Friday, July 2, 2010

Cornerstone Festival, Day Two

Tired doesn't even cut it today.

I woke up at about 8:30 a.m., because that's just what I do - I haven't slept past 8:30 in ages. I couldn't get back to slumberland, so today I did 12 hours of music on four hours of sleep. You'll forgive me if I keep this brief, although I don't really think I will.

I'm going to say this as plainly as I can: the reason I got out of bed this morning at all was the Choir. I've been a fan for 20 years, and I've seen them play four times now. The last time was in 2005, which, sadly enough, was the last time they reconvened on stage. So after a half-decade of no Choir shows, I was pretty stoked for tonight's late-night performance.

I've been upfront about my absence of faith, but here's one thing I will say: every time I get to see the Choir play, I thank God I'm alive. For one thing, it's such a rare occurrence, and for another, every show may well be the last. And for a third, the Choir spins such a magical atmosphere each time out, it's like living through a particularly vivid dream. I remember my first Choir concert, in 2001, after 11 years of listening to their records over and over again. I could scarcely believe it was happening - here were these people I'd only seen in photographs, playing this music I love intensely right in front of me. Magic.

If I ever needed confirmation that my heroes are human, tonight provided it. I don't want to say this, but tonight was a bad Choir show. The band clearly hadn't practiced much, and there were wrong notes galore, shifting tempos, forgotten lyrics, and a couple of spectacular flameouts. They tried to get through three new songs (from their wonderful new album Burning Like the Midnight Sun), and watched helplessly as they fell apart. The set was heavy on their twin high water marks Chase the Kangaroo and Circle Slide, and featured songs this band has been playing for 20 years. And yet, in Derri Daugherty's own words, it was rough.

Despite all that, I still enjoyed myself. Watching these guys play is always fun, and these songs are so permanently etched into my soul that even a bad performance couldn't spoil them. I feel lucky to have seen this show, and lucky to be a fan of this band. And the hundreds who gathered to watch the Choir's return to the gallery stage all seemed to feel the same way. This is our band, and if they have an off night, we'll help them through it. We love them. Tonight of all nights, we love them.

And every time I get to hear them play that bit in the middle of "Circle Slide," when they all just start making as much pretty noise as they can for as long as they can, my heart sings. "Circle Slide" was magnificent tonight. It's the kind of song that lifts you up and twirls you around, higher and higher. I wish the entire show had been as good, but hey, I got to see the Choir play one more time. I'm very lucky.

Also, I can console myself by listening to Burning Like the Midnight Sun over and over again. I'll have a more detailed review in this week's tm3am column, but I'll just say this: for the second time in a row, they've made their best album since Circle Slide.

I expected the rest of my day would be long and boring while I waited for the Choir to play. But I took in some superb performances today, and discovered some new favorites. Today's gallery stage lineup was assembled by John Thompson of the Wayside, formerly of Aurora, Illinois and now of Nashville. Thompson brought several of his fellow Nashville songwriters up north with him, and they were all quite good.

There was songwriter Kate York, whose clear voice and lovely tunes were captivating even with no accompaniment. "It Rains Here Too" may be the prettiest sad song I've heard in years. Brooke Wagonner played a set of Regina Spektor-ish piano pop, quirky and dramatic. And the Farewell Drifters showed off their chops - they're a bluegrass band (two guitars, stand-up bass, mandolin and fiddle) that plays well-written pop songs with great harmonies. Well worth checking out.

The Wayside closed out the New Nashville portion of the program, playing a selection from their new one, Spiritual Songs. Very nice stuff, traditional and church-y, but well-arranged. I must confess, though, I ducked out for a bit before the Wayside took the stage, to go see metal maniacs Sacred Warrior. I used to listen to them back in my teenage metalhead days, and their brand of Queensryche-esque rock still made me smile.

So even though the Choir show wasn't all it could have been, today's lineup was a good one. Tomorrow I get to close this whole thing out with Over the Rhine, and I can't think of anything better. Wait, no, I can - sleeping for six or seven hours straight. I think I'll try that. Check back here to see if I was successful.

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