Cornerstone Festival Illinois

Cornerstone Festival (Illinois)

(Photo Credit: Ember)


In 1984, a festival of music, arts, fun and fellowship was created, and it turned out to be surprisingly successful. Read on to see why this unusual, and flourishing, event reigned for five years straight as Best Music Festival.

[Note 1: Main Stage was moved out of the giant bowl, and there were also some generator stage changes, for the 2010 season.]

[Note 2: Cornerstone Festival is now no longer running.]


BEST MUSIC FESTIVAL 2005-2009 Award Winner!
Cornerstone IL - Best Music Festival Award Winner

Runners-Up (all years): NONE.


Cornerstone IL

It’s the one festival we know of that is literally held in the middle of nowhere— a Midwest cornfield, several miles away from the next town— and yet draws hundreds of bands and tens of thousands of people every year.

All of the things that make Cornerstone really superb eventually boil down to a nigh-indescribable aura… a feeling that seems to pervade every inch of the grounds, and every inch of you. And now it’s our job to describe that— starting with the settings, layout, and events. (We’ll get back to the ‘aura’ later. )


Even just on its face, Cornerstone IL. is completely different from any other music festival we’ve ever attended.

Held in the aforementioned cornfield, its paths are either dirt or loose gravel, its only facilities are portable, and its stages— except for the giant Main stage— are all under open-sided tents, as are the merch areas (although those tents are huge). ALL of the stages’ amps and acoustics are excellent. Also, none of the stages have barriers (thank goodness!), except for Main; and even then the barrier is only wide enough to allow the security and other essential crew a little room. This creates a delightfully close atmosphere between the bands and the audience, no matter what the stage’s size.

The people who run Cornerstone also have a real heart for indie bands (and, in fact, a number of well-recognized bands were ‘found’ by labels at Cornerstone). They hold a New Band Showcase every year which indie bands can freely enter; the top 16 bands that are voted in by visitors of the Cornerstone website and a panel of industry leaders get to play on one of the official stages. Plus, there are tons of generators along the festival pathways which any band can sign up to use for free…

Indie band

(Photo Credit: Ember)

… though some really indie bands even set up and play with no generator at all :

Indie band with no generator  :)

(Photo Credit: Ember)

As you might imagine, Cornerstone contains a literally amazing variety of music styles— though Rock, Hardcore, and indie reign, almost every genre imaginable is represented.

There’s wall-to-wall camping nearly everywhere on the grounds (even right up to the paths and stages!). For food there’s a ‘grocery store’ (also under a tent) and many scattered booths, including ice-cold drinks, frozen treats, coffee, pizza, Subway sandwiches, and much more. There’s a 125-acre lake with a beach, where you can fish, swim, or go canoeing; basketball, soccer, and volleyball tournaments; a 5K race; tug-of-war; a climbing wall; laser-tag; and a skate park. Oh, and then there’s the film festival-within-a-festival, speakers, seminar series, classes, workshops, panels, discussion groups, art projects for all ages, and activities for kids.

And then, there’s that Main stage…

Up until now, we’ve been describing the majority of the grounds— everything basically all within the same big plot of land, with easy walking distances from one point to another. In contrast, the Main stage is a good 10 minutes of walking away from everything else. This seems strange… until you get there.

The site of the Main stage is a gigantic, steep-sided hollow in the ground. Because of its huge bowl shape, the acoustics are awesome. It’s the perfect area to set up the Main stage— well worth the exercise to get to. And in keeping with the spectacular natural setting, the Main stage itself is quite a sight to behold, as well.

A huge stage, it spreads across nearly one whole wall of the ‘bowl’; then, straight down the middle, a big platform extends deep into the crowd, which bandmembers can walk out on and use to interact with the audience. And for those who aren’t down front, or who want an even closer view, there’s a giant video screen on the right-hand side, complete with cool effects.

Cornerstone's Gigantic Main Stage

(Photo Credit: Ember)

Another great Cornerstone feature is that the meet-and-greet (and autograph and photo and chat ) areas are almost always right next to (or behind) the stages— so that even at Main, you can wait in line for a signature and still see the end of that band’s show, and the start of the next band’s, as well! And if on occasion at a smaller stage the meet-and-greets aren’t right there, the band can usually be met at their merch booth… or, often, even in the crowd watching other bands’ shows and just walking around the grounds!

Also, the complete absence of destructive elements such as drugs and alcohol, funneling energy into clean fun (even when it’s intense), are alone major points in favor of this festival. But when you combine that element with all of the rest of Cornerstone’s qualities, and then add in that wonderful aura… it’s literally perfect.


And now, as promised, it’s time to define the ‘aura’ a little more for you. As we said earlier, this feeling that pervades the grounds and every person in them is nearly indescribable. So we’ll give it our best shot; but you really have to feel it for yourself. *Deep Breaths* Here goes!

Aside from just general courtesy and carefree fun, the atmosphere is really one of fellowship and family. For example: Groups of people will stand at crossroads and path edges offering “Free Hugs!”— and if you don’t really want to get that close, a simple high-five will do. For some reason you’ll feel as near as friends (or even family) to people you’ve never seen before; and people who have never met will do nice things for each other, no catch.

In all, it’s easy to see why we chose Cornerstone IL. as Best Music Festival— hands-down, it is.


Congratulations, and thank you, to all of the Cornerstone creators and sustainers— your utterly amazing festival has now been rocking strong for over 26 years, and may it continue for many, many more!

Our rating for the Cornerstone Music Festival: 5 & 1/2 Stars. 5 & 1/2 Stars


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