July 4 wasn’t the official start of the fest. Instead, it was billed as “Tooth & Nail Day” and served as a spotlight for nearly all of the Tooth & Nail bands. Nolan and I were excited because Starflyer 59 was scheduled to play (which meant that we’d see them twice) but we learned that wasn’t the case. Although we were a little bummed, we had plenty to keep us occupied.
This year, Nolan and I were able to go as press. Aside from cheaper ticket prices, it allowed us to go backstage, snap pictures, go to press conferences, etc. All of this was thanks to the Phantom Tollbooth, a really awesome Christian arts site. We snagged our press passes that morning and steeled ourselves for a torrent of shows.
First up was Fine China. I’d only heard bits and pieces of them before, which didn’t much impress me. But this set blew me away. Nolan and I were backstage and it was absolutely gorgeous. Take everything you loved about The Smiths, Spandau Ballet, and New Order, mix it all together with a generous helping of electronics and atmospherics, and you’ve got Fine China.
One of the best things I saw all week, and they were just the beginning.
Next was Society’s Finest, a hardcore band from Texas that delivered a blistering, emotional set. The lead singer ended up collapsing on stage by the show’s end, and the crowd was going nuts despite the hot weather. You gotta love those hardcore kids.
Then I caught Earth Suit, or so I though. It actually ended up being Ill Harmonics, one of the groups on Tooth & Nail’s hip-hop imprint. I’m not the biggest hip-hop fan, but these guys were a lot of fun, getting the crowd moving around and leading some great singalongs. There wasn’t anyone I wanted to see for awhile, so I walked around the campgrounds. If you saw a guy dressed in a silly hat with a big, dopey grin on his face, that was me. Cornerstone always does that to me. But back to the shows.
Spitfire and their chaotic brand of metal was next. My friend George really likes these guys, but he’s into all of that spastic stuff. They were really intense, but I just couldn’t get into them very much.
After Spitfire were those crazy Scandinavian kids in Selfmindead. Apparently, their lead singer had problems getting into the U.S., so they performed without him, but it didn’t seem to matter because they still rocked. I’d never listened to them, but really enjoyed their set. They reminded me at times of Helmet, or even Tool. But that’s just me.
After another break, it was time to catch one of the fest’s buzz bands, Further Seems Forever. Featuring former members of Strongarm, Further Seems Forever plays the heavy, melodic rock a la Stavesacre, but with less testosterone. Or maybe Sunny Day Real Estate without Jeremy Enigk’s howls. Whatever the case, they tore through a set that had all the kids singing along. I was really impressed with their vocalist, this guy can belt it out, but the music left me a little cold.
I’d never heard or listened to Squad Five‑0, always considering them a ska-punk group, but I was wrong. These guys are as glam-rock as you can be, with emphasis on rock. They were nuts on stage, leaping over each other and posing like you wouldn’t believe. I seriously hadn’t seen a rock show like this in a long time, and I loved it. My one complaint? All of the stupid people who insisted on standing on chairs in front of us. I think that should be against Cornerstone’s regulations.
As with many of the heavier bands, I’d never seen Embodyment, but only heard of their reputation. I was a little put off by the vocals, which sounded too “aggro” for me (I think that’s the proper term, according to MTV). But when these guys got going, it was like a force of nature. Their vocals were just brutal, and if there were any people in the crowd that didn’t take their new “direction,” you couldn’t tell by their reactions.
Towards the end of the day, it started to rain and gust quite a bit. After battening everything down and trying to get the gear stowed away in tents, we headed back out to the shows. Unfortunately, it didn’t let up until late that night, and much of the campground had been reduced to mudlands.
If there’s one thing I love about Cornerstone, it’s the fact that I can see bands I’d never have any hope of seeing otherwise. Such was the case with Extol, a Norwegian black metal group. I’d have to say this was the heaviest set I saw all week. There’s just something about 4 Scandinavian guys whipping their in unison while playing some of the heaviest, most orchestral metal you can imagine that just gets to me.
Joy Electric was next. ‘Nuff said. I still think that Joy Electric shows are the best punk concerts around, but this one was a little lackluster. It wasn’t Ronnie’s fault, because he was all over the place. However, the crowd was just dead. Joy Electric played another blistering set of synth-pop (can I say that?), even playing a new song called “We Are Rock” that may just be the best thing he’s ever written. I ran into my friend Lou, a girl I used to work with. Small world.
After Joy Electric, I headed back to the site. I was beat, the ground was muddy, and I still had a long week to go. Little did I realize how soon it would pass.