There are several sentences, each of them true, that start “TWLOHA began…”
TWLOHA began when my friend David introduced me to his friend Renee.
TWLOHA began when Renee said she wanted her story to be told.
TWLOHA began when i posted that story on a thing called MySpace.
TWLOHA began when Kory designed that first shirt, in the middle of a March Florida night.
TWLOHA began when Jon Foreman wore that first shirt, in front of 3,000 people at a Switchfoot show in South Florida.
TWLOHA began when people responded, saying the story we were telling was also theirs.
There is one more that you probably haven’t heard:
TWLOHA began with Cornerstone Festival.
i was working as a sales rep for Hurley in 2006, and i took a week off work so that we could have a booth at Cornerstone Festival in Bushnell, Illinois. On the way home, i talked to my sales manager (my boss) for the first time in a couple weeks. He asked why my (sales) numbers were down. i spent a few minutes telling him about meeting Renee and trying to raise money to help her and the way all of it was met with this incredible surprising response.
At the end of me telling him all of that, there was a long pause. His next words were: “Is all of that behind you now?”
He went on to tell me that he saw himself in me. He said that i was young and needed to focus on my career.
i quit my job a few days later. And he got fired.
It was one of those defining moments where i had to choose. i chose TWLOHA, and so much of that had to do with this amazing week we had at a festival in the middle of a field in Illinois. The questions and confessions, the encouragement, people saying they could relate, people saying this was a conversation long overdue. People in need of help and people asking how they could help. The way it all seemed to make sense with music, the way we were embraced by bands. It was all too special to walk away from.
It became one of my favorite events. A marker every summer to go back to, a place filled with memories and moments. Ones as big as telling 10,000 people about TWLOHA before Anberlin played. Ones as small as listening to one person’s story at the picnic table by the funnel cakes.
As an organization, we’ve been back every year since 2006. My friend Chad was there last week, for what we’re told was the final Cornerstone. This is his goodbye.
I don’t know that I am even qualified to write about the end of an era. Thousands of people likely join me in denial that it is even ending. Certainly, some are still subconsciously planning their trip back to the cornfields of Illinois during the week of July 4th for 2013. The problem is, as it stands, 2013 will be the first time since 1984 that music will fail to echo off of those Midwestern stalks.
I have only been to three Cornerstone festivals, but it has represented some significant moments in my adult life. There are people at Cornerstone who I only see at Cornerstone. There are people at Cornerstone who are my friends because Cornerstone is where I first met them. There are countless stories of love and pain and redemption that hot summer afternoons paid witness to; a few of those stories are mine. Cornerstone generators were the soundtrack to our friendships. There were mudslides and dust bowls and jokes about The Lake. Talks about “What’s next?” and “Maybe this can continue …” I’d like to think those conversations might still be happening.
The best kept secret of Cornerstone is that it’s not really a music festival as much as it is a people festival. Cornerstone was created and sustained by community, by people. There are people who first attended this festival in its last year, and there’s something magical about the realization that it only takes one trip to become an irreplaceable part of this mosaic.
This year, folks walked up from time to time just to say they were there six years ago, when we showed up for the first time. Several were happy to see we stuck it out for the last year. The booth was slow, and the days were hot—each day was over 101 degrees—but the conversations were classic Cornerstone.
One young woman stopped by just because her youth pastor said she should. She said she has been in and out of hospitals for years due to self-injury. I asked how she was doing, and she said, “Not so great.” I asked her when was the last time she injured, and she said it was just eight days before. I gave her a Fears vs Dreams bracelet and told her we were looking forward to celebrating nine days with her. The next day, she stopped by the booth while I was away. She found our replacement Fears vs Dreams whiteboard and wrote “9 DAYS!!! SAVE THIS.” For the next few days, she came over just to write a new number on the board and leave a smile. The day we left, she visited one more time to write “11 days” and told us this was the longest she could remember going without injuring. I told her to keep the whiteboard and to send us pictures from time to time of the numbers. I hope she does.
I am not so convinced this is the last Cornerstone, mostly because I am not so convinced people can forget that quickly. I learned in high school that the heart is a muscle. I also learned that a finely tuned muscle can react to memory better than stimulus. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if some hearts make an annual migration to the cornfields just because it’s what we’ve learned to do.
I believe the only (and best) reason people really do anything is for the sake of other people. The music was just an excuse. The noise was really little more than a community talent show. We showed up for family. We came to support and find support. We will not forget, simply because we don’t know how to. Maybe this can continue, in some way.