An Inside View of Cornerstone '98 
By Dave Landsel 

To give those unable to attend an idea of what they missed, and refresh the sleep deprived memory of those who did make it to central Illinois the first week in July, Dave Landsel offers his personal journal. Dave is a member of the event's sponsoring organization, Jesus People USA Evangelical Covenant Church, however his observations and opinions are personal. He does not speak officially, but simply shares his experience as recorded during his daily midnight-to-dawn shift in registration. 

Monday, June 29, 1998  

File this first report under "T" for, "Thank God we made it through another day." As I sit down to begin this "travelogue" of sorts, I can't help but feel that everything that happens this week, will not even come close to surpassing today and its events. It started out simply enough with the official gate opening. Folks went about their business, did their laundry in nearby Bushnell at the Happy Wash, bought Poptarts and chocolate milk for their healthy breakfasts at the IGA. Perhaps they unpacked their tents to find that there were stakes missing. It was off to WalMart in Macomb, 20 miles away. The sky was bluer than blue.  Little cotton puff clouds were drifting overhead. A lovely hot summer day was in progress.

Move your clock forward to 3:30 P.M. Rumors began to fly regarding a storm headed our way--60 miles per hour winds perhaps! Ominous black clouds began moving toward us from Bushnell -- we lay directly in the path. All at once pounding rains hit us. Our office was the westernmost stationary object on the property. It hit us first. Everyone assumed their most prayerful mind sets, and waited for things to subside. One by one, we began to see the big tents blowing over in the field before us. The first to go was Encore 1, followed by the Label Showcase Exhibition Tent, then the Encore 2. We didn't know it but out of our view the Exhibition Hall was getting ripped to shreds. The recently laid out dividers, curtains, tables and chairs were flying around. Employees narrowly escaped the falling tent and accompanying poles as they tried to move some of their displays to safety. Other big tents just fell over, some, like the Gallery, just lost a center pole or two, they still stood but were caved in, like a deflated balloon. Exactly 20 minutes later, the winds subsided, and we emerged from our various hiding places to survey the scene.  

Campers climbed out of their cars, visibly shaken by the sight of their campsites, a mess of stakes, strings, tarps and clothing. My friends, Linda and Shari, were laboring under their recently installed party tent, trying to bring it all the way down, as opposed to the way it was leaning, dangerously, in their direction. When the winds first picked up, they had chased a tarp into a nearby ditch and hid under it.  

The staff dining tent was packed to overflowing with JPUSA people eating dinner and waiting out the storm which blew many of their tents away as well. Everyone was resigned, just sort of shaking their heads. "Well, God is in control" "The Lord knows" It was one of those laugh-or-cry situations. 

Afterwards, volunteers began to emerge, leaving their own private carnage, offering their services. They repacked merchandise for storage on the truck, stacked the overturned tables and stray chairs, piled up the poles and soaking wet curtains. In a very short time, things were as settled as they could possibly be for the evening. The tent companies were alerted, and everyone headed for bed, knowing full well the enormous task of putting the pieces back together lay ahead. The sun came out, a beautiful orange, setting in the west, lighting everything with a beautiful orange glow. 

Tuesday, June 30, 1998  

 "Sunny and pleasant, with highs in the 70's," announced the all-too-cheery  DJ on the local "best new music first" station, (except out here, best new music means Rod Stewart and Bryan Adams) and right they were (about the weather) The sun rose, high and bright in the morning sky. At the end of the graveyard shift, over 4,000 people were registered--more than the entire population of our host town, Bushnell. An ongoing problem of the day for many was finding help to rescue their vehicles, mired in thick mud, a gift from the previous evening's rains. But deliveries rolled in, and the repair work continued.  The first event on the program was the "Opening Celebration" on the Gallery Stage, a full-blown time of worship and  communion before the show by JPUSA's gospel choir, Grace and Glory.  This year, the celebration was held right in the middle of everything. The tent was packed. There must have been a couple of thousand, just singing and praising God, and receiving communion together -- a very special time indeed. Grace and Glory finally took the stage for a show that went well past midnight. A wonderful evening.  

