Cornerstone Festival 1998  
By Linda T. Stonehocker 
Pictures by Cornerstone Festival 

The eight-page glossy mailing that recently arrived in the mail measures 11 by 14 inches. It unfolds to display eight pages of color photos, testimonies, and information about Cornerstone Festival '98, an annual event in central Illinois expected to draw almost 25,000 attendees. The theme this year is "It's Not Just About the Music--Take Your Faith to the Extreme." Extreme arts, extreme music, extreme teaching, extreme sports, extreme fun in the great outdoors, and extreme care for the "littlest festgoers" are the means to accomplish this.  

More than anything else, Henry Huang, executive director of the festival, would like to spread the word that a Cornerstone Festival experience isn't about massive, anonymous crowds. The event is designed for individuals, friends, and families with more on their minds than just great Christian music. Granted, some of the popular Main Stage shows will see thousands gather, and occasionally, a circus tent may be packed with fans of a particular group, but most attendees leave with just as many memories of day-to-day life in a small city, where every inhabitant has an interesting story and Jesus is Lord.  

Preparations for this year's festival have started and bring a few changes from previous years' ways of doing things.  

Cornerstone Festival '98 officially begins six hours earlier, at noon, Wednesday, July 1, 1998. Attendees are discouraged from arriving any earlier than Monday, June 29, 1998. The festival will officially end five days later, but twelve hours earlier than last year, at noon, Sunday, July 5, 1998. Attendees are encouraged to leave at that time.  

Discounts are available now on full-event tickets, which will be $75 at the gate. Acknowledging that this is a lot of money, Henry hopes that people will agree that with over 150 bands, four days of in-depth seminars, sports competitions, special programming for children, free camping, and many other attractions, Cornerstone offers greater value for the price than comparable events. (Individuals who simply cannot afford full-price tickets can write an explanation of their circumstances--on paper--and mail it to the festival office for special consideration.)  
  
Overwhelming variety has always been the hallmark of Cornerstone, but the late '90's saw an over-emphasis musically on alternative rock, at the expense of other musical styles. '98 will see more balance in the music selection, with expanded opportunities for certain genre. Unusual performers include Northern Lights, a  bluegrass band; Mental Destruction, an old school industrial band from Sweden; and the Wycliffe New World Band, comprised of ethno-musicologists on stateside furlough from Bible translation projects. Three venues have been added to the event. The hm Magazine-sponsored tent will be somewhat larger and house a new festival stage at midnight, "Metal at Night." The Underground Stage tent will also be enlarged, with a midnight show added as well. Cornerstone Magazine will sponsor a cafe for new acoustic singer/songwriters. Expect to see the return of the afternoon Label Showcase Stage, the New Band Showcase, and the Dance Tent.  
  
Public health isn't a very glamorous topic, but for a week, Cornerstone Farm generates as much sewage as a large municipality. Henry recently wrote, "Things like garbage, portable toilets, security, etc. when handled well are virtually invisible, but when something goes wrong, it becomes really horrible." Early on at last year's event, portable toilets became highly visible when the vendor hired to clean and maintain the hundreds of rented units fell dangerously behind before additional specialists were called in within 24 hours. The festival is investigating new companies better able to handle an event of this size. Henry states, "Service will be one of the first priorities this year.  Obviously with an event like this there are some unknowns that may throw a wrench in the works at any given time.  We hope we will be up to anything that comes along by God's grace."  

Other improvements to the grounds this year include building more public showers, adding additional camping space, and repairing a small dam near the main entrance.  

Educational seminars have always been a popular component of the festival. The lineup is especially strong for 1998, featuring numerous authors and founders of missions. The Imaginarium, an area with an especially devoted group of attendees, will feature a one-man show by Chuck Chalberg on G.K.  Chesterton, and Jennifer Harris, flight director of the NASA Mars Pathfinder project. Regrettably, there isn't enough flat land available to pitch larger tents for the increasingly popular seminars. Henry's only option to provide more room for the educational offerings is to pitch fewer, larger tents, which would reduce the number of sessions, not an acceptable alternative. The earth moving required to create more flat land for this purpose is currently estimated to cost $150,000. Such funds are not on hand, although major donations are always welcome.  

Lest it be forgotten that this is first and foremost an event sponsored by a Christian community, Henry recently commented to a website visitor, "Last year was one of the most spiritually fruitful years ever.  We have gotten so many responses from individuals on how God met them at the festival.  More of the musicians spoke out about their faith than in previous years, and that was a big influence on their audience."