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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Cornerstone 2002, Day Four: Alright, You Can Take A Crap...But We're Gonna Have To Break Your Ankles

Look at the title for this post. Perhaps you can gather: a crap was needed. Stomachs were distended with rock hard digested matter that had to be expelled. Jon had joined a non-showering cult. He used the port-a-potties at will. He had been taking like a million craps a day. Meanwhile, Adrian and I were struggling just to get ourselves to urinate in the tiny blue boxes we were sharing with 30,000 other people. There was no possible way we would ever allow our unprotected undercarriages to hang over the black holes of filth at the bottom of those port-a-potties. We would have to take a crap elsewhere.
Thankfully, there was a Wal-Mart a half hour away. Unthankfully, vehicles in the camping area were not supposed to leave and return. Thankfully, we were a bunch of stone cold rebels with stomachs full of crap.
That morning, Adrian and I peeled out of our camping spot, tossing thousands of untethered brats into the air, Minnesotans chasing and shaking fists.
Five minutes from Wal-Mart, that thing happened. You know that thing. That thing where you haven't taken a crap in a millennium, have somehow held it, but now know for a fact that, as a clean commode is approaching, there is no possible way you will ever make it there in time.
We made it. We ran into that Wal-Mart with our butts puckered so tight, David Blaine couldn't get inside. Then something horrific happened. When I was on the toilet, despite my three-inch thick toilet-paper shield, my balls scraped the seat, completely negating the entire reason we had driven thirty minutes to take a crap. Thankfully, Adrian had a good clean crap, so at least there's that, though I was quite afraid I'd picked up some Northern Illinois Crabs. I mean, "Crabs" is the mascot of the Central Illinois basketball team, and I'm pretty sure they don't catch seafood up there.
We made it back to our campsite safe and sound, as the Minnesotans had guarded it for us with their very lives. They were so brave. Only five of the original seven survived, though the descendants of their planted bratbushes grow on on to this day.
Actually, the two older dudes had to go home to Minnesota to work, leaving the younger guys under our supervision. Bad idea, though, as we couldn't even stop Jon from joining a dangerous non-showerist cult on only the first day.
We didn't go to Cornerstone to take craps and watch kids, though. We came to Cornerstone to rock.
First things first, we thought we'd seen a large crowd by Main Stage when we'd driven back in. We walked back over there, and lo and behold, MxPx were just hanging around by the stage.
Pretty much any good Christian boy who spent any teenage years in the 90's, and who had even the smallest hint of rebellion, most likely listened to MxPx. I did, a lot. Hey, I still do, that was some fun music. With that said, there were a bunch of giggling teenage girls bunched all around the band, but I still managed to fulfill my teenage dream of taking a picture with drummer, Yuri Ruley, next to a bunch of port-o-potties.

Yuri was about as cool as they come, and I told him I'd definitely be at MxPx's show, though I didn't tell him I might ditch a bit early to go see Embodyment and Zao. But we'll get to that!
My crew went back to camp and ate some brats or something, as they were now growing freely from the well-tended bratbushes. That annoying jackass, Brantley, annoyed us by being, as usual, an annoying jackass. When we had had as much Brantley as we could take, we decided to catch a smaller show before the madness of Main Stage. Adrian was a big Ace Troubleshooter fan, and Jon was a big fan of the Violent Femmes-esque, Calibretto 13, so the three of us walked the mile or so to the smaller stages area. Here is what it looks like to wander around the tents of Cornerstone.

A few notes on this picture. Just look, people in chairs everywhere, a dude that laughs all the time and is always looking at the camera when you take a picture, tents, and Adrian wearing his wife-beater and khaki shirt uniform. While Adrian and Jon went to their respective shows, I wandered around and looked at flyers, and checked out merch booths, and then their shows were over, the three of us headed back to Main Stage.
The official Cornerstone 2002 flyer says that PAX 217 opened up Main Stage that night, but I have no recollection of them playing, so I can't tell you whether or not they did. I did see them back in 2001, and they were pretty good, so there's that.
Relient K played next, but at that point in history, Relient K had released nothing I was interested in (they would a couple of years later). I will say, the band pulled out a giant inflatable buffalo and threw it into the audience so that crowd members could ride around on it, and crowdmembers did ride around on it, and it was awesome.
The three of us watched Relient K from the top of the hill, then came down to get a closer spot for Five Iron Frenzy. On the way down, we passed some people who were attempting to get their deaf friend to a closer spot, as well. I asked, "Why would a deaf person want to go to a rock show?" Someone answered back, with the most disgusting look on their face possible, "They just like to feel the energy. GAHR!!!" Okay, fair enough, I was 20 and insensitive, and I had never thought of that, but you don't need to be an asshole! I mean, talk about a pyrrhic victory. You made your point, made me realize I should be more thoughtful in my assumptions of the hearing-impaired, but you also made me hate you forever, complete stranger who told me that!

