Saturday, July 3, 2010

Cornerstone Festival Day Three

So I've been reading this book by Daniel J. Levitin called The World in Six Songs. In it, Levitin posits that music is an evolutionary necessity, an absolutely vital part of our human existence. We create music because we have to, because our brains are wired to express and receive information and emotions through song. Music is, Levitin says, a biological imperative. We sing because we are, and we are, in large part, because we sing.

I see that everywhere I look at Cornerstone. Every few feet, someone is making music, and I don't just mean the bands on the myriad of stages. Small groups harmonize in the middle of the walking path. A kid with a guitar spins stories while his friend keeps time on a plastic bucket. One of the coolest things I saw all week was a collective of acoustic players gathered inside an unused silo on the farm grounds, singing and taking in the ambiance.

Music is part of our hardware, and music festivals like Cornerstone are places we can connect on that deep, spiritual level. For me personally, I haven't gone a day without listening to music since... well, I can't even tell you. And when I meet someone, most often the first thing I want to know about them is what kind of music they like. I'm always on the lookout for new musical experiences, new connections.

Friday was new discovery day at Cornerstone. I knew going in this would be the day with the fewest expectations. None of my well-aligned stars found their way into Friday's lineup - the headliner at the gallery stage was Over the Rhine, a band I love dearly, but one I've seen more than half a dozen times. OtR played twice, once acoustically and once with their full electric sound. They debuted some new songs from the upcoming album The Long Surrender. Their sets were terrific, as always, and I can't think of a better way to bid the 2010 Cornerstone experience goodbye than listening to Karin Bergquist sing.

But before today, I'd never heard of most of the bands I took in. And now I have some new favorites (and a bunch of new CDs I haven't heard yet). I started the day by breaking my moratorium on the main stage - I saw Photoside Cafe, after hearing nothing but good things about them for two days. They were terrific. People told me they resemble the Dave Matthews Band, but they don't. They sound almost exactly like the Levellers - loud, aggressive folk-rock, with a violin at the center.

Dramatic rockers Dignan knocked me out with their rising-falling-rising-again guitar landscapes. Their album is called Cheaters and Thieves, and if it's half as good as their set today, I'll be happy. Paper Route was less impressive, although the crowd was into it. To me, it seemed like they stole Mutemath's schtick: the drummer is energetic and entertaining in exactly the same ways Darren King is, everyone in the band played percussion at certain points, the show was highly choreographed. The difference is, Paper Route's songs aren't as strong. But they have potential.

But the find of the festival, for me, was Timbre. Yes, her name is Timbre. She plays a harp and sings, and her band is extraordinarily diverse, playing toy pianos, oboes, accordions and dozens of other instruments. One song featured a section in what I counted as 21/8, a bizarre time signature, and at another point, everyone in the band crowded around Timbre, playing parts on her harp - it sounded like a web of plucked strings. Her new album, Little Flowers, includes a cover of Radiohead's "Like Spinning Plates." I can't wait to hear this.

And then there was Eisley, a band I've always enjoyed. This sister act has completed its third album, evidently, but it's lost in record label hell, and may never come out. Which is a shame, because the new song they played tonight ("Sad") is excellent. Eisley is an energetic and melodic pop band with chops and harmonies and everything going for them. I hope they sort out their label situation soon, because they're too good to languish for long.

And that's it, the sum total of my Cornerstone ride this year. I heard from a lot of people how bad attendance was this year, and how depressing the festival was, but I didn't feel much of that. There was enough extraordinary music to keep me going, even on virtually no sleep. Aside from that unfortunate Choir show, everything went better than I expected.

I would give you more musings on faith and art and my own reactions to both here, but I am about to pass out. I plan to rework and repost much of these blog entries as my tm3am column on Wednesday, so look for more detailed analysis then. As for now, I'm off to dreamland, my third Cornerstone behind me. Special thanks to Jeff Elbel for putting me up for the week, and to everyone I met and talked with. You all helped make a special experience even more so.

Good night, good night.

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