A Cornerstone Eulogy

One of the concert venues on the Cornerstone grounds

Last week I returned from the Cornerstone music festival in southern Illinois. This annual event has been held each year since it’s debut in 1984. The festival had it’s roots in the hippie Jesus movement of the early ’70’s. While most of the hippie movement died as the decades moved on, Jesus People USA flourished and carried the message of Christ to the counter-culture masses and also marginalized Christians. This force formed the basis of what would became “Christian rock”. Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Daniel Amos, Steve Taylor, and their contemporaries opened the door for Christian performers who used their music to further the word of Christ.

Drummer reminds himself who the music is for

Cornerstone served a number of purposes. It provided an outlet for Christian artists who didn’t fit the typical CCM mold, where the value of a song was determined by how many times a minute the name “Jesus” (JPMs) could be heard in the lyrics. The festival welcomed artists whose songs and musical styles broke away from Christian societal norms. These were musicians who may not have been invited to perform at/or even attend many traditional churches of the day. Cornerstone also served as a teaching and training ground for the Christian attendees who would return to their towns and cities to use the skills they had learned to reach the disenfranchised in their communities. Topics have ranged from ministry to the gay community, street people, goths, art, sex, relationships, movie discussions and many others. No topic ever seemed to be inappropriate.

Capacity crowd at one of the concert tents

Unknown and up and coming Christian bands made the trek to Cornerstone. The festival was attended by label executives looking for new talent. Many or most of the artists who performed would not be considered mainstream radio friendly. They offered their own unique and challenging styles to Cornerstone participants. It gave the bands a chance to reach a broader market by being exposed to upwards of 30 000 people who would make it to Cornerstone.

In addition to the music and teaching seminars, the Cornerstone public could also attend both movie and arts festival held at the same time at the Cornerstone farm. It was often said that people heading to Cornerstone would want to clone themselves. With programs starting at 8 am and headline artists not taking the stage until past midnight

Cornerstone remained apolitical over the decades of the festival. George W. Bush, on his 2004 re-election campaign wished to address the Cornerstone crowd. He was refused. The Cornerstone agenda is simple and defined: To further Christ’s Kingdom.

Attire for Flatfoot 56’s “Beach Party” themed show

The amazing aspect of Cornerstone is the sense of community.  All are welcomed, none are looked down upon. From my own perspective, being in the gray haired age group, I was delighted in the acceptance given to me by any and all of the people that I met at Cornerstone. This is the kind of acceptance and love that each of us should all give to strangers.

Band self-promotion is the norm

This year marked the final year of Cornerstone. To quote from the event organizers:

In 2012, we’ll be celebrating one final Cornerstone Festival together. Based on a range of factors – including changes in the market and a difficult economy – the timing seems right. This was obviously a hard decision, wrestled with over years and particularly over recent months. But with the decision made, we have the opportunity to come together one last time and bring to a happy, grateful – if tearful – close to this chapter of our lives.

In the days ahead we’ll be making some changes to the lineup and schedule that reflect an adjusted budget. We hope to make this a special gathering to remember, to share stories and encourage one another with the vision of Cornerstone in ways that look back and ahead toward new things God is doing. Along with activities like art workshops, kids’ programs, seminars, games, movies – and MUSIC, of course – Cornerstone 2012 promises to be a time of thankful reflection and sharing among people who’ve walked this significant part of their life’s journey together.

Most of you know that Cornerstone Festival grew out of a labor of love from our church and community, Jesus People USA. The festival emerged from JPUSA’s Cornerstone magazine and Resurrection Band. Our community continues to operate one of Chicago’s largest homeless shelters, also bearing the name Cornerstone. We remain confident in God’s faithfulness and grace to lead us on to new chapters in our ongoing journey.

Thanks again to everyone who’s been a part of this amazing journey with us! What a privilege it’s been. Most of all, thanks to Jesus: the stone rejected that became the true Cornerstone. Amen!

Will underground Christian recording artists be able to find another event such as Cornerstone? My thought is that may be unlikely. Will both the Christians living on the fringe of the organized church and mainstream Christians be able to meet again in such an enclave? Yes, when we meet again in Christ’s Kingdom. Let’s pray that we can carry the message each of us received from Christ and the welcoming body of believers at Cornerstone into our own communities.

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