Anthony Unpacks the Blues


Anthony Smith is at Cornerstone Festival 2008 in Bushnell, Illinois. He’s there this week presenting a five-session seminar series entitled “Songs of Exile: Our Calling as a Blues People.” This is how he describes the series:

The Bible in a minor key laments this troubled world, like the Blues. Prophets and psalmists call us to raise our heads for help that comes from the Lord, like the old negro spirituals. To mourn everyday injustice while remaining anchored in faith, hope, and love is to be a blues people. This seminar explores through the blues what it means to serve Christ in an often lamentable world.

Anthony Smith at Cornerstone Festival 2008

Anthony just called me—from inside a porta-potty!—to give me an update. Ahhh, I have fond memories of Cornerstone porta-potties … Let me digress for a moment and share some of my Cornerstone Festival memories …

I first went to Cornerstone Festival in 1991. I won two free passes to the festival that year through a Christian radio station that had a “Christian rock” program on Saturday afternoons. The station barely came in on my FM radio, it was so fuzzy, but I listened anyway because I loved the music! So my older brother (who had a driver’s license) got one ticket, I got the other ticket, and my friend Nathan Hieb came along for the trip with us.

I was really into hard music back in those days, so I spent most of my time around the heavy metal and punk bands. I did my first stage dive at the Scaterd Few concert, and I was re-born! I remember seeing The Crucified, as well, that night. Mind-blowing hardcore stuff.

LSU (seen above in their 1993 main stage performance) did a mesmerizing impromptu show at the beach that year. One Bad Pig recorded a live concert video, which you can see me in during one song because I was right up at the front of the stage jumping up and down and banging my head like crazy. I also remember loving The Violet Burning and Crashdog.

In 1992, I had started to “mellow out” and/or my musical tastes had begun to mature. During the previous year, I’d purchased a Mark Heard CD called Second Hand from the clearance bin at the local Christian bookstore, and it opened my mind to the possibility of there being quality artistic, singer-songwriter, folk/rock music in the Christian genre. I saw Mark Heard perform at Cornerstone in 1992. Unbeknown to me, Heard had a heart attack on stage and had to be rushed to the hospital after the show. A few months later I read about his death in a Christian music magazine.

Cornerstone 1992 was also the year I practically banged my head off at The Throes concert and discovered (and fell in love) with the Vigilantes of Love and the Prayer Chain (and immediately bought both bands’ CDs), among other crazy things.

I went back to Cornerstone year after year, even running a booth at the Festival one year to try and promote my underground ‘zine turned wannabe national Christian arts and culture publication, called Kamikaze Magazine. The last time I was at Cornerstone was 2000, when I was working for Billy Graham and I convinced them it would be a good place for me to get interviews with Christians bands for use on the Web (which it was, but it was also just fun).

Anyway, despite all my Cornerstone experience, I really had a hard time describing it to Anthony before he went. You have to be there to truly understand. And I’m glad to hear that he’s having fun and getting a good number of people attending his seminars.

Anthony tells me he spent a good bit of time today hanging out with Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, which can only mean good things (for them and for him). He said he’s also had good conversations with Miroslav Volf, William Cavanaugh, Crystal Downing, and Karen Sloan (among others). He’s hoping to post his own recap/report soon. I hope he gets a chance to reflect on this experience and unpack what it’s been like. I sure wish I could’ve been there with him to experience another Cornerstone Festival! Maybe next year …



Posted on 07-04-2008

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