The night before, Adrian and I had made a horrific discovery. Cornerstone's showers smelled like feces and were full of feces. And probably semen. And probably semen feces. We could not use them. We would not use them. WE WILL NEVER USE THEM.
We once again went to bed dirty.
The next morning, however, we made an executive decision.
Yes, spigot shower, the most desperate of all showers.
We stripped down to our knickers, unashamed of our flowering young bodies, and hunted the grounds for a spigot. Once we finally found one that wasn't surrounded by eyeballs, one of us would guard the other's vulnerable, nearly naked person, while the other person knelt by the flowing spigot, tossed freezing cold water on themselves, lathered up (we both had the good sense to bring our own soap and shampoo..why does shampoo end with "poo?" You can never unsee this!), then tossed more freezing cold water on themselves. Despite an attempt at discretion, we did this under the supervision of several thousand campers who all found us very entertaining, as they themselves did not take spigot showers but gladly waded daily through all the semen feces in the Cornerstone facilities. Despite the humiliation of the spigot shower experience, Adrian and I then walked away from the spigot sparkling clean, and ready to get filthy. The day obliged.
This was the big one.
That night, on the first official day (Wait, night, day, which is it? Isn't the night just a part of the day? Then is the day truly divided? WE LIVE IN A WORLD OF ILLUSIONS!!!) of Cornerstone, (though our third day on festival grounds (hence the "Day Three" in the title)(here's an extra parenthetical))) the Main Stage lineup was one I could have only dreamed of:
Stavesacre, Blindside, and Project 86, back to back to back, and on the biggest stage Cornerstone Festival offered.
Main Stage at Cornerstone was a sight to behold, if only your eyes were actually strong enough to hold things. Back then, Main Stage rested at the bottom of a natural bowl in the Earth, surrounded by hills on three sides--a natural theater. Now, I guess, it's just a hill...and we are officially living in Lord of the Rings, and all the cool stuff is aged and destroyed, and old Rangers of the North like me can just tell you about how awesome it was, and how much it sucks that you'll never experience it. On that note, here is the official Cornerstone band schedule from 2002 that you totally missed because you weren't alive then, and are currently coming of age in a cultural wasteland:
Actually, this is only a partial list that does not even include every stage and band, but it does list almost every major act who was at the festival that year, but isn't made of real chocolate, just cocoa processed with alkali.
Anyway, Main Stage at Cornerstone was an epic set-up, and I couldn't wait to see three of my favorite bands play there in one four-hour span of unimaginable awesomeness. In fact, I was so pumped, I couldn't really drag myself to see any other bands play that afternoon. I just hung out with the Minnesota crew and talked. Here is a picture of those denizens of the frozen wilds to better illustrate the poor descriptions I am about to give.
Okay, the two guys in the back were my buddies. They were the same age as me, and we got along wonderfully, holding similar religious views, tastes in music, and life interests. One of them was named "Peter," or something, but both of them were incredibly cool guys, and wonderful representatives of the state of Minnesota. The guy all the way to the left is the older back-right guy's little brother. He was also a very cool dude, and he could conjure a brat from the meagerest of resources. There's a guy not in the picture that was a bit of a creep. He had some kind of walkie-talkie that allowed him to listen in on everyone else's walkie-talkie campground conversations. Let's just call this creepy guy "Gary." Gary never went to any shows, or stood up or anything. Gary just sat on a bucket, walkie-talkie to ear, lips slightly upturned in a self-satisfied smile, as he eavesdropped on complete strangers' conversations nonstop for a straight week. You're a creep, Gary. You can see the top of someone else's head in the foreground of this picture, and I don't remember who that guy is.
In the direct center of the photograph, in a green t-shirt, eyes-closed to the camera, lips puckered, crew cut, pale skin shining in the sun, is a red-headed stepchild jackass that annoyed me the entire time he and I were in proximity of one other, and even annoys me right now, when I am not in close proximity of him but am thinking about how annoying of a jackass he was 12 years ago. Everywhere you go, there is always some annoying jackass that just wants to annoy you, and this jackaninny jackanape is that annoying jackass. This guy, let's just call him "Brantley," annoyed and argued with me every time he heard me say something because he is an annoying, braying jackass. He misled all of us into believing he was a senior in college, when in reality he was a high-school senior who was taking some college courses, a tidbit of info I finally pulled out of him on the final day of Cornerstone, when I confronted him with the knowledge that no 20-something person could be that immature and annoying. Unfortunately, I now know that plenty of 20-somethings can be even more immature and annoying then even that annoying jackass Brantley was. Anyway, enough about that annoying jackass, Brantley.