Meanwhile, registration was experiencing a massive influx of people, putting the number on the grounds to well above 12,000 by the wee hours.   

Wednesday, July 1. 1998  

Finally! The festival officially began at noon. The action commenced early that morning, with the replacement of the Exhibition Tent. All hands were on deck within moments of their arrival. The tent was up by noon, and in operation much sooner than expected, thanks to everyone's help.  

Things kicked off musically with shows by G.R.I.T.S., The W's, and Thee Spivees. The New Band Stage featured The 5 O'Clock People, the perennial songsters Farewell to Juliet and others. Numbers that evening reached 17,000 and counting.  

Spirits were high.  Things were running smoothly. The storm really created a great sense of community among fest goers, lending a much more relaxed attitude. Indie singer-songwriter Miranda Stone brought the same energy and hilarity that worked so well in Chicago coffeehouses and clubs last winter to the Compassion Stage for a set that brought people to their feet in appreciation. Stone was clearly blown away by the response, but exposure for this particular individual has been long overdue. It was refreshing to have some depth in the mix featured on Main Stage. Three Crosses opened, then the Vigilantes of Love in an entertaining and thought-provoking set peppered with Bill Mallonee's musings on theology, drinking, C. S. Lewis and more.  Third Day closed the evening out with a great set. Lead Mac Powell was no slacker in the ministry department speaking clearly on a variety of levels. The Industrial Night attracted quite a crowd, and turned some heads as well. Meanwhile, on the hm Stage, the Nashville-based goth outfit Wedding Party had a successful set. Leads Will and Shari were on the grounds until well past 3:00 A.M., ministering and reaching out to many unsaved kids from the scene who had come to meet them. The Asylum, an unofficial gathering for those in the goth scene, trespassed into the morning hours as well. Eventually, everyone found places to sleep some mere moments before dawn.  

Thursday, July 2, 1998  

If there was a way to define today at Cornerstone, it would be diversity. From rap-core to bluegrass, hip-hop to world music - we had it all. From the aggressive style of Ignited Soul on the New Band Showcase, Prophets of Wisdom and others hosting a hip hop Dance Tent night, Northern Lights introducing Cornerstone to Bluegrass/New Grass (some reports were tepid), it was one big music appreciation class. The seminars were receiving good reviews as well; NPR commentator Frederica Mathewes-Green was in attendance, Ron Sider gave a talk or two, and Wendi Kaiser was moved to a much larger tent in the center of the grounds. Aided by a number of  coffee granitas with a shot of espresso, I got a big kick out of everything I saw and heard today. That evening The Electrics livened things up with some good old traditional Irish music which inspired a congo line that snaked throughout the Main Stage bowl. I didn't stick around after their set was over, but I did hear Leigh Nash of Sixpence None the Richer singing "Kiss Me" on my way up the hill. 

Best five minutes of a show observed today: Saviour Machine's encore at the hm Stage. I didn't know quite what to expect, but I couldn't help but be drawn in by what was going on stage. Lead singer Eric Clayton later that night accused me of never smiling when he and the fine folks from Wedding Party checked out around 3:00 A.M. In hindsight, I always wondered the same about him. I directed them, at their request, to the only 24-hour establishment in the area, a little mini mart. All dressed up in their show gear that must have been a frightening sight to the night clerk.   

Friday, July 3, 1998  

This is the day that I have been waiting for. I'm going to get on Main Stage and see MC Hammer! I'm going to dance my feet off and I don't care what you think. When it comes to getting the chance to see a show put on by the man who was one of my many musical idols at age 12,  I don't care what it takes - I'm going to do it!  