Five Iron Frenzy:
We found a spot directly in front of the catwalk for Five Iron Frenzy. Vocalist, Reese Roper, came out wearing a Fat Elvis suit with the butt in the front. You're welcome:

Five Iron's show was excellent, they were as wacky and crazy as anyone could want, but I also have to say, they were very tight and professional. They played a large chunk of their newest, and at the time best album, Five Iron Frenzy 2: Electric Boogaloo. I was very impressed by their set, and the girth and quality of their horns, and then it was over.

MxPx headlined the night at Main Stage. As I've mentioned above, I love MxPx. Their show was fun and lively, the work of three seasoned pros. Yuri ran down the catwalk, and I made sure to give him a high five.

The stagehand was not impressed. In fact, he was so unimpressed, 12 years later, he is still making that face at me, even from a distance of 800 miles.
As fun as MxPx's show was, I felt a strange yearning for something else. I needed something more than fun. I needed something visceral, something that would hit me right in the gut.
As much as I love MxPx, I love Zao even more. Zao are literally legendary, one of the heaviest bands of all time, and I don't just mean in sound...crap...I'm not saying they're overweight or anything, just that they are deep, man.
An hour into MxPx's set, I felt like I already knew what I was going to get for the next 30 minutes. I trudged back up the hill with Adrian by my side. Jon, an even bigger MxPx fan than Adrian and I, decided to stick around for the rest of MxPx's show. I snapped a pic of MxPx as I walked up the hill. It would be the last picture I took that night.

Even with somebody's beanie in your face, Cornerstone was still pretty epic.
Also epic: that era in music. I've been looking for a place to get this in (giggity), and this seems as good as any. The Christian Music Industry that provided such an incredible pool of bands for Cornerstone to choose its lineup from no longer exists. Just think about this, though: instead of an endless sea of Christian Metalcore bands, labels like Tooth & Nail, Solid State, Facedown, Forefront, Northern Records, Floodgate Records, Squint, Bettie Rocket, Five Minute Walk, Takehold, Gotee, and many others put out countless records in every imaginable genre, and many records that pushed genre away altogether. Anything you wanted, you could get, and instead of following trends, the Christian music scene was setting them. Oh, how I long for those turn of the century days. I'm not sure what happened, or why they ended, and I guess that is a debate for another time, but they are sadly over now, and I feel like Aragorn, pointing at a hill and telling you the ruins on the top used to be the watchtower of a mighty kingdom.

Zao's label-mate on Solid State Records, Embodyment, opened up for them. I love Embodyment, and The Narrow Scope of Things is one of my favorite albums of all time, and the band rocked really hard at their show, but vocalist, Sean Corbray, was pretty flat. I talked to him after their set, and he said, "My best tip for anyone who wants to be a vocalist is this: don't smoke." Hope, in these last 12 years, he quit.
Adrian and I got as close as possible for Zao. I don't even know if Adrian was actually a Zao fan, or if he was just curious, or if he had just come along out of the loyalty of friendship. Whatever the case...
The moment Zao's guitarists, Russ Cogdell and Scott Mellinger, strummed their guitars, the crowd compressed. I felt my body lifted off the ground. Thus began the greatest single rock show I have ever witnessed in my lifetime.

I've been in mosh pits before. A lot of them. I have always felt as if I had some kind of control over my situation. There was no mosh pit at Zao. The crowd pressed together so tightly, I lost contact with the ground by a few inches, and felt my body move at the complete mercy of the crowd. Adrian vanished, swept away, and I didn't see him again til the show was over.
Zao began with "5 Year Winter." I have never seen so much passion displayed by a performer, let alone four guys in unison. The crowd returned that passion in full--I could not tell the difference between their screams, Zao's Daniel Weyandt, and my own. By the end of "5 Year Winter"'s refrain "BURN IT DOWN AND WALK AWAY!!!" my voice was completely blown out. The show had only begun.
For the rest of Zao's show, I took it on faith that I would survive. I literally had no control over any part of my body but my head, and if anything had happened to me, no one would have heard my screams. This was, and is still, the most spiritual moment of my life. I don't know if one single member of the band Zao still believes in the divine power of Jesus Christ, but on that dusky night in July of 2002, they brought me closer to him than I have ever been.
After the show, I talked to the frontman/drummer, Jesse Smith, but that's all a blur. I met Ryan Clark, who was in the process of getting Demon Hunter off the ground, but that's just a blur, as well. One thing, however, is not.
As Adrian and I approached the tent, I realized that if I did not stop to sit on one of the Minnesotans ice chests (probably just a chunk of ice they pulled from their backyard glacier), I was going to fall over. I plopped down for a moment, then tried to stand. I could not. I tried again, to no avail. I called Adrian over, and he took me to the tent, where Jon was already asleep. I looked down at my ankles, as Adrian drug me through the tent flap.
They were the size of basketballs.
I could not walk.

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