First off, I headed over to the New Band Stage, where I had determined to spend a fair amount of time this year. This was the first year that I wasn’t specifically there for the bands. Don’t get me wrong; I spent more than my fair share of time in the tents. But I’d already seen all of the bands I was planning on seeing at least 3 – 4 times (with a few exceptions). And besides, one of the few joys that a music writer has is discovering that brand new gem, and then spreading the good word.
So, today started off with Celestial Static. IIRC, they’d played last year at a campsite stage (how’s that for DIY?), but this year they hit the “big league.” All in all, a solid band that should have a fairly wide appeal with their noisy pop reminiscent of Veruca Salt or The Breeders.
Then it was over to the Acoustic Stage. I caught the tale end of The McClurg Family Singers, and was just in time for Ticklepenny Corner. I’d received one of their older discs (From the Porch) for review, which I really liked, and this set was not disappointing at all. Another nice break from the normal loudness of Cornerstone, with simple, deep folk songs that ooze Americana. They started off their set with “I Shall Never Doubt,” one of my fave tracks from From the Porch, with Beth Reimer’s lovely vocals and fiddle. All in all, time well spent and a nice refresher.
Then, back over to the New Band Stage to catch Fine China again. Okay, so they’re not technically “new,” but you just can’t go wrong with a little more Fine China in your diet. I think this set felt a little better than their one the day before; the band felt a little more relaxed with a bit more interplay with the audience. As always, watching bassist Markov and keyboardist Joshua Block do their things on stage was just as fun as ever. As always, a sacrifice had to be made… I missed Starflyer’s second set. But I had to show love to the China boys.
Tonight promised to be the night of the festival, which was a shame considering it was the first “proper” day of the fest. Denison Witmer, Ester Drang, Damien Jurado, and Havalina all in one tent, right after another. Alas, some disappointment was to creep in.
Denison Witmer took the stage, and again, I was floored by how such simple, quiet music can be so arresting and emotional. I’ve come to find that you either love or hate Witmer’s music. I love it, and the simple, honest way he deals with the crowd… just before he goes into one of his delicate, nostalgic folk songs. I was doubly thankful that he played some of my favorites; “I Would Call You Now” and “Stations.”
It did look somewhat humorous to see Witmer surrounded by Ester Drang’s armada of analog synths, Rhodes, and guitars. Last year, the Drang’s set was the best set of the festival, an intense wall of sound and noise that was one of the most profound musical/worship experiences I’ve ever had. As a result, I had pretty high expectations going into this show. I fear that was an unwise thing to do, because this set left me somewhat disappointed.
But as I watched the video I’d shot, I realized that a “poor” set from Ester Drang is still a remarkable thing; my friend Liz put it best when she described it as “music that helps you forget you exist.” They incorporated a few new songs into their set, which still flowed seamlessly from one song to the next. The final song was a bit disappointing, a free-for-all of knob-twiddling and feedback that felt like free jazz more than anything else.
Then came the first big disappointment of the fest. Actually, I’d heard it earlier in the day, but still… Damien Jurado had cancelled and Skillet was taking his place. Now, Skillet is another one of those bands that’s just not my cup of tea, but even so, their music just felt completely out of place given the bands sharing the stage that night.
As a gang of youth group kids flooded the tent, nearly knocking down everyone else who had been there for Witmer and Ester Drang, I managed to make it outside. I stuck around for the first song before walking away. I think an hour of silence would’ve been just fine.
I was already feeling exhausted from the heat of the day (I don’t know how Mewithoutyou did it), but I made it back for the Havalina set. As I’ve said before, Havalina’s late night sets are the stuff of legends, but tonight was not to be. After an inordinately long soundcheck (the first of many times when the heat effed with the sound) Havalina took the stage. Unfortunately, they only played for about 40 minutes before calling it a night (why, I never was clear about). And just when I was getting my second wind.
However, the show wasn’t without its moments. The irrepressible Juan (if you’ve ever been to a Joy Electric show at Cornerstone, you know who I’m talking about) tried his darndest to get his favorite song played, even shining the title on the tent’s ceiling with a portable projector. And I think every single guy there left the tent heartbroken when it was revealed that vocalist/guitarist Mercedes Stevens was, in fact, married.
I wonder if she has a sister…