Ichthus 2012 is on

Lead guitarist Josiah Prince leaped into the air during Philmont's first song at Ichthus Festival 2011 on June 18. © Herald-Leader staff photos by Hannah Potes

The Ichthus Festival has not sold the farm, but it will continue with a full-fledged 2012 edition.

On the closing night of the 42nd annual Ichthus Festival in June, festival president and chief executive Mark Vermilion told the crowd that Ichthus Ministries was in ­financial straits that could force cancellation of future events. Two days later, the festival site in Wilmore known as Ichthus Farm was put up for sale, with organizers hoping to find a buyer who would lease the property back to Ichthus each June for the festival. The asking price began at $900,000, well below offers that the festival says it received from developers in the middle of the past decade.

Kyle Combs, 18, of Barberville, Ky, held his hands up in praise during The City Harmonic's performance at Ichthus 2011.

On Tuesday afternoon, after a Monday meeting of Ichthus’ board, Vermilion said that the site has not been sold, but “there have been enough positive things happening in the last few months that we really felt like we could do a 43rd edition of the Ichthus Festival and do it with the same level of quality that we’ve always had at the festival. Once we knew we could do that, we were ready to pull the trigger.”

Vermilion said Ichthus is not out of the woods financially. He said the organization has radically reshaped its financial model, downsizing from five full-time staffers a few years ago to three part-timers now. They also have put a heavier emphasis on fund-raising. As for the property sale, Vermilion said, there have been discussions with a few potential buyers and there are hopes that a sale will be completed in four to six months.

“That would really reduce our overhead,” said Vermilion, who also teaches at Asbury University and is helping to launch its new center for cultural engagement.

Ichthus, which started at Asbury Seminary in 1970, moved to its current 111-acre home off U.S. 68 in Wilmore in 1999. At that time, the festival attracted 20,000 people a year. Recently, after moving the event from late April to June after repeated bouts with inclement early spring weather, crowds have been more modest, about 15,000. That’s due to the schedule change and to the changing dynamics of the Christian concert market, organizers said. The 2011 festival, Vermilion said, was the first edition in more than five years not to lose money.

Crowds gathered for a mid-afternoon band at the main stage at Ichthus Festival 2011 on Saturday June 18, 2011.

Crowds gathered for a mid-afternoon band at the main stage at Ichthus Festival 2011 on June 18.

As revenues fell in recent years, the cost of maintaining the festival property, which is used only once a year, became a greater burden, Vermilion said.

Ichthus has received a lot of positive support financially and otherwise from many area people, business and organizations “who said ‘you’ve been here for us, and we want to keep the festival going,’” Vermilion said.

He said he and the board feared that if the 2012 edition had been canceled or postponed, it would have taken energy out of the momentum that Ichthus was experiencing.

Ichthus Ministries CEO Mark Vermilion poses with one of the For Sale signs at the front gate of the Icththus Festival site. © Herald-Leader staff photo by Rich Copley

“We feel really great about the 2012 festival, and this gives us a chance for things to keep moving in a positive direction and to set up to work beyond year 43,” Vermilion said.

No acts have been booked yet for next year’s event, because performers could not be signed until it was determined that the festival would happen, Vermilion said. Now that it’s on, he said, he and the paid and volunteer staff would begin working on booking the festival, starting with headliners.

Starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday, the festival will offer $50 festival tickets to the first 1,000 people who buy them at Ichthusfestival.org.

Vermilion said, “We were so excited to be able to announce this, we wanted to do something right away to thank our most loyal supporters.”

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