We woke up at some point because if you don't wake up you are dead, and we weren't dead, though one day we will be. Sleeping in a tent is weird, but when you are really tired, you sleep, or I guess you could have fatal insomnia and not sleep and die, but why would you want to do that, it sounds awful. The three of us put some clothes on and stepped outside of the tent into the brilliant Illinois sunshine. Illinois summers are not as hot as Louisiana summers, or as we like to call them, Cochon de Forget This, It's Too Hot, I'm Going Inside, but Illinois summers are still pretty hot. In Cajun French, we'd probably call an Illinois Summer, Laissez Bon Temps This Ain't That Bad, Woman, Go Get Me a Glass of Water (because Southerners are all misogynist wife-beaters, which I learned from movies. Thanks movies!). The awesome thing about being stuck outside all day during Cornerstone (because you surely don't want to get Easy-Bake Tented) is that no matter how much water you drink, you never ever have to pee, and when you do, it looks like you just drank big bird. Anyway, when your only option for urination is a port-a-potty, never having to urinate is a special kindness.
Guess who was up already? The Minnesotans! Guess what they were doing? Cooking brats!
They were always cooking brats! I don't even understand how they packed so many brats into their vehicle and still fit inside themselves! Perhaps they rode on top of their van, while letting the brats drive! How old do brats have to be to get a driver's license? How would you incarcerate an unlicensed brat? Would you place him in a prison with humans, who would surely eat him alive, or would he share a cell with other brats? Do brat prisons have their own societies like human prisons? Can I get out of mop up duty at brat prison if I get the brat guard a pack of smokes? Can a brat even smoke cigarettes? WHY HAVE YOU SET MY MIND DOWN THIS DARK PATH, MINNESOTANS???!!!
Anyway, one of the Minnesotans asked me if I wanted a brat for breakfast and I said yes. It was delicious. Adrian and I decided we were even more hungry for some music (OOOOOHHHHH, CAN YOU TASTE THE METAPHOR???!!!), so we headed for the only major tent offering music that day.
Turns out day one of Cornerstone was Tooth & Nail Day. Tooth & Nail Records still exists today as an echo of itself, but back then, they were one of the best independent record labels in the world, and they released dozens of great albums by great bands every year. Most of their bands were punk and hard rock, but the label also dabbled in bands playing space rock, shoegaze, hip-hop, pretty much everything but country, though they did at one time have a rockabilly band signed (The Deluxtone Rockets). I miss Tooth & Nail and I miss brats. What was I talking about?
Oh yeah, Cornerstone 2002, Tooth & Nail day.
Anyway, Adrian and I made it across the hills of Bushnell to Tooth & Nail Tent 1. Jon may have been with us, but he may not have, because all three of us are independent and adventurous or something, so he was probably invading the Saxons and looting their forts.
The first band took the stage and began to set up their gear. Adrian and I had never heard of them before. Apparently, they were a new signee to Tooth & Nail, and had yet to even record any original material.
"Wow, these guys have ugly haircuts," I said.
"Their drummer looks like he's 12!" Adrian said.
"And his hair looks stupid!" I said.
We both snorted derisively.
The band started playing their first song.
Anberlin: Now it's been 12 years, and Anberlin have gone on to have a pretty storied career, while experiencing dramatically improved haircuts. Even when their haircuts were still just the worst, they put on an incredible live show. They broke up this year. I need a Lithium.
After Anberlin's set, their vocalist, Stephen Christian, noticed I was wearing a LOUISIANA BOYS STATE shirt, and walked over to tell me hello. He said that he had spent some time in my fair state, particularly New Orleans, and as Anberlin's debut album (which released the following year) ended with a track called "Naive Orleans," I will give him the benefit of the doubt. He was an extremely nice guy. Coerced by his friendly demeanor and kindness in that one moment, I have bought every album his band have released through the 12 years since, even when I wasn't that in to what they were doing (Light Is the Way, Dark Is a Place), though usually I was (pretty much the all their other albums beside Light Is the Way, Dark Is a Place).
