I never got to go to Cornerstone. As a member of the target audience of the legendary festival, this will forever haunt me. But, thankfully, we have Audiofeed now! And despite lockdowns keeping it from happening in 2020 or 2021, Audiofeed managed to open its gates once again for the 2022 summer festival season. And this year, I was able to work it out and make the drive for what ended up being one of the most fun weekends I've had in a long time. (Just a forewarning: I didn't really take many pictures, as I went as a spectator and not necessarily to review the event - that just kinda happened. So this is purely a written review. It's also a bit long, so read at your leisure. Sorry folks!)
I live in a small town called Vassar, Kansas, which isn't exactly close to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, but at approximately seven hours, it isn't the shortest drive I've made in a day (heck, I drove to Georgia in one day back in January). So I rolled into the hotel parking lot in the early evening on Thursday, having to forgo the smaller Thursday earlybird line-up, which consisted of twelve acts, including Glenn Kaiser Band, Former Ruins, and Destroy Nate Allen. Instead I met up with my hotelmate for the weekend, Phil Hawkins, a writer at Tuned Up, who was a great pleasure to get to know. I also met up with another friend, Ben Kunz, who JFH readers might know as artist Benjamin Daniel. Instead of getting a good night's rest, we ran to Walmart to pick up supplies. You know, like you do.
Friday morning, I could barely contain my excitement. The first scheduled event didn't start until 11:30, but I'm on a dad sleep schedule, so I was up at about 7:00 or so. After puttering around for a bit, I decided to just go on ahead to the festival grounds and get a grip on the layout. As I'm pushing 40 years old, I was quite pleased to find that not a lot of walking was required, as all of the stages were within a couple of minutes each other. Vendors were already setting up merch booths, selling a variety of goods, from WWE action figures to jewelry to video games (like a whole table full of games from Nintendo 64 to Playstation 4). But I was most drawn to the guy selling used CDs, tapes, and vinyl. While he had a lot of great stuff, I needed to be frugal, so I ended up only picking up a CD copy of Poor Old Lu's Sin for $5. Good deal, if you ask me.
Just off to the side of the main stage, there was a small tent called The Front Porch, which was meant for open sign-ups and impromptu performances. I was pleased to find that the first bit of music I would hear this weekend was a couple of guys leading worship - a perfect way to start a weekend of Christ-centered community and music. I would later get into a wonderful conversation with the singer, and I found out it was a guy named Andrew Alojipan, who is known as the man behind independent rock band Kept On Hold, as well as having been a member of an older pop rock group called We Are Leo. Around 11:30, I stumbled into The Radon Lounge, where I had planned to be on several occasions over the next few days. John J. Thompson from True Tunes was speaking to the crowd about the history of Christian music and festivals, from the Jesus Music Movement through Cornerstone and to today, playing samples of how Christian music has evolved over the years. The first scheduled band I ended up seeing was a punk-ish, metal-ish band called The Jericho Harlot. They played the main stage, which was The Black Sheep Stage, and put on a pretty decent show, which came right before a pop punk band called Even Tides at The Sanctuary Stage. I had no set-in-stone plans until about 4:15, and when I saw people carrying picket signs about Even Tides' set, I respected their effort enough to check it out. Their set was fun and reminded me a bit of earlier Hawk Nelson.
Some more wandering around occurred, then I popped back into The Black Sheep Stage to catch the end of death metal band Threnodian's set. They led into the post-rock / hardcore outfit Revisionist, who had a lot of really strong Define the Great Line-era Underoath vibes. The lead vocalist even sounded a bit like Spencer Chamberlain, and they mentioned that they have a new song coming out soon that features Aaron Gillespie. The band put on a good show before things quieted down for a solo set from Listener's Dan Smith. Smith played a lot of songs from his solo material, and (if I recall correctly), no solo versions of Listener songs, which makes sense considering Listener was playing a set the next day. Smith's cadence and vocal delivery is so unique and it's a lot of fun to take in. He's also incredibly funny in a very unsuspecting sort of way. His comedic timing is impeccable. After pausing for a bit to grab some delicious food truck barbecue, it was back to Black Sheep for one of the main reasons I wanted to go: Tooth & Nail's resident post-hardcore band, idle threat. As it turns out, they're one of those bands that doesn't look anything like you would expect if you had never seen them. But looks aside, they smashed it, flawlessly performing songs from their Tooth & Nail albums, nothing is broken for good and blurred visionsincluding "cinder" and "ungrateful," and ending with "driftwood," sans Cory Brandan (although someone from another band I didn't know did come up to do Cory's part of that song). After they ended, I had some time before the next set I wanted to see, but before I could even think about what I would do to fill in the time, I heard an interesting sound coming from the impromptu tent. Walking over, I found a super energetic, underpolished, and raucous punk rock band called Pocketshot. The rawness and punk rock aesthetic was definitely what stood out the most, as the songs themselves weren't super strong on their own. But hearing them play unabashedly after idle threat and drawing a decent-sized crowd was a highlight of the weekend. I watched them play through to the end, and then I went over to catch Facedown Records' American Arson. The rock & roll duo stuck to songs from A Line in the Sand, but that's all I really needed. As they ripped through "Drop Your Daggers," "Forever," "Unbreakable," and an inevitable cover of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill," I was blown away at just how good they sounded. Their sound guy wasn't getting paid enough. After they closed out properly with the epic "The King Is Alive," I looked at my schedule and saw a few more names I was interested in seeing, such as The Timbre of Cedars, Narrow/Arrow, and especially Grave Robber. But my travel and lack of sleep had caught up to me, and I decided to call it a night a little early. I'm still kicking myself for not seeing Grave Robber, but perhaps I'll have another chance someday.
