament, sing about dark things, be authentic musically and lyrically, and go beyond the cheesy bubblegum music that usually characterizes the genre, and they are one of few worship bands with whom I can experience God these days.
Each of these bands that I’ve mentioned are unique among the bands that come to Cornerstone, and also unique among the bands that they tour with year-round. I can’t recommend them all enough, as a person for whom music is a deep way to engage with the presence of God, the community of alternative followers of Jesus, and alternative people in general.
The other thing that struck me about the music this year was that there seems to be another general trend that shows a more in your face style of evangelicalism. None of the bands I’ve mentioned illustrate this at all, but these that I’m mentioning have awful theology and have no problem sharing it from the stage. Things were said, about people and situations that deserve much better, that were so deeply disturbing that we from time to time wondered if Cornerstone was still the place for us that it has been.
This leads me to my friend Brad Culver. Brad is one of the leaders of The Underground Railroad, and is a deep friend and mentor of ours. This year, we camped with him and had wonderful conversations about the fest, theology, Emergent, culture, the things the Underground Railroad has brought to the fest over the years, and each other; as we always do. Brad is one of those who has found it easy to move from underground and counterculture ways of doing church into Emergent and the broader emerging church, as I have.
Because of this, and because he’s awesome, hanging out with him is one of our enduring joys each year. Brad does a seminar each year that is a highlight for us. He has been one of a few folks who have helped the seminar tents at Cornerstone move from where they were ten years ago; dealing with apologetics, arguing against evolution, random topics of theology, sprinkled with some folks like Jay Bakker, the Christian Peacemakers Team, and others (and seriously, there has always been such a deep vein of pacifism, care for the poor, and gender equality to name a few), to the place where it is now; dealing with activism in a variety of new places, art, Celtic spirituality, Emergent, differing opinions on issues of sexuality and pluralism. The place is, then, much less monolithic than it might have seemed at one time from the look of its seminars.
This year, we were fortunate to meet and learn from folks, in addition to Brad on a theology of “three things I’m pretty sure of”, like Eugene Cho on the most overrated generation, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove on The Wisdom of Stability, Michael Mata on prophetic activism, and many others who are doing beautiful things in the world and had beautiful things to share with us.
I feel like we were able to be challenged, encouraged, and uniquely encountered there. Things have been a bit all over the place since then, but it was a good thing.
Jonathan Stegall is a web designer and emergent / emerging follower of Jesus currently living in Atlanta, seeking to abide in the creative tension between theology, spirituality, design, and justice.
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