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Heavy music, the undeniable presence of God and unbearable heat are all synonymous with Cornerstone Festival. This year the annual festival did not disappoint as it accomplished the impossible: in a place where the heat made you feel like you were in Hell, there was no denying God was there.

Pulling through the front gate Thursday, the sights were unforgettable. People walking around with guitars and singing praise songs, people on the side of the road playing music for by passers, a guy covered in boxes to resemble a giant cross all gave the feeling Cornerstone would be an adventure.

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One new aspect of the festival this year was the artist meet and greet center where fans could meet some of the week’s top artists. Classic Petra, Resurrection Band, Flatfoot 56, Leper, Brian “Head” Welch were just a few of the artists who took time out of their busy days to talk to fans and sign autographs.

The gates opened Tuesday for people to set up camp and there were a few performances Tuesday and Wednesday but the belly of the action started on Thursday.

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Don’t Wake Aislin put on an interesting show at the Raging Storm Records tent in the early afternoon. Their mixture of rock and poetic spoken word between songs served for a great way to start off Cornerstone Festival. Another small band, The End All from Springfield, Missouri, put on a very energetic show at the Texas stage, entertaining the crowd with a heavy cover of Justin Bieber’s “Baby.”

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Thursday night’s main stage package had the theme of “The Jesus Rally,” which featured some of the pioneers and legends of the Christian rock. Servant, Barry McGuire, Daniel Amos, Randy Stonehill, E Band, Resurrection Band, Phil Keaggy and Classic Petra all took part in the festivities.

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E Band, who was Greg Volz’s band prior to Petra, was perhaps the surprise of the main stage, since there were numerous people who didn’t know who they were. This was also the first of two sets Volz would sing that night, the second coming with Classic Petra.

Their set featured a cover of “Jesus is Just Alright” and the Petra hit “The Coloring Song.” Throw in Volz’s moving and emotional testimony and E Band was an early favorite.

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As the night got later, more people flocked to the main stage to see Resurrection Band. The husband-wife combo of Wendi and Glenn Kaiser tore it up, rocking fans’ worlds with hits like “House is on Fire” and “Right on Time.”

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Perhaps the most highly-anticipated of the rally’s lineup was Classic Petra. Even though it had been 25 years since this lineup had played together before this tour, it was as if no time had passed. The legendary rockers sounded impeccable, playing their “Back to the Rock” album in near-entirety.

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With Volz running amuck on stage, John Lawry shredding the keytar, and Bob Hartman playing the guitar better than ever, one thing is for sure- Petra is back and good as ever.

Next it was off to the Encore stage at 1 a.m. for the final show of the night, Flatfoot 56.

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The Chicago-based celtic punk band put on a whale of a show. Coming to the stage dressed as super heroes, they knew how to work the crowd.

Circle pits, stage dives and stage rushes were bountiful during Flatfoot’s show as were people on the ground. End the show with a celtic punk version of “I’ll Fly Away” and “Amazing Grace” and Thursday was a success.

Friday was by far the hottest day of the weekend, so hot that it was hard to sleep later than 8 a.m.

Mornings were best spent sitting at a camp site, reading some scripture and listening to the praise and worship music easing its way down to you from the morning worship service. What a way to start each day, right?

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The Sacred Eternal kicked off the action as part of the New Band Showcase, and stole the show from the other acts on the showcase that day.

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A Life Set Apart, The Letter Black and Write This Down all played strong sets.

Sarah Anthony of The Letter Black’s screaming could probably be heard from the Encore stage as she hit the stage with a thunderous roar. She also took time to explain a few songs and interacted with the fans nicely.

They finished their dynamic set with a beautiful Metallica cover.

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Perhaps the surprise of the day was For Today. After Write This Down wrapped up, fans had already began packing the main stage mosh pit.

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Then the hurricane hit (much to the fear of the kid dressed like a hot dog who got caught next to the circle pit).

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The sound of “Seraphim” from their latest record “Breaker,” hit. As if it were reflex (those who have been to a metal show knows the energy that comes with this), the large crowd began singing at the top of their lungs. This would continue for the entire set, making For Today an early favorite.

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As if that wasn’t enough, Brian “Head” Welch was up next, and he put on one heck of a show, crazy and entertaining.

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Head interacted with the crowd, making jokes throughout and showing personality.

At one point he walked down the catwalk and laid down, joking with the crowd that he didn’t want to go on after For Today because he’s old and it was too hot, then asking a man in the front row if he was doing okay with the heat.

His daughter, Jennea was there, too, and since it was her birthday, he sang her a “cover” of “All the Small Things” by Blink 182, explaining how she’s going through a Blink phase.

However his cover was more of a mockery, whiney and high-pitched. Very funny and entertaining. He ended his set with an instrumental KoRn medley of “Got the Life,”“Here to Stay” and “Freak on a Leash,” complete with his signature crouched over style of playing and his light brown braids flying around his head.

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In the middle of the set, he disappeared for a little bit, only to come back to stage shouting “Die, Religion, Die,” and going into the song of the same title.

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The final song he sang was “Blind,” another KoRn classic, which, for any KoRn fan in attendance was a trip to see.

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P.O.D., back with their original lineup, capped off the main stage with jam packed with classic favorites like “Southtown,”“Youth of the Nation,”“Boom” and “Alive.”

Frontman Sonny Sandoval, now without dreadlocks, was full of energy, interacting with fans and at one point even coming into the crowd.

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A giant “Rio” beach ball surfed its way across the mosh pit, adding even more excitement to the already high-energy show.

After P.O.D. finished it was off to the Sacrosact Records stage to catch some Phinnehas.