As invigorating as that Cornerstone opening experience was, Tooth & Nail Day had only begun. The label ran two tents all day, offset by fifteen minutes so that the listeners could bounce back and forth between both tents, and catch some music by each band.
This meant we saw a lot of bands that day! I can't remember all of them because all of them weren't memorable, but I'll hit on the ones that were. I don't mean like, I am going to try to verbally coerce these bands into sexual intercourse with me, just that I will try to mention a bit about every notable band's set. I know some of you panicked there, but don't worry, The Nicsperiment is waiting til marriage.
Bleach: Bleach played again a few days later, and we saw them again, so I'll go in depth with them later. Of note, though, was frontman Dave Baysinger's on-stage comment that it was good to finally be "on a good rock label like Tooth & Nail." How good, indeed, for everyone.
Dead Poetic and mewithoutYou:
I have to post these two together because I have a setup involving both of them. A month before Cornerstone, Tooth & Nail sent my radio station copies of both Dead Poetic and mewithoutYou's debut albums. I listened to both on the same night, thought Dead Poetic's was good and that mewithoutYou's was "different." The next day, riding to work, I felt inclined to again listen to the "different" album. That night, I listened to the "different" album again. It turns out Dead Poetic's debut was really just run-of-the-mill screamo. They put out two really good albums after it (or really, one good one, and one really good one), but their debut isn't great, and has aged about as well as my old high school's basketball court after 25 years of donkey basketball. Do they still have donkey basketball? If so, I hope someone has invented donkey diapers, which coincidentally, Donkey Diapers is the name of my terrible ska revival band...can you play the trombone? mewithoutYou's debut, however, remains a great work by a great band, kind of like a basketball court that hasn't been scarred and stained by donkeys running around and crapping all over it. My opinions on both these two albums and donkey basketball were confirmed by the Cornerstone shows put on by each. Dead Poetic struggled throughout their sent. Their vocalist, despite frequently chugging warm honey, had a hard time bouncing back and forth between singing and screaming, and frequently ran out of breath. mewithoutYou, on the other hand, made a statement. Donkey Basketball, on the other hand, was not there to defend itself from all of the horrible things I said about it and its promiscuous, unkempt mother.
Back to mewithoutYou, their vocalist, Aaron Weiss, fully embracing the manic tone he imbued into mewithoutYou's debut, [A->B] Life, ran out with a suit full of roses, and dumped it onto the crowd. The band, wearing turtleneck sweaters in the 100 degree heat, blasted off. Adrian picked up one of the roses and put it behind his ear. After a couple of songs, the show was already one for the books. Weiss' banter was magnificent, and he sometimes stopped songs abruptly to chat. Everyone in the audience realized they were viewing something special (and most likely told their friends, as the band's fanbase expanded greatly after that summer).
Then it happened.
Adrian and I had wondered how the band would survive their sweaty, blistering set with those turtlenecks plastered to their bodies. The drummer answered our questions by jumping up from his kit during the band's final song, running to the side of the stage, and promptly hurling great big chunks of post-consumed food and liquid from his mouth in all directions.
I'm saying that he vomited.
A lot. Alot. Alot a lot alot. It was glorious. Between this and the Anberlin show, we had already gotten our money's worth for the day. Maybe that's why I don't remember the next few bands we watched. I do, however, remember Element 101's set.
Element 101 were a really a good rock band from New Jersey, and I've talked about them here. Before their set, Jon must have caught back up with us (actually, I'm pretty sure he was with us the whole time), because I remember him commenting that my pre-show conversation with Element 101's bassist went something like this:
The Nicsperiment: Hey, man, yeah, man, that's right, man.
Element 101 Bassist: Oh, definitely, man, I know what you're saying, man.
The Nicsperiment: Man, that's the truth, man. You said it, man, that's just it, man.
Element 101 Bassist: Oh man, oh man, oh man.