Another early morning came Saturday, as I just couldn't will myself back to sleep. But lounging around for a few hours and taking advantage of the free breakfast in the hotel lobby was almost as restful as actual sleep. Finally, around 10:45 or so, it was time to get going to the grounds, as my buddy Mykey Root and his band Dreaded Dale were taking The Sanctuary Stage at 11:10. I had never seen a metalcore show that early in the day before, but I didn't mind it at all! The band was in the midst of re-recording their older material and putting out a brand new EP, and all they have on Spotify right now is a banger called "Voices." So that and another song called "Kingslayer" were the only ones I recognized (both of which are available on some of the free JFH music samplers at jfhmusic.com). After Dreaded Dale knocked it out of the park, even with some last-minute replacements, it was back to The Radon Lounge to hear Propaganda speak and read some excerpts and poetry from his new book, Terraform: Building A Better World. Though I disagreed with some of the things he said, and some of the ideas he was had about how our world and universe works, there was a lot of good stuff mixed in, too. His time ended just in time for me to go back to where my day started and see an incredible three-piece metalcore band called Context. These guys were super tight, musically, and all of their songs are absolutely drenched in Scripture. The frontman was also very open about his faith, having a Bible onstage with them, breaking it open and giving a short, bold message about our need for a Savior. They made it very clear that they were there to proclaim Jesus, and it was refreshing.
A few minutes after their set, I ended up running into Josh Clifton of Ravenhill, who was in a mad rush to get some audio issues worked out. He invited me to rush with him, which I happily obliged, and we caught up on the way around the campgrounds. He told me about a band that was starting soon called The Cedar Shakes, which contained members of Ravenhill and Side Walk Slam, so I decided to check them out. Of the two artists, The Cedar Shakes definitely leaned more toward the soulful blues rock of Ravenhill, but there was enough alternative styling to keep it accessible for the crowd. They were followed by Wind Words, a post-rock band that featured members of Friday's Pocketshot. However, Wind Words was far less punk rock with a higher production quality. They played a short run of songs and then gave it up for SPACESHIPS. These guys were a fitting follow-up for Wind Words, but instead of spoken word and post-rock, SPACESHIPS dealt more with shoegaze-based hard rock, almost like a Deftones-lite. They played a selection of tracks from their 2021 album Pillars, and I found myself enjoying every minute of it. At this point, I caught back up with a few of the guys from Dreaded Dale and grabbed an early dinner from a Mexican food truck (if you're in the area, La Paloma makes some amazing tacos). I then ran into Levi Macallister (aka Levi the Poet), who graciously took some time to chat with me and let me pet his wonderful dog, Francis. I love some good dog time! Propaganda was up next, and I was surprised and super excited to find that his DJ for the night was the one and only DJ Sean P. The duo worked really well together, and as always, Sean P was fantastic on the cuts and an excellent hype man. Prop redid a poem he had done earlier in the day at his book reading, and really only stuck to tracks from Crooked and his new EP Terraform, but he's an excellent performer, and the show was a ton of fun. When he ended a few minutes early, I was a bit glad, because Meadows was scheduled to start at Prop's end time. When I got to Sanctuary, though, the previous act, The Wedding Party, was still going. As I found out later, they had some sort of sound issues that pushed their start time back, which ended up pushing Meadows back about a half hour or so. In the meantime, The Wedding Party played their brand of theatrical, symphonic doom metal, as members of the band were arrayed in wedding garments and were accompanied by a gypsy dancer on the stage. It was definitely far out of my wheelhouse, but there was a rather large crowd that was really into it.
