(Photo: Azuree Wiitala)
A summer festival that has helped launched the careers of many Christian artists, including Sixpence None the Richer, Jars of Clay, Newsboys and One Bad Pig, is calling it quits after 29 years due to the poor economy and financial difficulties. This year will be its last.
Cornerstone Festival, hosted by Jesus People, USA (JPUSA), has taken place in Illinois every year since 1984. One of the first festivals featured Amy Grant early in her career. The Christian festival has biblically-based seminars, an art show, kids programs, a skate park and sports tournaments. But the main focus has been the music. Originally, Cornerstone Festival was held in Chicago but quickly outgrew the venue there. It has since been held in Bushnell, Ill., a rural location west of Peoria, Ill. The last festival will be July 2 to 7.
"The truth of the matter is we would be on board for continuing to do it. We've been doing it for so many years, it's really become a part of who we are as a church, as an organization. We would love to continue doing it, but we're just not seeing the ticket sales we need to pay for it each year," Genesis Winter, a member of JPUSA and one of the festival organizers, told The Christian Post in a Monday interview.
Ticket sales were never enough to cover the cost of the festival, organizer Genesis Winter noted. JPUSA, an intentional Christian community in Chicago, supports itself through a roofing supply company. With the economic downturn, construction in Chicago has decreased, so the company has not been profitable enough to cover the costs of the festival.
At the same time, ticket sales have decreased, in part, Winter believes, because of high gas prices. Sixty percent of Cornerstone Festival's attendees were traveling from over 300 miles away.
Jack Strating, a Chicago native who now lives in Gainesville, Fla., has been to Cornerstone Festival over 20 times, by his estimate. One of the key aspects that kept him coming back, he explained, was the diverse gathering of people.
"There were all kinds of people. There were metalheads and the punks and the straight evangelical Christians and all kinds of shades in between," Strating said.
Strating, who will be unable to attend this last gathering, added that he appreciated the diverse selection of Christian music available.
He also liked the "substantial teaching" that has been available at the seminars. Previous speakers have included Os Guinness, John M. Perkins, Ron Sider and Baylor philosophy professor C. Steven Evens, a leading expert on Kierkegaard.
This year's seminars include apologetics expert H. L. Hussman on "Can You Have a Brain and Be a Christian," the Rev. Chris Benek on "The Disenfranchised Church," and JPUSA member and Resurrection Band lead vocalist Wendi Kaiser on "Sex, Dating, and Love: Connecting the Dots."
One of the characteristics of the seminars that Strating appreciated most was that the speakers were very accessible during the event. Strating developed a relationship with John M. Perkins, a civil rights activist and leading figure in the racial reconciliation movement, at Cornerstone Festival and considers him a friend today.
Festival organizer Genesis Winter noted that the decision to end the festival was based upon how to allocate limited resources. JPUSA has several other ministries, including the second largest homeless shelter in Chicago, and it decided that the other ministries were a higher priority than the festival.
Music will continue, however, to be a large part of JPUSA's ministry. The church is renovating a building across the street from where the members all live that will be a concert venue. Winter believes it will be the only Christian concert venue in Chicago.
For longtime Cornerstone attendee Strating, the end of the festival does not mean the end of meeting up with C-stone friends. He has already been in touch with some of those friends and they are "determined to find other ways and times to get together."
He added that he was "a little hopeful" that Cornerstone Festival will reappear at some point in the future in some varied form.