The Nicsperiment: Yeah, man.
Don't hate, it's a Jersey thing.
After that, Jon must have left to continue his assault on the Hessian cavalry because I distinctly remember what occurred next as a war between only Adrian and myself.
It was an epic fight, fought by men, against each other.
It was a battle for Crissie Verhagen's heart.
Moments before Element 101's set started, Verhagen took the stage in blue jeans and a cropped Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon tee that stopped far above her navel. She immediately looked me directly in the eye and winked. I am a very handsome man, and was so even as a baby-faced 20 year-old. I have no doubt that the beautiful Verhagen looked me in my beautiful eyes and immediately fell in love with me. I turned to Adrian.
"Did you see that?" I said. "She winked at me!"
Adrian furrowed his brow. "Are you kidding? She winked at me!"
"Dude she winked right at me!"
"She winked right at me!"
Full disclosure. As first cousins of close age, Adrian and I have gotten into fistfights before. We have busted each other's noses and bled all over the place. It hasn't happened since probably 1993, but on that sweltering day in the summer of 2002, I felt that crackling electricity in the air that usually signaled a cousin vs cousin throwdown.
Verhagen then proceeded to wink at me again and again. During the performance of one song, she stood at the microphone and stared at me, smiling her way through each lyric.
"Dude, did you see that," I said. "She just stared at me through that whole song!"
"Are you on crack?" Adrian asked with great agitation. "She was staring at me!"
"Are you out of your mind?!" I shouted loudly over Element 101's sweet tunes.
We raised our fists in anger, the nearly decade long peace nearly violently shattered, but then the band started rocking really hard, and our battle lost focus.
Directly behind us, Further Seems Forever vocalist, Jason Gleason, smiled as his fiancee, Chrissie Verhagen, winked at him yet again. But whatever, she was winking at me.
Further Seems Forever:
Further Seems Forever packed out early, as a lot of screaming girls and Chrissie Verhagen really like Further Seems Forever. Adrian and I, best friends forever, didn't make it into the tent in time to get a spot, and we didn't feel like pummeling a bunch of sixteen year-old girls...or at least were too tired to pummel a bunch of sixteen year-old girls, so we sat down outside the tent with our heads in our hands (we went to far more shows that day than I've listed here). Jason Gleason, filling the shoes of original vocalist, Chris Carrabba, is a big meany head who gets all the girls. Also, he did a decent job live, though his voice usually went into a scream when he tried to hit Carrabba's high notes, though let's face it, as Carrabba is an elf with a a tiny little elven voice box, no fully-grown person that is not an elf can hit those notes. By the end of Further's energetic set, my head was starting to pound, and I realized that a ton of awesome bands in a row is a lot of bands and maybe too much awesome. Adrian and I headed back to the tent, but then this crew from Michigan stopped us in our tracks.
"Shave my head," one of the Michiganians said.
That's what stopped us in our tracks. Apparently, we both had a deep innate desire to shave another man's head. Weird.
I let Adrian do the honors.
Apparently, in Michigani culture, which is obscure, and not well-known to the rest of the country, to shave a crew-member's head is to earn a life membership in that crew. Adrian disappeared amongst the Michistanis, and I headed back to the tent.
At this point, as I got close to the campsite and saw the Minnesotans foraging in their natural habitat, I had the sudden, inarguable epiphany that America is actually a collection of 50 separate indigenous cultures, not states. Somehow, the Minnesotans had already set up a brat farm, saplings already sprouting from the rich Illinois earth. One of the Minnesotans returned from the water spigot with a pitcher full and watered the sapling, as another followed him with pruning shears. Weirdos.
I drank four bottles of water (I'm not lying, I get that I do that sometimes on these travelogues, but I really did down four bottles of water). At this point, I realized that about eighteen hours had passed without a urination. I decided I should probably try to pee, but, unlike the rest of America, who just absolutely loves them so very, very, much, I hate port-a-potties. What is wrong with y'all, America?
