For many of the nearly 30,000 music fans who spent five days in the mud, and then the dust, of the Cornerstone festival, the event was a life-changing experience. For the organizers of the festival, the commune called Jesus People USA in Chicago, that's by design.
Their complex on West Wilson Ave., called a cult by some, welcomes and houses a variety of street people, many with drug and/or alcohol problems, ex-cons, and together they operate a music company, a publishing company, a roofing supply company, a nursing home and several other businesses.
Members work for the commune and the commune provides for their needs -- material and spiritual.
But the small-town kids and their church leaders who made the trek to Bushnell weren't interested in that. For some, the trip was justified to their parents and churches by the wide variety of Christian speakers presenting seminars and discussions. While some of the seminars attracted decent crowds, others didn't. The real draw of Cornerstone is the incredibly varied music and the opportunity for kids to be themselves, something they're often not allowed to be at home. That's what makes Cornerstone unique; it's a festival filled with punks -- not scary punks, Christian punks.
It's not only the attendees who sometimes feel like outcasts at home in the straight world of church-going suburbia; it's some of the performers as well.
Rackets & Drapes is a prime example. This band from Denver describes themselves as shock rockers, a cross between Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails. There aren't too many places where they get to play. Lead singer Kandy Kane says they've been kicked out of some of the best churches in the country. "We were in Topeka and had been invited to play but when the pastor saw us, he wouldn't let us set up. That's his prerogative but I don't think it makes him a very good Christian. We ended up setting up and playing in a coffeehouse run by a witch, a Wiccan, but it was great. It shows where churches are today, it's really corrupt that they'll kick out a kid with blue hair but not a rich old lady with blue hair."
Kane says they really don't like playing in churches, anyway. "Ministers should be ministers, not concert promoters. We're probably the most controversial band to hit the Christian scene. Much of our music is allegorical; many people don't understand it but the message is there. We're not going to make happy Jesus music to sell records in bookstores. That's just music to please parents. We won't do that. Shock rock is where it's at. That's how you get people's attention. That's what Jesus did."
Rackets & Drapes drove to Bushnell with a full contingent. Their minister was with them; so were several of their children, including Kane's 8-year-old son who worked the smoke machine during their 55-minute set."
Rackets & Drapes was one of hundreds of bands who drove to Bushnell to play one set. They don't get to play much at all any more. "Our fans will find us and come see us wherever we are," said Kane, who is trying to get signed with a secular label. "I think it's cheesy to have a Christian set and a secular set. We're never going to get major distribution until we sign with a secular label. The Christian market just isn't ready for us. I think by playing in more secular places we can bring the gospel to more people. That's what Jesus did."
When Rackets & Drapes played at 11pm Saturday night, the large tent was packed with nearly a thousand fans, many dressed in goth; many in facepaint, all enjoying a loud, messy, smoke filled show that wouldn't be welcome in very many places.
In many ways, that's the spirit of Cornerstone -- sharing a Christian message with those shunned by the mainstream churches.