At some point, Adrian and I went on a short hunt for Jon. Adrian had been some time with his Michigan peeps, so naturally, we figured Jon had been hanging out with his strange, pagan Missouri tribe. When we reached the Missourans, things had degenerated even more from the previous day. Their uniforms of tattered rags were even dingier, their women dancing with flowers in their hair, and hair in their armpits. As the Missourites bowed before their overlord, Chief Bill, Bill laughed maniacally, his plug-stretched ears bouncing boisterously as he forced his tribe to take the vow of "No shower, no shower!"
"NO SHOWER!" shouted Jon as he bowed, then he leapt to his feet to dance the dance of the armpit maidens.
"Oh my God," Adrian and I said in unison, as we turned our heads toward each other in unison, made eye contact in unison, and said "Oh my God" in unison.
I am not even making this whole thing worse than it sounds.
Jon would not come with us, and barely spoke English anymore after his 24-hour immersion into the Missourirarite Tribe.
Hey, how the Charles Dickens do you say Missouri? I thought you say it how it sounds, but do you because the Preserdent says "Mi-zur-uh?" He does end a lot of his sentences with "uh...", though, so...
That wasn't perlitical, just an observation.
What was I even talking about? Jeez, total derailment.
Oh yeah, those dadgum Missous.
Adrian and I missed Jon, so we decided to hang out in the Missorah camp for a while. Meanwhile, the lights came on at Main Stage, and Pillar kicked off the night's lineup. Adrian and I both considered Pillar to be a sort of P.O.D.'s eager little nephew, and we weren't planning on checking out their set, but I felt bad when Bill, who looked exactly like this
shouted at the kids who were running to catch Pillar's set:
"DUDE! IT'S JUST PILLAR!"
He also yelled
"DO YOU HAVE AN INNIE OR AN OUTIE?!"
There was one outie, though proof was required. I started to get bored with Bill's juvenile antics. Pillar's worst set would have been better than this, so Adrian and I threw a smoke grenade on the ground, knocked Jon on the head, threw him over our shoulders, and took off running toward Main Stage.
Jon came to just as we made it to the top of the hill, and Pillar was walking offstage. I don't much remember what Jon and Adrian did at this point. Befitting our independent personalities, we each found our own space in the crowd. Let me preface the upcoming writing by saying that Stavesacre and Project 86 both put on incredible sets, and Blindside put on a good one, though I've seen them perform much better since. With that out of the way, I must say, I picked an unfortunate spot to stand. It looked good from the outset, right up against the catwalk that extended more than fifty feet into the crowd from the center of the stage, and only seven or eight rows of people from the Main Stage itself. I'll get to why it was unfortunate in a minute.
Stavesacre kicked off their set and rocked supremely. Vocalist, Mark Salomon, sounded unmistakably great. The band played mostly tracks from their masterpiece, Speakeasy, including my favorite Stavesacre song, "Rivers Underneath," as well as "Gold and Silver." The standout moment came when the band played their then new song, "Sad Parade," and guitarist, Neil Samoy, walked to the end of the catwalk to play his sweet guitar solo. I captured the moment as best I could.
That's probably my best shot from the festival.
Unfortunately, this picture came surrounded by a time of turmoil. For some reason, the skinny white kid in front of me had a large girl butt, and a backwards baseball cap. For some reason, the kid rocked back and forth throughout the show, alternatingly slamming his massive rear end into my crotch, and the bill of his cap into my face. For some reason, the crowd was smashed together, and I was stuck behind this guy with no way out.
I thought about vomiting on him, but I feared that he would be oblivious to the vomit, sloshing puke all over me as he continued his rhythmic desecration of my personal space. Making matters even more disgusting, someone from the front stage crew kept spraying hosewater from the front row back, scraping sweat and dead skin from everyone in front of me straight into my mouth. Then someone grabbed a milk jug out of the trash, filled it up with water, and started passing it around for people to drink--and people were fighting over it. At that point, I may have vomited, but I'm not sure because I blacked out from pure disgustation. At some point, though, I remember hearing Mark Salomon announce that this would be the last Christian Music Festival that Stavesacre would ever play.
When I came to, I was in the same spot, and the butt-hat guy was gone. In his place was an even greater travesty of human existence:
Evil Goth Batman Teddy-Bear/Rabbit Thing Beard Guy. Evil Goth Batman Teddy-Bear/Rabbit Thing Beard Guy had a beard and held an Evil Goth Teddy-Bear/Rabbit Thing dressed up in an Goth Batman Costume, which I didn't know was a thing, but is a thing owned by Evil Goth Batman Teddy-Bear/Rabbit Thing Beard Guy. Evil Goth Batman Teddy-Bear/Rabbit Thing Beard Guy has but one goal in life: to get the vocalist of the band he is seeing to hold his Goth Batman Teddy-Bear/Rabbit Thing high in the air for everyone to see so he can take a picture of it. He is obviously a deranged and frightening man who coincidentally shares the same "no shower" code as the Missarans. This frightening individual is dangerous, and if you see him, you should seek shelter and call the police, or as we call them in Louisiana, Pierre, the alligator we poke with sticks and don't feed until we find someone evil to unleash him upon.
