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Andy Whitman on Cornerstone 2008: “Back from the Circus”

A beautiful summation of almost every Cornerstone experience I’ve ever had.

One of the reasons why I’m kicking myself for not making it to this year’s Cornerstone Festival is that I missed Andy Whitman’s seminar. Anyone who has read anything Whitman has written — be it in Paste Magazine, the All Music Guide, or just on his blog — knows the guy is passionate about music, and all of the ways in which it communicates truth and beauty to the human soul.

Whitman has just returned from the hallowed fields of Bushnell, Illinois, and he’s posted a lengthy report that sums up beautifully almost every Cornerstone experience I’ve ever had.

His critique of the festival’s musical aspects are spot on, be it consternation over the number of emo/screamo acts that fill the festival grounds or his send-up of the numerous worship music acts:

…nothing fails more spectacularly than worship music at a concert. I hate it, hate the whole artificial Madison Avenue/Nashville hype machine surrounding this music, and couldn’t stand that f#&$ing MC for good measure. I don’t care who’s a rising star in the worship music field, and the whole approach strikes me as fundamentally, spectacularly wrong. I wish it would go away. Worship, by all means, and if you want to write original music to make that happen, then more power to you. But don’t stand up there in front of 15,000 people and peddle your latest (and best yet!) CD and sing your trite “apple of my eye/wind beneath my wings” rhymes to U2 accompaniment for the 20,000th time. Do something better for God. Just quit.

But my favorite part of the whole article chronicles his encounters with the goths. Yes, there are goths at Cornerstone; indeed, there’s a pretty thriving Christian goth community. Which might strike some as absurd, or at the very least, as an oxymoron, but there you have it.

I was involved in an online Christian goth community for several years, despite never really being much of a goth myself (and no, painting my fingernails black on occasion doesn’t really count). As a result of my involvement, the Christian goth tent at Cornerstone — aka “The Asylum” — was a perennial stopping place, a fine location for escaping the summer sun, enjoying late night conversations, partaking in vegetarian potlucks, watching acoustic and spoken word performances from Ronnie Martin (Joy Electric) and Orlando Greenhill (Havalina) respectively, and even throwing a rave or two.

When Renae and I went to Cornerstone last year, I made it a point to seek out the tent. Sadly, I never saw any of the folks I recognized, nor found out when they were having the vegetarian potluck.

Still, I’m glad to know it’s still alive and kicking in some form, and I loved reading Whitman’s experience:

…we kept listening to Scott. He talked about being misunderstood. I was guessing that the Dracula costume might have had something to do with that. He told me I was right. And so we all had an hour-and-a-half long conversation (those cornfields outside Bushnell are a long way from the bright lights of Peoria) about Goth culture, and how God has used that culture to enrich his life. He told us about his band, which was called Leper, and which was playing at Cornerstone. He invited us to the Goth tent, where he and his friends hung out, and he invited us to his concert. It was a good, enlightening conversation.

So we went. The next night we wandered over to the Goth tent, and met people who looked a lot like Scott and his wife Rachel, and who were wearing gas masks over their faces. And Saturday night we went to hear Leper. The music wasn’t nearly as foreign as I expected it to be. It was grating and melodic, pretty much the way I like it, and it sounded like music made by misunderstood teenagers, a farflung and omnipresent musical genre that goes back at least 50 years. And it was about Jesus, a guy who was misunderstood to the point of being crucified. I’m glad we went. And I’m glad we encountered Scott.

All in all, it has me even more eager to try and make it to Cornerstone 2009, though I’m not too sure how well Simon will take to outdoor emo concerts.

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