And do it I did. But I'm jumping ahead of myself. There was so much to love about today.  I don't know where to start. Well, the New Band Showcase might be a good idea. It was muggy and threatening when the fabulous folk troupe from the city of New York took the stage - introduced  to Cornerstone by longtime favorite Brooks Williams, Spinoza was here for their first time and loving it. It was great to have the East Coast represented by more than just Burlap to Cashmere (more about that later!). A thunderstorm cut their plugged in set short. They moved up to the front of the stage and finished it off acoustically. Those that packed up close enough to the stage were given their money's worth. Ramie Schick, the little girl from Texas who could go toe to toe with Ashley Cleveland or Bonnie Raitt any day, blew the thunder away with her enormous voice and big guitars.  The Rest was next, playing jazz-rock-folk fusion with a trumpet. They were every bit as wonderful as I'd expected from hearing their EP. I left Pegtop to the older folks, and went on to other pursuits. Making my way to the coffeehouse, I saw Ashley Cleveland belting it out, albeit acoustically, at the PRISM Magazine Tent which is always fun.  

Most over-hyped band of the year: U2.  Oh I'm sorry.  I meant deliriou5? I could have sworn that was U2 I just heard! I don't want to knock a band that ministry wise has really had a good impact, but their music is just OK. Anyway, they cleared out to let Five Iron Frenzy get to the business, and they did just that. Personally, I think ska is just another cheesy fad, but I would like to point out that the Supertones and FIF always seem to have a good impact on the kids spiritually. Then we waited, waited, and waited. I was disappointed that we had to wait, but as a gospel music lover, it was worth every one of the 45 minutes before Hammer made his entrance. As a gospel show goes, for electricity and energy, you can't get much better.  

I was walking on air, thinking things couldn't get any more exciting, when I realized that I was almost late for the band I have been wanting to hear for six months--Burlap to Cashmere. This is not a band who should just be playing in our coffeehouse. I want the whole world to be able to see this band! I want people to be able to catch a glimpse of some of the most exciting new music out there. Their set was absolutely electrifying. I joined the coffee counter staff in some severe folk moshing - I couldn't stay seated for a minute from the first note to the very end.  

Saturday, July 4, 1998  

The last day of the fest was actually pretty moderate, climate wise. My fave on the New Band Showcase was Estis P@rc. Magdelyn and "the boys" were every bit as intriguing as they should have been. I really like their record - possibly one of my best new records this year. Scarlet Haven (from Gloucester, MA) was decidedly more rock and roll live than on CD. I didn't know quite what to expect, but lead Courtney Reid is some singer. They were totally ignorant of the star worship session directly behind them, where Larry Norman and his faithful followers were busy getting all '70's in the hm Tent. I did enjoy what I saw of his show, but I thought it was ironic that he got drowned out by some brand new band that didn't even know who he was. Cornerstone rocks.   

Miranda Stone was back at the Cornerstone Magazine Stage (am I the only one that thought this new stage was really cool or what?) People voted with their feet -- an even bigger crowd the second time around. I dug the way she would be jamming and then all of a sudden she would bust out into some wild song that fit the particular jam. She's the kind of rock chick you either love or hate, but she sold hundred's of CD's, so here's hoping she comes back soon.  

By all accounts, the Supertones "rocked" Main Stage, and I believe it. I just couldn't drag myself back down there at the end of such a week. Instead, I browsed through the exhibition hall and made a few impulse buys, and then watched the fireworks from afar. Great show. It only got better, as Over the Rhine took the stage for the last round of concerts of the festival. I also stopped in at the Galactic Cowboys set before heading over to The Call, to find (alas!) that the last notes had been played, and the band had gone home. Well. I couldn't complain. I stumbled to my tent, which meant bed not too long after.  

Sunday, July 5, 1998 

What a festival! I don't mind saying the best yet for me. I appreciated so many things I saw this year - the way God was present through all the trials we all went through earlier in the week, the way people were gracious and patient while things came back together I saw and heard of many instances of God touching lives for the first time, many folks finding renewed vision for following Christ. There were many first time attendees exploring everything like kids on Christmas morning. It was a time of enjoying the company of friends from far and wide, meeting new folks, building relationships. It was a gathering of a community of 22,000 believers and nonbelievers, all imperfect, damaged goods, but all gathered together in the cornfields of Bushnell to celebrate the existence of a very real and wonderful God. Amen.  

See you next year!