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Phinnehas is a relatively new band, very similar to a mixture of Demon Hunter and Lamb of God.

With their frontman holding onto the tent post and hovering over the mosh pit and their bass player jumping all over the stage, Phinnehas made it easy to forget it was after midnight.

With exhaustion setting in from the heat, it was back to the campsite to recouperate for what was shaping up to be a very busy Saturday.

After sitting at the campsite reading some scripture and listening to some more praise music from one of the many worship services, I was summoned from my campsite by the sound of System of a Down’s “Toxcity.” Only this time it was with a female singer.

Intriguing.

Come to find out, it was a band I had seen the previous day, named Witness7.

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Witness7 is a band out of Branson, Missouri whos lead vocalist sounds freakishly familiar to Lacey Mosely of Flyleaf. For a small band who is relatively unknown, they were very established on stage and have all the potential to be on a big stage at Cornerstone in the coming years.

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While walking around to find the next show, a gorgeous Misfits sound came from the Solace tent. Turns out it was a Misfits cover set….by Showbread. Showbread and Misfits, what could go wrong, right?

Nothing, the set was intriguing and very crowd-friendly. Showbread took Misfits requests from the fans during the entire set, even taking time to endorse bottled water.

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The surprise of the day, performance-wise, was Every Knee Shall Bow. This band features a 12 and 13 year old on guitar and bass.

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I was skeptical at first, as were most people I’m sure, but when they started shredding, my jaw dropped and I was in awe. Those kids know how to rock, look for them to burst onto the big stages soon.

Playing main stage was Manafest. Manafest, though more rap than rock, took the stage and made it his, proving he deserved to be there.

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Riding a skateboard to the mic and then moving and rapping, it was definitely a spectacle to be seen and he quickly won people over.

8 p.m. came and saw the crowd at the Arkansas stage grow in a number indescribable. People were backed up behind the road. Why?

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Because Norma Jean showed up and played a surprise concert. That’s right, Norma Jean, and they brought insanity with them, and the main stage security. There were rumblings around the over-capacity crowd that the stage or tent may go crashing down from mere craziness.

The second the music hit and like reflex people began jumping on stage and stage diving. From the stage it was a sight to see. People crowd surfing and trying to get as close as possible.

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Blindside and Anberlin wrapped up the action on main stage Saturday night. Both were two of the more anticipated sets of the day. Blindside, with their Euro-rock, opened slowly and some of the fans weren’t too fond of their opening but they rebounded well and had the crowd moving and rocking out for the rest of the show.

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Anberlin opened with the name on their backdrop being spelled wrong but the focus was quickly diverted away from that when people noticed the triple drummers they had on the opening song.

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Anberlin had the crowd’s attention and energy from the start to finish of their set, and after that, it was off to see A Plea for Purging.

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On the way there, however, there was a sound coming from one of the tents, turns out it was the sound of Leper. Leper is tough to put into words.

Frontman and guitarist Skot Shaw dresses in all black with a black veil over his head and the music is very dark and slow but with prominently Christian lyrics. Very cool, with candles lit and skulls adorning the front of the stage the tent was packed with people enjoying the music.

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A Plea for Purging and A War of Ages wrapped up the night at the Encore stage, both giving loud, hardcore sets that had the crowd moving. With all the energy and adrenaline going during the performance, it was tough to get to sleep afterward.

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Sunday started with a great performance by These Hearts. With their high energy and united stage moves, it was hard to tell this was their first official tour.

Before There Was Rosalyn was rumored to play a set that night but due to a Community Gathering at main stage, their set was cancelled, much to the disappointment of many fans.

The Great Commission kicked off the Scream the Prayer Tour at the Underground Stage, giving an outstanding performance. They took time out from their set to tell the crowd they wouldn’t go to Hell for having tattoos, piercings or listening to loud music and that God doesn’t hear the sound, he hears the words and what’s in our hearts.

Even though their set was short as the opener for the tour, they were obviously a crowd favorite.

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Close Your Eyes and Sleeping Giant also played great sets with one of Close Your Eyes’ guitar player’s straps breaking, forcing him to sit on his amp the entire time.

Sleeping Giant took time before the show to bless the stage crew through prayer and then blasted their way into complete domination through distinct Christian lyrics.

Gungor wrapped up main stage with a worship musical experience with emotional poetry. Gungor opened with a three person string set with two violins and a cello. Michael Gungor alternated frequently between acoustic guitar, electric guitar and banjo. He also had an African American woman come on stage speaking extremely emotional Christ poetry that brought a tear to most of those in attendance as fireworks went off in the background.

Then it was back to main stage for The Chariot, which was also the last set of the entire festival.

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I had heard all kinds of stories that day about The Chariot. In 2010, the story is that Josh Scogin, the frontman, climbed the amps and stage dove. In 2009, they set their equipment on fire…on purpose.

Needless to say, people were expecting complete destruction and insanity and that’s just what they got. They started their set and two members immediately catapulted themselves into the crowd.

In the middle of their set, they took an intermission and talk music band Listener came on stage and had the crowd clapping, cheering, dancing and tee peeing the entire tent to commemorate Listener’s 1,000th show.

After a few songs The Chariot came back on to obliterate whatever energy the crowd had left.

The giant Rio beach ball from the P.O.D. show made another appearance in the tent for The Chariot, which probably wasn’t a good idea.

People started the crowd surfing, just as they do at every other show, security pulling them out in the multitudes.

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The show ended with The Chariot smashing pieces of their gear and giving it away to the mosh pit and inviting everyone to the back for free donuts after the set.

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