Cornerstone Festival started in Illinois in 1984 and has since become one of the largest and most acclaimed festivals in the country. In June, thousands of fans flocked to the annual five-day event, featuring performances by bands such as Anberlin, Copeland, Flyleaf, Pillar, Skillet, Switchfoot and Underoath. Borrowing a page from last year’s Bamboozle Left, Cornerstone decided it was finally time to make their hard-hitting presence felt in Orange County last weekend, Sept. 28-29.
Night one’s schedule included Emery, Thousand Foot Krutch and Demon Hunter, but the second night was the main attraction. The first highlight belonged to Orange County’s own Project 86, who turned in a vigorous set consisting of eleven songs. Led by the active charisma of singer Andrew Schwab, the veteran rock outfit skewed towards material off of this summer’s Rival Factions.
While they pulled it off handedly most of the time, as evidenced by scorching opener “The Forces Of Radio Have Dropped A Viper Into The Rhythm Section” and “Evil (A Chorus Of Resistance),” during others it was a more mixed affair (“Illuminate,” “Pull Me Closer, Violent Dancer”). The band should have chosen to stick closer to their guns and pull more from their strong discography, as they did on “The Spy Hunter” and “My Will Be A Dead Man.” Closing with the only song of the night off of Drawing Black Lines – arguably their best album – “Stein’s Theme” proved they were merely saving the best for last. It all amounted to another solid outing from one of OC’s finest.
Anberlin was up next, putting on nothing short of a terrific performance. Kicking things off with “A Whisper & A Clamor” and “Never Take Friendship Personal,” the band’s set was equally full of both old and new material. Although “Readyfuels” was the only song from their debut record, the big surprise was that they played six off of their second. The noticeable standouts were the rocking “Paperthin Hymn” and “The Feel Good Drag,” but it was especially satisfying to see “Dance, Dance Christa Paffgen” live.
The band spent the rest of the time highlighting one of this year’s best releases, Cities. This included tracks “Hello Alone” and “Adelaide,” both of which were precisely executed, while the powerful duo of “Dismantle. Repair.” and “Godspeed” ended things in an emphatic manner.
Lead singer Stephen Christian did a pretty good job with the vocals, not quite up to his best but far from his worse, and impressed on a couple of high notes. He displayed a charming command of the stage as well, helping to compensate for the times when his frail voice was overshadowed by the guitars.
The Florida five-piece also maintained a high level of energy, led by rhythm guitarist Christian McAlhaney and bassist Deon Rexroat, with Nathan Young pounding away behind the drum kit. When all was said and done, Anberlin confirmed why they have become one of today’s brightest up-and-coming bands.
Metalcore act Underoath was given the task of closing out the festival, and the organizers couldn’t have selected anyone more fitting. The six-piece band, taking time out from their first headlining tour in over a year, brought their “A” game with a dominating 12-song set. They came onto the stage to the instrumental murmurs of “Salmarnir,” offering little more than a tease of what lay ahead, before exploding into the brutal one-two punch of “Returning Empty Handed” and “In Regards To Myself.”
Quick to follow were “It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door” and “You’re Ever So Inviting,” showcasing the dual vocals between screaming frontman Spencer Chamberlain and singer/drummer Aaron Gillespie. A portion of their quieter, more experimental nature was next demonstrated on the epic “To Whom It May Concern,” the closer off of last year’s phenomenal Define The Great Line.
“A Moment Suspended In Time” and “Young And Aspiring” kept things progressing at a high pace but were soon eclipsed by “Writing On The Walls” and “Everyone Looks So Good From Here,” which cranked the dial all the way up to eleven. Chamberlain then unexpectedly joined in on guitar for a stirring performance of “Casting Such A Thin Shadow” before the band closed with an oldie, “A Boy Brushed Red…Living In Black And White.”
Despite the festival’s constraints of production aspects and a limited set time, Underoath held nothing back and delivered an excellent show. Their seemingly limitless stamina, from the headbanging madness of keyboardist Chris Dudley to the controlled frenzy of guitarist Tim McTague to the vicious beatings generated by Gillespie, was living proof why they rank among the top live acts in today’s music scene.
In the end, Cornerstone California’s inaugural year turned out to be a fair success. While the lineup could have been stronger – it still has quite a ways to go to match its Illinois sibling – the headlining bands, especially the electrifying Underoath, proved they were up to the challenge. With some additional improvements and slight tinkering here and there, Cornerstone’s newest addition could be a force to reckon with for years to come.