Finally, Meadows took the stage. Their 2021 album In Those Days & Also After wasn't as big of an album for me as most other people in my demographic, but I'd be lying if I said that their set wasn't terrific. They sounded more like a hardcore band in the live setting, and it featured the first good-sized mosh pit I had seen thus far. The tent they played in was a lot smaller than Black Sheep's tent, so the place felt more filled out, and with all the moshing and dancing, it got really humid and sweaty really fast - it was great! Now, because they got pushed back, it meant having to miss the full band Listener set. I was disappointed, but I've seen Listener a few times, so I feel like I made the right decision. I also decided that, because I'm an old man, I would head back to the hotel for a couple of hours and recoup, especially considering I had plans that would take me through and past midnight. I got back onto the grounds just in time for Convictions, who really brought their A-game. They pummeled the crowd with super heavy metalcore that almost bordered on deathcore at times, while they kept urging the crowd to keep coming closer and closer so that they could mosh. They closed their set by speaking to the crowd about the importance of getting help and talking to people if you're feeling depressed and/or suicidal, which led right into "The Price of Grace." And then, in a huge 180-degree shift, I made my way to see Benjamin Daniel perform an acoustic set. As Shelterheart was my favorite album of 2021, I was very excited to hear these songs live and hear Ben talk about them all. He also performed a couple of new songs from his upcoming album, Home Enough For Now, which I believe is coming sometime in 2022.
Day 3 of waking up far too early felt extra painful, considering Benjamin Daniel's set ended pretty late. But I had some downtime before going to hear Flatfoot 56's Tobin Bawinkel speak at the lounge. As I had hoped, with it being a Sunday morning, it was essentially a church service, minus any worship songs. Tobin spoke on Jacob's wrestling with the Angel of the LORD and the blessings and testimonies that came from that experience. It was a great way to start the day. I was going to have a few hours between the end of that service and any set plans I had, so I set out to find the Rusty Shipp crew, who had just set up their booth in the merch alley. They were set to play Black Sheep later that afternoon, but it was great to meet them for the first time and just chat for a bit (I also picked up a CD copy of their upcoming album, Dark Side of the Ocean, which was being made available for the first time ever). Shortly thereafter, it was time for a performance from Adjy, a band I had not necessarily planned on seeing, but it was recommended by a few people, so I went ahead. Their alternative-based indie pop sound was infectious, and their multi-instrumentalism and stage presence was pretty captivating. Between the six band members, they incorporated keyboards, xylophones, guitars, drums, standalone toms, banjos, tambourines, and more, and it was a joy to witness. They played a variety of songs from their concept album, The Idyll Opus (I-VI), including "In Media Res" and "Lake Adeyoha." If you've got an hour and a half to give it a listen, I'd highly recommend it. The ending of their set gave me time to catch the remainder of Good Saint Nathanael, the more serious, toned down solo project from Nate Allen. While Destroy Nate Allen is Nate and his wife Tessa playing fun and sometimes goofy acoustic punk, Good Saint Nathanael is a lot more somber and tends to deal with processing thoughts and emotions and working toward healing. He also spoke a bit about his time working toward a counseling degree and shared some music from an upcoming record.
After a quick break, it was time for Rusty Shipp. The nautical rockers really turned up the grungy, garage rock sound for this live performance, at times even reminding me of Nirvana. The foursome knocked out some hits from all three of their albums, including their new single, "What's Kraken," as well as their covers of Audioslave's "Show Me How To Live" and The Beatles' "Helter Skelter." When they finished up, I was stoked to find out that I hadn't yet missed the entirety of Must Build Jacuzzi, who I had originally thought I would have to miss completely. I raced to Sanctuary to find a tent full of people skanking to "3rd out of 3 Ain't Bad" in the biggest circle pit I had seen that weekend. Young kids, teenagers, middle-aged guys, and a dude in slack, suspenders, and no shirt - it was great. You could tell the band was having the time of their lives as they went into their final planned song, the energetic rocker "February Heat Wave." Before they could truly call it quits, their fans demanded to keep skanking, chanting for the band's earlier song, "Hey You, Skank!" The band obliged and sent the crowd "home" happy with an amazingly fun song, and I was quite happy to have at least caught part of the set. Levi the Poet was next, who presented his multimedia act in grand fashion, performing pieces from Correspondence (a fiction) and Cataracts, as well as some more recent poems and excerpts from his book, It's All Worth Living For. Spoken word is something I don't generally go for unless it's really well done and not gimmicky. Thankfully, Levi's pieces are so authentic and his delivery is incredible and natural, and it's an absolute pleasure anytime I get the chance to see him perform. I braved the heat once again for some more tacos (that same food truck came back, knowing full well that they were going to get some of my money), and the final few acts were all lined up and ready to go.