Unfortunately, I had no such option, as I was crammed against a catwalk, surrounded by 10,000 people and no Pierre. My only option was to struggle to survive.
Blindside played a song from their self-titled Tooth & Nail debut, a few songs from their second album, and a lot of songs from their upcoming major label debut, Silence. Blindside's vocalist, Christian Lindskog, is a dynamic singer, switching effortlessly between low and high-range singing, and blood-curdling screams. I've heard him sound even better than the band's studio albums on numerous occasions. Unfortunately, at Cornerstone 2002, perhaps because of an early discomfort with performing the band's new material, Christian just didn't quite have it. He was flat a few times, and really struggled switching back and forth between the sung and screamed vocals. That's alright because, as I said, I've heard Christian do it perfectly so many times, and anyone can have a bad night. What is not alright is that Evil Goth Batman Teddy-Bear/Rabbit Thing Beard Guy kept elbowing me in the face while attempting to stretch Goth Batman Teddy-Bear/Rabbit Thing as high into the air as possible. Sensing my discomfort, Christian walked down the catwalk, took the evil bear from the bearded man's hand
and chunked it far out into the crowd.
"Wait, no!!!" Evil Goth Batman Teddy-Bear/Rabbit Thing Beard Guy shouted, and he took off after his demented creation, never to be seen again, thank God.
Despite it not being Blindside's best night, I enjoyed the rest of the show immensely. Also, Norma Jean's Josh Scogin came out to do a guest spot, right after the stage manager came out to remind the crowd not to crowdsurf. After coming onstage, Scogin screamed one line into the microphone, then dove off the stage and crowdsurfed away.
After the Blindside show, covered in the sweat and dead skin cells of others, terrorized by freaks, I decided I didn't want to take my chances in that spot anymore. After big-butt backwards cap guy, and Evil Goth Batman Teddy-Bear/Rabbit Thing Beard Guy, I couldn't even imagine what new horror awaited. Instead, I came up with a plan. I would ask those in front of me to allow me through, so that I could snap a photo of Project 86 from right in front of the stage, then I would back out to a less-crowded, less freak-inhabited space, so that I could enjoy Project 86's show as much as humanly, and perhaps Martianly or maybe even Europanly possible.
Fortunately, Project 86 put on perhaps the best and biggest show of their career. They performed songs from their landmark Drawing Black Lines at most likely their peak of performing those particular songs, then dug into their upcoming Truthless Heroes album's material with religious fervor. Mark Salomon even came out to perform his part on "Last Meal," and it was incredible. Vocalist, Andrew Schwab, pumped up Truthless Heroes as "the work of our very lives" and said a lot of interesting things about the album and the songs. It turns out the band was undergoing a particularly complex situation between themselves, their label, their management, and just about everything, and that Truthless Heroes was actually the most thematically complex thing the band ever released. Truthless Heroes is a story of a man who becomes a failed demagogue, as a metaphor for Project 86 themselves being given nearly a million dollars to record that very album, then being forced to be a band they were not. The album is essentially an attack on itself. It's crazy. This turned off some listeners to the band on that very night, including Peter the Minnesotan, though the older Minnesotan and I tried our best to convince Peter that all of Schwab's demagogic posturing held a deeper meaning. Regardless, Schwab seized the moment, looking like a giant on the stage, and the band seemed inhuman as they jammed through the songs in front of giant spotlights and before and after terrifying segue music between songs (between and before and after are either opposites or the same thing...er, I'm not sure). Unfortunately, I didn't get any good pictures of Project 86's set, though I enjoyed the more airy space I found after leaving the scary catwalk position I'd inhabited for the previous band's sets. Thankfully, I'd have a chance to use my camera again soon. I should also mention, like Mark Salomon, Andrew Schwab announced that this would be the last time Project 86 would play a Christian Festival. I've written a small essay about this topic, but in the interest of keeping this moving, and of those who couldn't care less about the issue, I've placed it at the end of this post.*
After the Main Stage shows were over, I had the option to attend Living Sacrifice's midnight show, or visit Project 86 and Blindside's merch booths. Living Sacrifice was coming off their career-defining The Hammering Process, and I'm sure their show really ruled (I heard from some who attended that it did), but I really felt like I needed to go hang out at the Main Stage merch booths. To this day, I'm glad I did because look
Those Blindside dudes are so much fun! They were actually trying to knock me over in this picture, and I was holding on for dear life. Their English was okay (the band are from Sweden), with some members being more fluent than others. When I hung out with them a few years later, their English was far better. On this particular night, I had a lot of fun talking to the drummer about Swedish bands (like Kent), though I'm pretty sure he was just humoring me.
