Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Further Along the Way

For 28 years summer meant Cornerstone Festival. Beginning in 1984, I and my family would make the familiar odyssey out to the festival grounds. This year would have been our 32nd festival. More than half my life was Cornerstone Festival. My engagement picture was taken at the fairgrounds in Lake County following Cornerstone ’86. I was EXTREMELY pregnant while at Cornerstone ’89, aptly named Family Reunion. By the time my daughter was a year old we had moved the festival to Bushnell, Illinois where we had purchased some property for the express purpose of holding the festival there. It seemed like we might be able to stay forever.

2012 was the end of the run.

Chalk it up to a downturn in the economy, an aging Jesus population, other concert options—but we had seen a significant decrease in attendance after our peak years of 2000 and 2001 where the festival drew close to 20,000. Cars lined up days in advance of opening day. There evolved a whole pre-Cornerstone culture of kids with their generator-fueled amps playing beside parked cars. The state police assisted us in crowd control on the one main road back to the property. The portos were on continuous round-the-clock, 24-7 cleaning and emptying schedule. That says a lot, right there. I had a friend whose clothes got wet the first day and put them out to dry. That night someone pitched a tent over them and he ended up wearing the same outfit for the rest of the festival—until the people next to him packed up to leave.

Then suddenly we didn’t need three entrance gates or an opening-day registration crew to get the cars in off the road. We didn’t need to schedule around the clock porto cleaners. There were still popular concerts that were jammed packed; mostly, though, we could find a seat. People started sitting instead of standing near the front. We were getting old, but not tired of the festival. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak.

I still remember sitting on the hillside looking down at Main Stage in that natural bowl of an amphitheater with a stream running past the semis that worked as green rooms and were somewhat air conditioned, relief from the heat. Just as you got to the point where you couldn’t stand it anymore, the heat, the intense sun beating down on you from a cloudless sky, the sun lowered, a gift. And that same sky went all orange and purple, rose-colored in the diffused light, filtered through a stratosphere of dust worked up by feet, golf carts, and vehicles always on the move. The heat softened, nudged down to a clammy comfort level, and the insects came out a thousand strong to chirp and whine in cadence with whoever was on the stage. Rita Springer. Oh, how I love you, oh, how I love you. We sat there in descending twilight, grateful, before the sun set in a firework crescendo.

Cornerstone sunset. Photo by Neil E. Das
Life was beautiful at that moment.

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