As Cornerstone bands crossed over into the mainstream, their crowds often crossed back. Cornerstone definitely drew more non-Christian attendees than any Christian event I have ever seen. One year I was driving former Korn member Brian "Head" Welch to the tent where the teens had their specialized workshops every day. Here is a true veteran of the rock world, tattooed from head to foot, staring out the window of the van asking me repeatedly if I was sure that this was a "Christian" event. He couldn't believe his eyes. "This looks crazier than a Korn concert," he said.
There is nothing like Cornerstone, and unless JPUSA decides to try it again, there won't likely be another. It lost lots of money. There was never a profit motive behind Cornerstone, which may have played a part in its eventual demise. The community pulled together after every loss, finding a way to repeat the experience again and again by working hard throughout the year at their roofing businesses and other ventures. Even when the crowds grew, the organizers took any meager profits and immediately reinvested them into making the event a better experience. For the Jesus People, money—like music—is a means to an end. It's all about creating a space that few other elements within the body of Christ seemed interested in creating. It is a space that is mostly safe for kids to scream their heads off, for thinkers to ask difficult questions, for painters and photographers to display their work for those who have eyes to see, and for seekers to experience a glimpse of gospel living that just might change their life.
Cornerstone is an anomaly in the history of Christian music, I believe, in the history of the evangelical church in America. Losing this treasure feels a lot like a local artisan closing up shop due to the new Wal-Mart that just opened on the outskirts of town. The music industry is losing a key artist development opportunity. Independent artists are losing out on the only national stage that many of them have ever had access to. Longtime veteran artists are losing one of the only platforms that still honors heritage acts. Young Christians are losing an important alternative perspective on what it means to have a biblical worldview.
I'll be hosting this week's event, and on Thursday, I'll perform with my band, The Wayside, while also acting as an MC and a speaker for Compassion International—an organization I first heard about at Cornerstone nearly three decades ago. It's an honor I do not take lightly. This event has shaped my faith, cast my imagination, given me a song to sing and a place to sing it.
When the lights go down for the last time this week my heart will break. If nothing rises to take its place, I think God's heart will break a bit too.
John J. Thompson is a Christian and gospel music historian, artist, and producer who currently serves as Director of Creative for EMI CMG Publishing and is the founder of Gyroscope Arts and True Tunes Etc. CT also wrote about the Cornerstone Festival here.
Larry Norman and John Thompson photos courtesy of JJT; cover shot and candles photos by Steve White; Kaiser photo by Thomas Wray.
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