Cornerstone 2001: Jason’s Diary, July 4

Today’s concerts included System Failure, Unwed Sailor, and Ester Drang.

Day 2 was the magic day for me, and I’m kind of sorry it had to happen so early in the festival. But oh well. I started off the day by catching the first episode of The Decalogue, a famous series made for Polish television by legendary director Krystozf Kieslowski. I was really anxious to see the entire series, and had planned on seeing them all. But, I should’ve known that my fest schedule would get jacked up.

Loosely based on the Ten Commandments, The Decalogue was Kieslowski’s way of exploring how humans react to and live under a moral law. The first episode, based on “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” looked at a young boy and his relationships with his father and aunt. When the boy starts asking hard, spiritual questions, the father turns to his computer to sort them out, with tragic results. I know that sounds cheesy, but it was really a powerful, haunting film.

I had planned on spending a lot of time at the New Band stage, and I kicked off my time there with Fi. Featuring members of The People (one of my great discoveries from last year) in some darn fine wigs, Fi’s music draws a lot of inspiration from the glam-rock of David Bowie, T-Rex, etc.

Unfortunately, their set was plagued by bad sound (a common theme of this year’s New Band Stage), so the vocals were impossible to hear. But their CD is a real treat, and I hope to hear more from these guys. The band vamped it up all over the stage, especially their vocalist, who often pointed out that he was out of shape.

A lot of my friends had been talking about System Failure for a long time, since their from my neck of the woods (Omaha, to be exact). I headed over to catch their set and to see what the fuss was about, and was pleasantly surprised.

First off, the crowd which featured a lot of Nebraska kids out in full effect, was going nuts for their friends. But more importantly, here was a hardcore band that didn’t act like a hardcore band. The members were actually smiling and having a good time, rather than trying to be all dark and scary. It was a refreshing change from what I normally see come out of the hardcore scene. And it didn’t hurt that they knew how to rock.

At about 6:30, I headed up to the showers to meet up with Daniel and Lisa, two friends from Lincoln. Again, there was a bit of a misunderstanding. I thought they were going to camp with us, but turns out they had already set up camp that morning and had just been waiting to meet me. After hanging out with them for a little bit at my site, I headed over to the Cornerstone Magazine tent, unaware that one of my greatest Cornerstone experiences was about to happen in a few hours.

Wednesday night featured two of the bands that I wanted to see the most this year, Unwed Sailor and Ester Drang. And both bands played amazing sets.

Nolan always associates Cornerstone with Havalina. For me, Unwed Sailor is my Cornerstone band. Their set was quite nice, featuring material off their new album The Faithful Anchor. I’ve always found that there’s a remarkable purity and integrity with Unwed Sailor’s music. It’s rare for an instrumental band to actually say as much as Unwed Sailor does with their music. After the Unwed Sailor show, I’d discovered that David and Dan had arrived, so our crew grew a little bigger. But the night was about to get a whole lot more special.

Ester Drang starting setting up their arsenal of vintage synths and amps. I’d seen them a few months ago in Kansas City, and knew I was in store for a remarkable set. But dear God… I had no idea. Although the first song or two seemed a little shaky (maybe that was just me), Ester Drang soon began to weave a spell over the entire crowd with their gorgeous wall of sound.

Each song flowed into each other perfectly, creating an uninterrupted mood for the entire set. By the time the climax of “Felicity, Darling” hit, I was speechless. The only thing I could to was rock back and forth like I had some seizure, while a huge grin just filled my face.

After the show was over, I looked at Nolan and we both knew we’d seen something truly special, a true worship experience that transcended all of the silly little cliches that worship so often seems to fill. I quickly exited the tent because I needed to be alone for awhile, so that I could digest it all. And I wasn’t alone. I talked to several people who felt the same way, that they just needed time to process what they had heard. I’ve seen some powerful shows at Cornerstone, and this one ranks in the top 5. If anything, it was the best show I saw this year.

After recovering from Ester Drang’s set, I caught the tail end of Blenderhead’s set back at the Cornerstone Magazine tent. I’ve never been a fan of these guys, and they didn’t do a whole lot that night to sway me. Of course, I was still reeling from Ester Drang’s beautiful onslaught, so most anything would’ve been a letdown.

After Blenderhead, I headed over the Decapolis stage to catch My Space Coaster. Unfortunately, the whole festival had been plagued with power problems the entire day, which threw off the entire schedule. For example, the Unwed Sailor show had started about 30 – 45 minutes late.

Instead, As I Lay Dying took the Decapolis stage. I caught a few of their songs, left, and then caught the last song or two of their set. As you might guess from the name, they were one of those crazy metalcore bands (you know, with the tortured screaming and loud guitars and such), but they tore it up quite nicely. It’s a shame that there weren’t more at the Decapolis stage, because they easily could’ve held their own at some of the bigger hardcore shows that went on this year.

After As I Lay Dying, I trekked back to the Cornerstone Magazine Tent to get a good spot for Havalina’s midnight set. This year, I made it through the whole set, and was rewarded. Havaline played one of the best sets I’ve ever seen them play, with tons of energy and vibe. Even the normally droll Matt Wignall went a little crazy, crawling on top of the drumset and knocking over stuff.

They played a lot of the stuff they’d played yesterday, along with some of their older staples like “Proportion Thing.” As always, it was a marathon that seemed to exhaust the crowd more than the band, but it was one well worth enduring.

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