After speaking with Blindside, I got to hangout with Project 86's Andrew Schwab. I really like that guy. I've got a few of his books, and I've pored over his lyrics over the past two decades. He's had a profound effect on me, and talking to him that night was excellent. Talking to an actual normal Christian who was doing things he loved and making profound artistic statements helped further pull me out of the doldrums I had been experiencing from my out-of-control, literally (not metaphorically) demagogic spiritual leaders attempting to control me through fear and lies. When it came time to take a photo, Schwab and I inadvertently came up with a perfect idea. I would shut my eyes, and Schwab would open his as widely as possible, like a crack-addict with clean pupils.
*Here is that essay I promised.
So, I mentioned that both Stavesacre and Project 86 announced during their Cornerstone 2002 sets that they would never be playing Christian festivals again. 2002 was a pretty huge year for the Christian/Christians in a band/WE'RE NOT A CHRISTIAN BAND debate because for the first time, a Christian hard rock band had made it really big. I am speaking of P.O.D., a band that both Stavesacre and Project 86 have played with. Before P.O.D., going all the way back to the 80's, there was debate about Amy Grant, Michael W Smith, and why they should or shouldn't have had their videos on MTV (they did). Those two are CCM artists, though. Jars of Clay, generally not a hard rocking band (but a very, very good band, nonetheless), also went through some of the same issues in the 90's, as their song, "Flood" received a lot of airplay on secular stations. And hey, I don't even have to mention DC Talk, but for some reason I'm doing it anyway...I like to talk if you can't tell.
P.O.D. was a different animal altogether, though. They are a heavy band, and they received more airplay among the youth culture of their time than any Christian band before them. They were the first rock band to take the top spot on MTV's Total Request Live (hosted by human hosting robot, Carson Daly), and they achieved that honor many times throughout their career (They're still together now, but the TRL-age has passed away. Cry, or something, I guess).
"Are P.O.D. really a Christian band?" This was the cry of many people with nothing better to do than to ask "Are P.O.D. really a Christian band?" Others answered, "Well, they're just Christians in a band," or "They're not Christians, it's all an act!," or "P.O.D. really stands for Pod of Darkness! They're Satanists!!!"
This wasn't really fair, though. P.O.D. simply played their music, it was good, a lot of people liked it, they became popular, and vocalist, Sonny Sandoval, sung about what he knew, which was his life through the lens of his faith. P.O.D. did nothing to cause a debate. They were simply themselves. I won't go deeper into the Christian vs non-Christian band thing because I've done it already, and it's tired. This was just to give some background to the not playing Christian festivals issue.
Anyway, in the fall of 2002, Project 86 and Stavesacre were both poised to breakout, too. Project's last album had gone gold, and they had signed with Atlantic Records, while Stavesacre, whose name was rising on their excellent album, Speakeasy, had just signed to Nitro Records. Both bands were tired of playing to the same crowds, both wanted to be taken more seriously as artists, and neither wanted to take money from people under the banner of Christ. I get all of that, and, as these bands were pioneers, I can forgive them for going a little overboard...yes, I just said "a little overboard" because I actually disagree with their 2002 stance. I get not wanting to play for the same crowds anymore, but the thing is, those people put you on the map. They love you and your music. You have to keep playing for them...just not exclusively. Skillet, who toiled in the Christian Market for a decade before busting (Bursting? Like Gushers candy?) out onto the secular scene, have come up with what I think is the best method. Skillet have arguably garnered the largest audience of any band I've mentioned here, sans P.O.D. Skillet have received huge airplay on secular rock stations. They go on huge tours with secular rock bands. Every year, though, Skillet also embark on a "Christian" tour where they play churches, festivals, and other more family oriented venues so that their younger fans, and fans who feel uncomfortable in a bar (obviously, I don't feel uncomfortable in a bar, but those people are out there, and they should still be valued) can see them, as well. Obviously, Skillet haven't made their hay on critical heraldry (I think their last album is rad), but they have lost no respect by playing to both crowds. I think this is the best option, and one Skillet perhaps formulated after evaluating the mistakes of other bands. Project 86 obviously realized this better option because they went back to playing Christian festivals just two years later, while still playing bars. Unfortunately, Stavesacre broke up after two more full lengths, but they were so awesome, and Mark Salomon is still making great music today.
Crap, I forgot to make this part funny. Somebody go get the Dalybot!