That time I rode in a van for seven hours with As I Lay Dying.

Fifteen years ago, I attended the Cornerstone Music Festival. My girlfriend (now wife) lived ten hours away, so we saw the festival as an opportunity to meet halfway and see our favorite bands.


The Choir’s guitarist, Derri Daugherty, and me at Cornerstone 2002

Looking back, this was a great idea. It would also be the only time Katy and I saw one another that summer. I saw longtime favorites Daniel Amos, The 77’s, The Choir, Rosie Thomas, Ester Drang, Embodyment, The Violet Burning, Luxury (twice), Fine China (also twice), Mars Ill, Rosie Thomas, Roadside Monument, Terry Taylor, and Mike Knott. I also talked to David Bazan about his new record, Control, while we watched Sixpence None the Richer.

For some reason, I decided to forgo the usual camping experience and sleep in my friend’s van. But then, as fate would have it, I saw some friends from Topeka on the dirt road near the entrance of the festival. (With 30,000 people funneling into the grounds of the festival, what were the odds???) My friends had a tent, and somehow I convinced them to let me sleep in it.

But, you see, my wife has always been smarter than me. She and a friend rented a dorm room a half-hour away at the Western Illinois University for the week of Cornerstone. Sure, they didn’t get the full Cornerstone experience. You know, the sulfur showers and really terrible hardcore bands playing makeshift stages in the middle of the night. But what they got was plumbing and beds and not being awaken by ants in their ears and in their underwear. Like I said, my wife is smart.

Now, I forget what all was going on, but my friend had to leave the festival a couple days early. Since he’s the one who drove, that meant I had to choose to cut short my only visit of the summer with Katy or find a ride home. I figured I could find somebody to ride with, so I told him that I would stay. I asked everyone from I knew from Kansas City or Lawrence, no one had room for me. So I was stuck.

On the final day of the festival, I was visiting Katy and her roommate in the dorm. The adjacent room housed like six or seven guys from a band for the week. Most of them were gathered a circle in the hallway, showing one another some yo-yo tricks. Because I needed to kill some time and wanted to do anything but walk out into the 100+ degree heat, I showed them a few of my own tricks. They seemed impressed, so we started talking about how their next show was in Kansas City. In exchange for a ride back to Raytown, I offered to buy their gas.

Once in the van, I learned these guys were in a band called As I Lay Dying. Their vocalist, Tim Lambesis, was excited to play me their music, but quickly moved on to all his favorite Jimmy Eat World songs. Then he played “Love Song” by The Cure for his girlfriend and announced it was their song. This started an exchange where the two of them went back-and-forth, dedicating songs from Disintegration to one another. It was cute and fun and killed lots of time. Seven hours flew by, and we were at my house. They couldn’t linger, as they needed to get to a house show that night.

In the years that followed, I occasionally got curious and googled the band. The vocalist married his girlfriend, and there were a few lineup changes. It was interesting to watch them grow into a popular metal band. The guys quickly got so popular that they could all command their own giant hotel rooms when touring Japan, instead of sharing one, dinky dorm room in Macomb, Illinois.

Then, in 2013, Tim was arrested after trying to hire an undercover officer to murder his wife. You know, the girl to whom he had dedicated “Love Song” while we were driving through northeast Missouri. After his arrest, he quickly became a laughing stock for his crime and as stories of his bodybuilding and steroid use surfaced. Yes, Tim he had made himself an easy target with his outrageous story that seemed straight out of a movie. He made tons of money in a metal band and was living up to some cartoonish, #merica tough guy caricature, so it was difficult to muster up any empathy for the dude.

But it seemed that Tim really liked his girlfriend and enjoyed his bandmates’ company. I’m guessing that, in 2002, he could have never envisioned treating them so poorly. I assume he didn’t decide overnight to kill his wife. His behavior was most likely the result of at least a decade of devastating choices. I doubt that he just woke up one morning with an extra $20,000 in his pocket to hire a hitman to end his marriage. And maybe I’m wrong; maybe he was a jerk all along. But one thing I do know is that I’ve watched well-intended friends ruin their lives, and I have done some pretty boneheaded things myself.

So I guess I could laugh at him, but that doesn’t feel right. When I see injustice and families being ripped apart, I have to choose to cherish my own family. One thing I know for sure is that I’ll never listen to the album, Disintegration, the same way again.

Why am I just now writing about this? The Roadside Monument reunion probably had something to do with it. I couldn’t attend their reunion show, but I started thinking about their “final” show at Cornerstone in 2002. Then I googled Tim Lambesis and discovered that he’s now out of prison and married the girl with whom he was having an affair. I guess the story doesn’t end well, and his family lives in fear. I can’t laugh at the guy, but I do pray for him.