Anyway, I used a port-a-potty, and it was disgusting, and my pee was the color of a Crayola "Extreme Dehydration Piss" crayon. They only have those in the 128-count box.
I headed back to the campsite and leaned back in my chair, thumbing through the Cornerstone band schedule. Finally, I got bored and thought, "Wait a minute. Someone named Jon rode up here with us. What happened to that guy?" After walking around a minute, I heard Jon's boisterous laugh. Jon is 8'4," so his laugh travels pretty far. Turns out Jon had happened upon yet another indigenous tribe, the Missouri. Of all the indigenous tribes I encountered at Cornerstone 2002, the Missouri were the strangest. Their leader was known as "Bill," a large, vastly overweight 20-something wearing a dirty trucker hat. Even from a distance, I smelled his great odor. I learned quickly that "Bill" had a great aversion to showers, as the first thing he said in my direction was, "For the next week, I will not take a shower." The Missouri appeared to wear clothing they had made from native shrubs and grasses, or maybe they were just a bunch of dirty hippies. More about those dirty hippies later. This entry is already longer than the actual day was.
Some hours later, Adrian arrived from the Michigani camp, speaking in strange tongues. I asked him if he wanted to head back to the Tooth & Nail tents, and I guess certain words in Louisiani and Michiganese are identical because he said "yes," though I guess in Michigani "yes" could actually mean, "What? Never!" but he came with me, so probably not.
Underoath's set, led by their original vocalist, Dallas Taylor (now of Maylene and the Sons of Disaster), happened. All I remember is this:
1. The keyboard player headbanged so violently, I think his flowing flaxen locks actually played the keys and not his hands.
2. A group of lazy Cornerstone-goers set up a wall of chairs about halfway between the stage and the back of the tent. Some of these guys decided to stand on their chairs to see better, completely blocking the view of everyone in the latter half of the tent. This travesty was quickly remedied by a crazy, out-of-control mosh pit that met the wall of chair-people, knocked it down, then danced on the ruins. Here is a picture to prove to you that every single thing I've written here isn't just a load of exaggerated, ornamented crap. It's all true, every word of it.
I actually went to Cornerstone! See, there actually was an Underoath show! There was actually a chair wall! It was actually destroyed!
Norma Jean played next, and Norma Jean is awesome, and now-former vocalist, Josh Scogin, immediately jumped off the stage onto a tent pole and climbed to scream from the ceiling, but jeez that is a lot of heavy music in one day, and ow my freaking ears. Adrian and I had but one option: we had to escape to the last show of the night, soon to start in the next tent.
Two of the shows I saw at Cornerstone 2002 are among the greatest I've ever seen. This comes from no place of show innocence, as I have alienateded with Radiohead, drank fairy juice with Sigur Ros, belted out U2 songs along with half the Hispanic population of Texas (aka half the population of Texas...I kid, my Latino friends, thank you for that great night), had my face shredded by Deftones, inhaled air composed of 98% Jack Daniels with The Drive By Truckers, and once saw my aunt do a mean karaoke version of "Mandy." Starflyer 59's show on Tooth & Nail night at Cornerstone 2002 was a better experience than all of those. Since I was exhausted and Starflyer's music was intensely spiritual in sound, I shut my eyes for most of their set and swayed back and forth like a dirty hippy, which I guess technically I was, as I was living in a tent, mooching other people's food, and not showering. Good gracious were some pretty sounds coming out of the speakers in that tent, though.
Starflyer's second guitarist played this giant, white guitar that looked and sounded like a grand piano. I don't know how that guitarist stood under its great weight for an hour, but nothing about the music from that set sounded like it was crafted by humans, anyway. Jason Martin sang like some kind of weird truck-driver angel, and everything was absolutely perfect. While I can't say this for sure, I think most people in that tent had their eyes closed, too, and I can't say it because when your eyes are closed you can't see, unless you are Superman. Don't quote me on that.
Anyway, that's it, we weren't dead, and we went to bed.