Dust filled my lungs as I walked shoulder to shoulder with the likes of 20,000 Christian music lovers in the summer of 2005 at Cornerstone Festival in Bushnell, Illinois. The sun beat down on our band tee-covered backs as we searched for shade, water, an ongoing stage, and a clean public restroom. Live music had been lingering in the air since 8:00 AM that morning, and wouldn't finish until about 3:00 AM the next day. My family and I were privileged to be staying in a small RV, but there were thousands in run down campers, tents, or huddled under whatever material they could find to keep themselves sheltered from the elements.
The merchandise tent was a popular place to commune during the hottest times of the day. It was there I often went, going up and down the aisles, looking at shirts, stickers, and posters from some of my favorite bands, as well as ones I was just discovering. I stopped and had a conversation with Joshua Beiser, the bassist for The Chariot, as he held a feather duster in hand, attempting to keep their CD stacks clear of unwanted particles. Jason Dunn of Hawk Nelson was signing autographs at their table further down the row, posing and smiling for photos while donning a Demon Hunter t-shirt. After a few circles around, I hurried out to find my family and begin our tour of the stages, trying to catch as many artists as possible. Some stops would be separated by only a few feet, while others would be miles apart. We would interact with people of all ages; kids that were there for the first time with their youth groups, or elders that had been attending since the festival's inception in 1984. We would chow down on fair food loaded with carbs to fuel us for the sweating, walking, and braving of the crowds. And by the end of the day, we'd return to our RV and immediately crash on our beds, being lulled to sleep by the dozens of stages still filling the Cornerstone campground with music. This was the routine for four days straight, and while our bodies were drained of energy and red from the sun by the end, it was worth every second.
There was no experience quite like that of attending Cornerstone Festival.
Cornerstone was a Christian music festival unlike any other. Music played for what seemed like 24 hours a day, creating a strong sense of revival no matter where you stepped. Stages were occupied by a vast variety of bands and artists, attracting individuals among the thousands from all walks of life. Sets from Project 86, Switchfoot, Dead Poetic, Kutless, David Crowder*Band, Skillet, Copeland, House of Heroes, and many more occupied the scattered platforms all across the grounds. There was a stage for each genre so that every music fan felt they had somewhere to belong. Some tents were dedicated to doing Sunday school activities with children, while others hosted pastors, authors, and theologians as they lectured on Scripture. Cultural centers and Christian-rooted companies set up camp in every corner, promoting their causes and teaching others about their organizations. It was a mecca of tens of thousands of people sharing a singular bond: the desire to seek God and worship Him in whatever way fit their style, personality, and music taste.
The ending of Cornerstone in 2012 was a heavy blow to those that spent time there over the years. While many other festivals live on, drawing in thousands of people and continuing in the same mission that Jesus People USA had when they started Cornerstone in 1984, no other Christian music event will be remembered quite like it. And during each summer, when "festival season" is at its peak in the Christian music community, I always reflect on my time spent at the Cornerstone campgrounds. I think of the dust, the sweating, and the lack of proper hygiene. But at the same time, I think of being in the same space as thousands of people listening to good music, worshipping our God together in unity.
That was the core of Cornerstone Festival, and I am thankful to have been one of the many to be impacted by its legacy.
Jessi Ellerbe owns a small record store in Florida. She loves music more than anything in this world (except Jesus, of course). If she's not listening to music or working at her store, she's usually out record hunting, going to Disney World, spending time with her boyfriend, hanging out with family or friends, catching up on a favorite TV show, or curling up on the couch and watching a movie.
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