Memories of a Festival: Cornerstone

Dust covered cars.  Mud.  Tattoos.  Dirty hair.  Loud music.  
These are just a few of things that remind me of my little piece of heaven on earth.

This summer marked the end of a decade for me.  For the last ten years, I've spend a good week and a bit at a fairytale farm in the fields of Illinois.  A teeny little town, Bushnell, welcome me (along with thousands of others) with open arms, and let us set up camp, get dirty, play really loud music and worship and commune with God.  Every year.  Until now.  Unfortunately, my home church, my grounding place, my little bit of heaven on earth is now gone.  And I feel like I've been in serious mourning over that fact for the last week.  I had originally planned to post this a week ago, as that would have been the day that my friends and I would have arrived at the fest if it were still happening, however, I just couldn't.  But now I feel like I can.

Cornerstone Music Festival is a Christian festival that's been put on by the lovely people from Jpusa for 29 years.  The festival featured many musical acts over the decades, such as my favourites, mewithoutYouSleeping GiantFor TodayBrooke Waggoner, and Psalters, plus heavyweights in the music industry like PODSwitchfootCopelandMXPX and Five Iron Frenzy, among hundreds of others.  It was the birthplace of underground Christian music.  A way to escape the contemporary mainstream artists on the radio, the festival became a home where the goths, punks, hippies, ravers, and hardcore kids could all get along and worship the Creator together.  
via josherphoto
Spread out over 6 days, 720 acres, and dozens of hightop tents, the festival used to bring in a surplus of 25,000 people or more.  Relationships were formed, families raised, lives completely changed, all on the dusty grounds of the Cstone Farm.  Baptisms were performed in the lake and fireworks on Independence Day (as well as some unofficially on Canada Day too!).  Small bands got their starts on generator stages, only to be shortly headlining the huge Main Stage just a few short years later.
via blucille
Cornerstone Festival also covered the other arts, besides music.  There was an annual Art Pilgrimage, a path throughout the festival grounds, which you could tour on your own, or with a guide.  There were art classes and galleries (Burning Brush) and even kids art (Artrageous).  There was also Flickerings, a small film society type of thing, where there were screenings, discussions, and previews.  The Imaginarium delved into monsters, aliens, pop culture and it's connection to God.  There were also tons of seminars throughout the week, which covered a variety of topics, and was always a good place to drop in to learn more.
credit: Trigger Happy Chris
via bkpalmer 
Travelling around the festival grounds is usually done on foot or bike, or on a golf cart if you were fortunate to have one.  Needless to say, with no paved roads, carts and bikes zooming around the place create A LOT of dust.  Often people would be seen wearing bandanas over their noses and mouths, which I found definitely became a lifesaver.

via Adam Boden
Since Cornerstone is a full on camping experience, that means no toilets and no running water.  We survived on spigots, port-o-potties, and truck fed showers and clean drinking stations.  Lots of showering was done in the spigots for convenience, even though they were a little on the chilly side.  Last year the weather was so insanely hot though (highs of 120*!!), that Josh spent most of the inbetween shows time sitting in his camp chair with the spigot water flowing on him.  It was the only way he could get refreshed.
via Adam Boden
Daily runs were made each morning to collect the schedules from all the Generator Stages scattered throughout the grounds.  Lots of small bands could sign up to play these stages (Josh's band did one year!), but if you were lucky, you'd score with a bigger band playing the Gen Stages.  The whole experience is just totally different seeing a big band on a small stage.  No rules (stage dives!), no security (more stage dives!), and extra fun (you know, cause of stage dives!).
credit: Aaron Araujo
Since we've attended the fest for so long, and for 8 of the 10 years we've camped in the same spot, we started building permanent structures, and creating a little kingdom to call home.  We went from sleeping in simple tents to a platform with a bed, to a two storey apartment!  There were even a couple tree houses hidden in the forest, and hammocks too.
credits: Stephanie Meyer, me, me
 The last year of Cornerstone Fest in an instant:  Empty fields, as attendance was pretty low this last fest.//  Fuel for the week.  I live on sweet tea.// Managed to pack a ton of stuff in a little truck.//  The skatepark was lit ablaze on the last night.  It was definitely the end of an era.// Cracker Barrel is a definite pit stop on our 16+ hour drive, again, with sweet tea. (Canada, why you no get on the gloriousness of this drink!?)// These signs make me happy!!  It means we are almost home!//
credits: me
One of the best parts of Cornerstone, for me, is getting to spend a week living with my greatest friends. Camping with all your favourite loves, in your favourite place, makes for a favourite week.

These boys certainly crack each other up.  Constantly.
credit: Stephanie Meyer 
Our groups always travelled to the fest as volunteers, which meant working at the fest (amazing!) and getting in on certain perks for the volunteers (vol-coordinator Joan always threw the greatest parties!).  One year JPUSA was donated a bunch of fancy sparkling lemonade from France.  We drank a lot of it.
credit: Aaron Araujo
Sometimes camping for a week gets a little tiring on the cooking front.  Thankfully, our team was always down for a short drive into town to the cheap buffet that is Ponderosa.  All you can eat, southern grub, plus soft serve ice cream.  Happy tummies, and real washrooms!!
credit: Aaron Araujo
 Josh and Aaron started a little tradition.  They call themselves Sweet and Sour Chicken Bros.  No, we didn't EVER eat that at the fest.
credits: Stephanie Meyer, Aaron Araujo and Trigger Happy Chris 
One thing to make your campsite amazing?  Bring toys!!  We brought a trampoline every year (even last year, when only three of us made it down), built skateboard-rope swings, tall bikes, and mopeds.  The trampoline definitely got lots and lots of action.  We even had visitors from other sites come over for a jump or two.
credit: Trigger Happy Chris
It's sad to realize that Cornerstone had finally come to an end for me and my friends.  It's been a really hard week for me, which I know seems slightly dramatic, since it was just a music festival, but it's true! I grew up a lot over the last ten summers, and realizing that I'm not going to be able to bring my kids to experience what I did is hard for me.  I had always imagined that Josh and I would be those parents bringing their head-phoned clad littles into the tents to throw down.  I guess I'll just have to live on through the memories.  JPUSA has created another ministry to help fill the music shoes of the festival.  If you are even in Chicago, check out Wilson Abbey, a music venue, cafe and school.  I'm looking forward to the day that Josh and I can drive down for a visit, and to see old friends.  As much as I miss the festival, I also especially miss the Williams' Family.  They've become a special part of my and Josh's life, and little chats over facebook just don't cut it.

I'll leave you with how we ended most of our Cornerstone adventures.  Group pictures!  Don't mess with us.  (Bonus memories of Cstone video
credits: me, me, Trigger Happy Chris and Stephanie Meyer
I hope that Cornerstone is a little glimpse of what heaven's going to look like.

(To see Cornerstone from other's points of view, visit The (Unofficial) Cornerstone Festival Guide Tumblr