Looking Back on Cornerstone: Music

I didn’t see much music while at Cornerstone last week. Occasionally I could hear, or feel, the thumping of a bass while I was giving a talk. Someone told me that there were about 500 bands there, which is an amazing number, to be sure.  So it’s probably a shame that I didn’t see more than I did.  But, the fact is, I have a strong aversion to Christian music in general, so I didn’t have a great interest to begin with.

But I did see one group, whom I loved.

Before going to Cornerstone, I had asked via this blog, Twitter, and Facebook, what band(s) I should make sure and see. One name came back over and over: mewithoutYou. Though I’d never heard of them, I figured that this must be a sign, so I made a point of staying for the main stage on Friday night to hear them.

And I loved them. They’re a post-punk, high energy, spoken word group with a bit of a 70s psychedelic sound. Being able to watch their drummer, Richard Mazzotta, is alone worth the price of admission. That dude is off the hook.

I read up on them a little bit after I got home, and it turns out that they were discovered at Cornerstone a few years ago and signed by Tooth and Nail, a Christian label. But they aren’t a Christian band, exactly. The lead singer, Aaron Weiss, and his guitarist brother were reared by parents who had converted from Judaism and Episcopalianism to follow M.R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen in Philadelphia in the 1970s. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen was a Sufi mystic who developed a significant follwoing during that time, and his writings and parables have influenced mewithoutYou, as have other Sufi poets and the Bible.

So, I’m digging me some mewithoutYou right now.  Thanks to all of you who recommended them.

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  • i am seeing mewithoutYou this saturday in boston. i have been loving their stuff for years and i am glad you were introduced!

  • I love mewithoutYou! They are from Philadelphia (where I live), and they have gained a large following here. Good choice.

  • nicholas a. evans

    I’ll admit that I also have a strong aversion to most of what passes for “Christian music” (whatever that means). The lyrics are too often trite and the music is usually derivative and mediocre. Most of it is geared towards youth groups and making it kid-friendly (or more likely, mom-friendly).
    But there really are some gems, and Cornerstone may be the only Christian music fest where you will consistently find them. mewithoutyou is one of them. Over the Rhine, The Lost Dogs (and related bands), and Bill Mallonee are some others who often show up at Cornerstone. Sufjan Stevens and David E. Edward (16 Horsepower and Woven Hand) and Starflier 59 are some others. IMHO, most of what plays at the Gallery stage in the evenings ranges from good to great. On the other hand, I also consider U2 and a few other mainstream acts to fit comfortably within my definition of “Christian music”.
    I treat it like Sturgeon’s Revelation (“90% of everything is crud”). I’m not a fan of most of the music on the radio, Christian or otherwise. The Christian ghetto makes it hard or sometimes even impossible for the gems to be found and polished. But many of the bands at Cornerstone do not live within the normal evangelical subculture anyway. The bands I mentioned above are more likely to play in normal indy-music venues, pubs, nightclubs, and backyards than in churches. Either way, if you want to find that 10% of what’s great, you may need to dig a bit. And try not to let the 90% get you down.
    Also, my favorite bit about the music at Cornerstone is the generator stages. Even though I only stop to listen to several of them every year, and I only actually enjoy a smaller fraction of that, there is something wonderful about the punk-DIY “we’re gonna make our music without any official recognition” aesthetic that I just love.

  • Love me some mewithoutYou. Another good group along the same lines that you might like is Manchester Orchestra.
    Looking forward to (finally) meeting you at the Moltmann Conversation in a few months.

  • Rick Bennett

    The more I listen the more I realize that they sound a lot like bright Eyes circa 2003 meets Sufjan Stevens at Woodstock.

  • when mewithoutyou screams, they do screaming right. None of the other bands at C-stone do screaming well, imho. And there was far too much of it…
    i’m guessing that show was probably the largest crowd the mainstage saw… that was the only mainstage performance I showed up for, and there was massive entrance for their show, and then a mass exodus when they were done. i caught Bill Mallonnee after that show, which was a huge genre jump–one of the beautiful things about C-stone.
    i think they do better in smaller venues for sure, because they’re lyrically driven, which allows their listeners to make out what they’re saying a bit better…but I loved the show. their new album is great. i didn’t know that part of their story–thanks for sharing. makes sense that the most fantastic song on the album is “Allah Allah Allah” which they performed to my great pleasure.

  • Dan Hauge

    Yeah, there’s much greater variety these days in terms of music created by people who happen to be Christians: lyrically, musically–there are plenty of Christians out there just making good music. So try not to let the label deter you too much in the future 🙂

  • Matt

    I can see why you might have beef with the Christian music industry, but it almost sounds like you like mewithoutyou more now that you’ve found out they aren’t purely christian in their beliefs? What if they were? You’d like them less? That seems a bit odd.

  • jon

    im pretty sure your buddy mark scandrette is friends with them

  • Your Name

    Ever since I was 16 I have had a love/hate relationship with “Christian music.” There have been times when I wouldn’t listen to it and others when that is all I wanted to hear. I guess for me I finally decided that I glean from all music the beauty and wonder of God. I don’t care if the artists are Christian (though I wish they were) what matters to me is if the music is good. Mewithoutyou are a great band and more than that really awesome guys. I saw them in Memphis and Aaron the lead singer took questions for two hours from kids eventhough they had a gig the next day in Texas. There are tons of good bands that are signed to “Christian” Labels. The one that I am highest on is As Cities Burn. They are great guys too and have some of the most thoughtful lyrics out there.