My Sunday night was going to be capped off at The Black Sheep Stage, with four bands I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to watch. I got there a little early and caught some of V8 Vast Change, a rapper with a full band playing. I don't know much about him, but the band was great and his flow and lyrics were pretty solid. Then it was time for my boys in Ravenhill. Their set ended up being a bit shorter than planned due to some sound issues, but once they got going, they killed it. They mainly stuck to their 2015 album Soul, smashing out "You'll Go Far Boy," "Witches," and "Six Feet in the Ground." After a rocking set, they closed with "Blood on the Church Floor," as people were making their way in for the next act, the reunited old school Tooth & Nail punk band, Side Walk Slam. According to the Labeled Podcast, they had originally planned on doing a Run Kid Run set, since that was their more recent output, but one of the members couldn't make it, so they went ahead with the trio. And it was like they had never broken up, not missing a single step, and bringing the heat with "And We Drive," "Carmi Times," "Yesterday's Actions, Today's Regrets," "One of a Kind," and more. Of course, they closed with their most popular song, "Time Will Pass You By," but I loved hearing them switch it up with half-time drums during the verses. It was a blast. Another classic Tooth & Nail act followed, as Huntingtons brought their Ramones-inspired sound to the stage. I'm not necessarily a fan of either the Ramones or Huntingtons, so I wasn't entirely interested in the set, but I was definitely the outlier that night, as the crowd just kept getting bigger and more excited. The crowd formed a circle pit and got down through "Aloha, It's You" and "Jackie Is An Atheist," while I was pleased to hear "Not Penny's Boat" from their most recent album, MUERTO! CARCEL! O ROCANROL! (an album I actually did enjoy quite a bit). When they capped off their set with their hit "No Pool Party Tonight," the stage filled up with fans as they danced and screamed every lyric. They didn't exactly win me over, but I was mightily impressed with their show, and I definitely don't blame anyone who calls themselves a Huntingtons fan.
The last show was the one and only Flatfoot 56, Christian music's resident Celtic punk rock band. I had learned that Flatfoot had been having a themed set every year since the Cornerstone days, and that this year's theme was a toga party. I was reminded of this when I saw tons of people walking into the tent in togas, and I would soon find out that, since they had decided that this would be the last themed set, they were going all in for it. Before the band took the stage, we were introduced to the three caesars, who made a royal decree that Flatfoot 56 would be allowed to play some music for us. As they walked to sit on the side of the stage, an audio clip of people chanting "Toga! Toga! Toga!" was playing, and the toga'd band made took their places. At this point, beach balls had started flying around the tent, the band started playing, a circle pit broke out, and grape juice was being squirted into the crowd (including right in my face). Shortly thereafter, a man in a bigfoot costume began dancing on the stage, and someone in the crowd held up a picket sign saying "Who invited Bigfoot?" The amount of shenanigans Flatfoot provided were unparalleled. Their setlist covered their entire discography, which was great to hear (and it reminded me that I hadn't listened to them in a while, so I need to get on that), when all of a sudden, Tobin had someone bring out a bunch of sliced peaches. The crowd all grab handfuls, split to either side, and then were encouraged to throw their peach slices at each other while the band just kept rocking harder and harder. As the band drew to a close with their version of "I'll Fly Away," I had come to the conclusion that, in all the chaos and zany antics of that show, I may have just had the best concert experience of my life. Since Flatfoot was closing the place down, they had time for an encore, and I honestly don't remember what they played, but I had had the time of my life, and now I can throw Flatfoot 56 up against Kings Kaleidoscope and Showbread as some of my favorite concert moments of all time.
Walking off the fairgrounds that night was bittersweet. I would be going home the next day to see my wife and kids, but I was leaving behind an experience that I won't soon be forgetting. I'm super thankful that Audiofeed exists, with its fantastic choice of bands and artists, but also for the community of people involved. The folks who run it are pretty open about not trying to shove Jesus down anyone's throats, but they're also very clear that the love of Christ is the driving force behind the festival's existence, and there was a sense of joy and peace and love that made me feel really at home. And of course, I got to meet some friends in person for the first time, see some artists I've wanted to see for a long time, and found some artists I'll surely be adding to my music collection. I'm not sure what the future holds for me, but I'll be hoping and praying Audiofeed ends up being a regular summertime tradition for me.-- Scott Fryberger, 7/8/22
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