Ah, Cornerstone dreamin'. Our favorite pastime. Where can you go in early December to discuss one of Christian contemporary music's most remarkable summer events?
Shari Lloyd and Linda Stonehocker went straight to the source, Cornerstone Festival's executive director, Henry Huang (say "Wong"). The primary purpose of the meeting was to discuss the content of the official Cornerstone '97 Festival website which is designed and maintained by The Phantom Tollbooth. Henry agreed to a rare interview that was so wide-ranging it resulted in a series of articles. The first captures some of the discussion between Henry, Shari, and Linda about their personal festival experiences. Articles on the thorny issues of band selection and approaches to ministry will appear separately.
Linda - We'd like to entitle our discussion, "Everything You Always Wanted to Ask About Cornerstone Festival but Didn't Know Who to Ask." I've attended Cornerstone Festival the past four years, and Shari the last eight. We both agree that Cornerstone is not an easy place to go to.
Henry - No. I think if people don't come open to whatever experiences the Lord brings their way, whether it's weather or inconveniences or even just being camped next to non-Christians, then they will have a hard time with it.
Shari - As a woman going there alone, I've always found that people have been more than willing to help put up a picnic fly or provide any other help I need.
Henry - That's great! Overall, it's a very neat audience, a good group of people. But like any event, there is always the fringe kids and the fringe people.
You could end up camping amongst a lot of Christians from different parts of the world, and that's a lot of fun; or you could end up camping next to some local kids that are just here to party. If you're not ready for that--thinking you could be an instrument of God to these people--then you won't be able to cope with the different things that come your way. We had about 20,000 people there this past year, and it seemed awfully crowded.
Shari - It was! That's why we're going earlier. Our usual places were taken!
Linda - *Everyone's* usual places were gone, which was upsetting. We took it as a good thing, as an opportunity to grow spiritually.
Henry - There were people shoehorned everywhere, which I guess is good for us. We're not really professional about everything we do here. I don't know if that's good. Our strength is our weakness, and our weakness is our strength in many ways. In a way, that's why Cornerstone is really fun, because people aren't uptight. We set out from the very beginning to not be that kind of setting, but, at the same time, that's also a weakness because we're not that well organized.
Linda - That's ok, as long as there's room for us! We were up until eleven the night before bleaching out my son John's hair.
Henry - Yeah, Cornerstone is sort of a little bit like the Christian Mardi Gras. For five days you can totally let go. I remember years ago, this guy walked up with two-feet tall spikes on his head. Come Sunday night, he was combing it all down and trying to look straight again.
Shari - I noticed that last year on Sunday a lot of hair color had disappeared.
Henry - Yeah, but it's fun. It's a natural, safe place to rebel. We don't pick on the little stuff. Whatever you wear, however you wear your hair, it really doesn't matter. We try to set Biblical issues as boundaries and then give a lot of room for expression.
Shari - Plus, I think you're giving a large group the only experience they may have in the year to really communicate with other Christians, because they don't feel comfortable in a church.
Henry - You can't beat someone on the head to make them go to workshops, but hopefully, by having that sense of camaraderie, they'll realize there is value in Christian fellowship and meeting with other Christians. In the long run, church relationship is a two-way street. You can say, "Oh, I can't relate to churches," but at the same time, have you made any efforts to relate? Hopefully, seeing other Christians talk about commitment and involvement will inspire other kids to do the same thing.
Shari - There are so many dichotomies. I saw a young couple with brightly colored hair carefully taking care of their baby.
Henry - There is a lot of stuff that goes on at Cornerstone that we don't plan. The Lord does a lot of neat things. We had a family write to tell us they had been pretty leery of Cornerstone. They came with their children, and they were looking at all the weird people walking around. Later, they were waiting in line for the showers and overheard this pretty serious conversation about discipleship, and they turned around to see who was talking. It was two guys with spiked, colored hair, and they thought, "Wow, this is incredible! These guys are talking pretty seriously about the Lord and about their lives, and we would never have really given them a chance before this." There's that element of reconciliation in our own hearts to the differences that we see.
Linda - I find that anybody there over the age of twenty-five or so has a very interesting story to tell. They are generally involved on some level with youth work and are capable of having those sorts of discussions with anyone they may run into.
Henry - We met a family where the mother was well into her sixties, and she'd been going to Cornerstone for ten years. She started out going with her teen-aged son, who eventually went through college and got married, but she was still attending. She was coming home from a concert of Adam Again at three-o-clock in the morning. I thought, "Geez! What are you doing at Adam Again?" It's so cool, though. That's the kind of neat thing that goes on. It always surprises me how cool the people there are.
Shari - We're wondering if we'll be able to make it to the Main Stage when we're in our eighties! (laughs)
Henry - To see people moshing to the Crossing! It's so incredible to see this big circle of people dancing outside to Celtic music. You look around, and there are all these punk-looking kids; and I think, "Wow! They're into this music, too?" It's really pretty cool.
Linda - How do you keep it culturally relevant, as we all turn into old farts?
Henry - (Laughs) It's horrible, isn't it?
Linda - Whatever I like, my son always says, "Mom, sorry. No."
Henry - We have our own kids that are coming up, that are teenagers. We have people that are teenagers continuing to come into the community. We try to stay in touch, look at the magazines, read a lot, try to stay informed, try not to be intransigent, not to always say, "We've never done it, so we're not going to do it this year."
Shari - It seems like when you get to Cornerstone, age doesn't matter. People who like the T-shirt I'm wearing come up and talk to me like I'm their best friend. All of these kids who never talk to adults are ready to tell you their life history!
Linda - Has it gotten to the point where you plug your ears and walk away from any of the shows?
Henry - (Laughs) I try to stop in at almost all the venues, just to see a little bit of it and see the crowd reaction to it.
Shari - It opens you up to different music, too. I've always gone away with bands I really like that, up until Cornerstone, I wouldn't have had anything to do with.
Henry - Some of the bands are so energetic that they're just fun to watch, especially in the late night Encore II tent.
Shari - I was camped right behind there last year. It was really neat to lay in my tent and listen to it.
Henry - I would say 99.5% of the people there are Christians to some degree or another. When you get alone and talk with them, even the goofiest kids are fairly serious about the Lord.
Pictures courtesy of Cornerstone Festival