Cornerstone 2007, Day 1: Welcome to Bushnell, Flickerings & Intro to Otaku Culture

In years past, when Opus was doing its super-duper hardcore Cornerstone coverage, my friends and I envisioned bringing a laptop with us to Bushnell, staying in a hotel or one of the nearby college dorms, somehow finding an Internet connection, and uploading daily updates to the site: concert reviews, interviews, photos, videos, etc.

It took nearly five years, but I’m finally living out that dream tonight. Of course, everyone else has already beaten Opus to the punch, but ah well.

This year’s Cornerstone festival is quite different for me than previous festivals. For one thing, I’m living it up in a hotel, rock star-style. Part of me feels bad about wussing it this year — my favorite Cornerstone memories involve staying up until the wee hours of the night at some random campsite, maybe mine, maybe not, and swapping all manner of stories, oftentimes with folks you met for the first time earlier that day — but one can’t deny the drawing power of air conditioning, cable TV, and hot showers.

Another thing, I’m not here by myself. This time, there are two of us. The wife is here with me this year, and so, even as I indulge in nostalgia, I’m also very aware that someone is with me who is experiencing all that is Cornerstone for the very first time.

And finally, I’m not attending Cornerstone as a mere festivalgoer. This time around, I’m an official speaker. I’ve been helping out with Flickerings, Cornerstone’s very own artsy-fartsy film festival, and so far, it’s been a blast. This year’s theme is “J-Pop,” and we’ve already indulged in a fair amount of Japanese pop culture so far — Space Battleship Yamato, the first episodes of Haibane Renmei, and Train Man: Densha Otoko.

I gave my lecture, entitled “An Introduction To Otaku Culture,” at 1:00pm today, immediately following the morning screening of Space Battleship Yamato (which, despite being nearly thirty years old, still has much to recommend it).

It was a relief to finally be done with the lecture after becoming increasingly obsessed with the topic (especially within the last few weeks) and a pleasure to see how well it seemed to go over. At least, I noticed people nodding their heads throughout (not in a drowsy manner, mind you) and laughing at my jokes — all good signs that, at the very least, people were listening.

Train Man: Densha Otoko went over very well with the crowd. I’ll confess, I was a little worried that this very mainstream, very commercial slice of Japanese cinema might not be appreciated for the charming little film that it is, but the crowd really got into it. Afterwards, Mike Hertenstein (the Flickerings programmer and all-around cool guy) and I had something of tag-team discussion about the film, touching on some of the themes and ideas contained within — which was great fun, and hopefully, as rewarding for the audience as it was enjoyable for me.

Of course, Cornerstone being Cornerstone, some things haven’t changed. There’s that familiar scent, an intriguing and often pungent combination of sweat, mud, port-a-potties, and more sweat. There’s the thundering, raucous sound of countless punk and hardcore bands that immediately pounds your cranium as soon as you step outside. There’s the heat, which likes to occasionally smack you upside the head, just to see if you really have been keeping hydrated. And also, the random rainstorms that don’t do much to cool you off, but do quite a bit to make you a wee bit uncomfortable.

I would, of course, not change any of these things (with the possible exception of the heat).

I’ve also been able to have a few encounters with familiar faces, or at least, familiar online personas and the faces behind them. I’m keeping my eyes open for more such encounters, and the more random, the better. Bumping into folks that I haven’t seen in years in the middle of the merch tent, encountering an old IRC buddy in the food court — these are the things of which beloved Cornerstone stories are made. I saw that the Asylum — the original Cornerstone goth tent, and a regular hangout of mine back in the day — was back, and so hope to see if any of the original crowd is still there.

Tomorrow (Thursday), looks to be even more packed than today. Independent filmmakers, the next batch of Haibane Renmei episodes, Kamikaze Girls, Bright Future, Darkon, and maybe even an actual concert or two somewhere in the midst of all of the films. I can already feel that weariness setting in, and can’t wait.