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Final Farewell to the Cornerstone Festival

posted: July 11th, 2012 by Dave Trout

"Sometimes things must break before it can grow.  You've heard about the trees that only scatter their seed when they are burned in a forest fire.  We have the opportunity to find creative and inspiring ways to keep the vision of Cornerstone as alive as ever."  This was a benediction of sorts from one of the festival's organizers in it's closing hours.  I recently attended the last couple of days of the 29th installment of the Cornerstone Festival, and sadly its swan song.  In May, Jesus People USA announced that due to many factors - mostly economics - the legendary annual celebration of music, art & culture would be closing its doors after the 2012 event.  Here are four key observations I made during the fest:

1.  Community trumps music.  To most outsiders, they view Cornerstone as a music festival, and it gets lumped in with the likes of Creation Fest, Ichthus, Agape Fest, and Spirit West Coast.  It wasn't odd to have over 300 bands playing on over 30 stages during Cornerstone, so obviously music is a pretty big deal.  But an attendee shared a line that I jotted down right away so I wouldn't forget.  He originally came to Cornerstone in 1992, mainly to see DC Talk on the main stage.  He shared a sentiment that is a common theme at the fest: "I came for the music, and I stayed for the people!"  There is an underlying theme of grace, acceptance, support, and hope that makes the community of Cornerstone a living legacy.  The people attending this final fest were the die-hards.  There was no main stage, no light shows, no jumbo trons -- and as those bells & whistles were stripped away, you could see more clearly the beauty and importance of the community.  And as long-time performer and organizer John J. Thompson shared in this video, the vision of Cornerstone can continue to be fulfilled through the hearts and actions of the people:

2.  The music is still amazing.  Due to the budget crisis faced by the Cornerstone organizers, every band in 2012 performed without getting paid by the Fest.  Even so, 150+ artists played on a handful of stages on the grounds, and this year continued the 29-year tradition of having incredible & impactful performances.  I don't think I'm alone in the desire to be "wow'ed" by an artist I discovered for the first time at the fest.  There were a few stand-out performances this year.  But for me, I will choose the electronic-rock band Kye Kye as my favorite new find at Cornerstone 2012.  Because their music has some electronica undertones, it's natural that they would release remix CDs of their music.  However, I don't ever remember seeing a band perform an electronica remix live, and it turned out to be one of the most memorable song performances of the whole fest.  Thankfully, I caught that remix performance on video:

3.  You don't know what you got 'til it's gone.  I don't know anyone who wasn't shocked when they heard the news that Cornerstone 2012 would be the last gathering.  Some people dropped everything - even quit their jobs (see video below) - to be on the fairgrounds this one last time.  Some of these people found their spouse, were baptized, cut their musical teeth, and made lifelong changes, and even experienced new life in Christ.  But I sometimes wonder if we would take the time to reflect with thanksgiving if the event wasn't coming to an end.  The sharing of stories and the true celebration of what God has done through this event was a beautiful part of this final year of the fest.

4.  The story continues.  I was moved to see God at work - not just throughout the history of Cornerstone - but even specifically in this final gathering.  One of the most poignant moments came in the morning of the final day.  The community gathered under the Gallery Tent for a 2-hour benediction service to celebrate what God had done and was doing through the fest.  Streams of people shared moving stories of lives that will forever be altered.  That service concluded with all hearts focused on Jesus as we all shared in Communion together.  "Let us look only to Jesus, the One who began our faith and who makes it perfect." (Hebrews 12:2a NCV)  The impact and mission of Cornerstone will continue, because in the end it's not about concerts, art exhibits, or vendor booths.  It's all about Jesus, and the last time I checked, Aslan is still on the move.

Have you been impacted directly or indirectly by the Cornerstone Festival?  Share your story below.  On our site, you can view a photo gallery from Cornerstone 2012.  And coming soon (7/20/12), we will present a Cornerstone special edition of UTR.

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