We returned from our 17th Cornerstone Festival on Monday. It’s amazing how long it takes me to recover each year. One week of Cornerstone equals at least one week of fatigue and mental confusion. But it’s worth it.
A few thoughts on this year’s fest.
1) Doug Jones was the perfect guest for the Imaginarium. We’ve never had a “celebrity” guest before, and I was even a bit skeptical of the idea. But what a delight Doug Jones turned out to be! He was animated and engaging – qualities that shouldn’t be surprising in a performer, I suppose – but also very generous with his time and attention. I could see how much his famous “Doug hugs” meant to people, especially kids. There’s actually a Facebook page devoted to them which describes a Doug Jones hug as “like being wrapped in kittens, rainbows and the love of god all at once.” I stood in line to get signed photos of him as Abe Sapien (for Mr. Right), one of the Gentlemen from Hush (for me) and Pan from Pan’s Labyrinth (for….shhh! it’s a suprise!).
At the opening of his presentation, Doug showed some career highlights and I discovered that he had a tiny part in Mystery Men, a very silly comedy that I dearly love. So that was the cherry on the sundae for me. He did “Buffy”, and he did “Mystery Men”: I’m a fan.
2) The volunteer staff at Cornerstone amazed me again. In particular, I’d like to send a shout out to Curtis and Aaron. Curtis is a tall, gangly recent college grad who ran the sound board at the Imaginarium. I stood directly behind him in the line to meet Doug Jones and had the opportunity to chat with him at length (it was a long line). None of that ironic detachment that the young folks are so fond of: Curtis is friendly and full of enthusiasms. Bless him. We experienced significant technical difficulties at the fest this week – power going on and off in the middle of seminars – but Curtis cheerfully stayed on top of the sound issues as well as anyone could have.
Aaron supervised children at the Imaginarium. Visually, Aaron was playing against type. He’s a sweet faced young man with long blonde dreadlocks and a beard who spent the entire festival dressed in leather. But not just any leather ensemble, mind you. Aaron made his, and it included a leather vest, leather kilt, leather framed goggles, a pouch, and handmade jewelry. All worn with heavy boots. So he was perhaps not typical of the children’s church workers in my neck of the woods, but he was a complete sweetheart and the children loved him. I never saw him without a smile, even when Cheesy was beating him over the head with a hula hoop. He also gave a smashing on-the-spot performance of Crazy Hair by Neil Gaimen. I wish I’d gotten a photo of the kids sitting around him, in rapt attention, listening to that poem.
Love to you both, Curtis and Aaron. People like you are part of the miracle that is Cornerstone. I wish I’d gotten to know you both better. Perhaps next year?
3) It was a very hot, sweaty festival – the hottest in several years. This made the transition to the “Cornerstone look” even faster than usual. Every year I comment on this, but let me say it again. There is something incredibly freeing about looking your worst and being loved anyway. I get that freedom and acceptance every year at Cornerstone. My hair does what it will. I wear no makeup. I burn. My wrinkles deepen. I sweat through my clothes. No one cares. I even smell and no one cares (much)! I am part of this little community at Cornerstone in which there’s no need to be self-conscious. We love each other for reasons that are unchanged by sweat and grime and wrinkles.
I always wish I could hold on to that confidence in “real world”, but it does fade over time. Still, I think it’s fair to say that Cornerstone has helped me become more comfortable with myself. It’s a gift I didn’t see coming when I started attending the festival, but given my issues with appearance and aging, it’s most definitely a gift.
4) On the last day of the festival I took the kids down to the lake for one last swim. There we had the good fortune to witness the baptism of a young woman named Sarah. Surrounded by a crowd of friends, including the aforementioned Aaron, Sarah was prayed over and then baptized into the household of God. All the rest of us who happened to be there shared in the clapping and cheering, and it was a lovely experience. The unexpected moments like that are often my favorite memories from Cornerstone.
5) Oh, yes, there is music at Cornerstone, too! Admittedly I prioritize movies and seminars over concerts, but it’s always a happy surprise to “discover” a new band or artist at Cornerstone. This year, on the last night of the festival, I heard a group called Shel. Four sisters with great musicianship and dangerously, delightfully close harmonies. It was a cool evening – finally! – children were chasing bubbles outside the tent where Shel was playing, we were all weary from the week, but content. It was a perfect end to the festival.
6) About next year….I don’t think I’m revealing a huge secret in saying that the Cornerstone Festival is struggling financially. Attendance has fallen sharply in recent years, for reasons I can’t explain. I don’t know what the future holds for the fest, but I hope we’re still going to Cornerstone years and years from now. I have a semi-official invite to speak at the Imaginarium next year and that, friends, is a dream come true. I”ll be preparing a seminar on all things Whedon, but especially “Firefly” (thanks for the idea, Drew).
You all should come.