Ichthus couldn’t risk a one-year layoff

Fans reach out to Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman at the Main Stage during the 2010 Ichthus Festival. (c) Herald-Leader staff photo by Rich Copley.

If the Ichthus Festival was going to go on, it had to go on.

Back in August, when we sat down with festival president and chief executive Mark Vermilion to talk about the financial difficulties that had put Ichthus in jeopardy, one of the possibilities he mentioned was Ichthus skipping its 2012 edition and coming back, “bigger and better in 2013.”

At the end of this year’s festival, Ichthus leaders announced the festival was in severe financial difficulties. They put the festival property, known as Ichthus Farm, up for sale with hopes to find a buyer who would lease it back to them for the annual Christian music event held each June but relieve Ichthus of the overhead costs of maintaining the 111-acre site in Wilmore.

If there was no sale, Vermilion said there was a good chance Ichthus 2012 wouldn’t happen.

Tuesday, Ichthus announced the festival would go on despite not selling the farm, citing positive momentum in fund-raising and belief that the property will be sold sometime soon. Vermilion had a much more frank view of that take-a-year off option.

“We were concerned that if we took a year off, some of those things that were moving in a positive direction might have to curtail, because there’s no fuel to drive them,” he said. “We were also concerned that if we took year 43 off that there would even be a year 44, because who knows if those folks who have been so loyal to the festival would take a year off and come back for year 44. Those are some unknowns that were concerns of ours.”

And he’s right. My colleagues and I struggled to conjure up any memories of entertainment organizations that closed down for significant periods of time and then actually came back “bigger and better than ever,” as is typically promised.

It can feel like a good thing to say, particularly if you’re looking at shutting down a major regional event that has been running more than four decades and was tremendous meaningful to a lot of people. It’s sort of like breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend and saying, “Oh, maybe we’ll get back together someday.” Actually, that probably has a better record of success than major arts and entertainment events trying to shut down and come back.

Closing down for a year is like putting a pin to the balloon of your event. It completely takes the air out of it, and try as you might, it is really hard to pump it back up.

Just think about this: Right now, the next Ichthus is nine months away. Not imminent, but close enough that die-hard fans can be a little excited and contributors can feel like they’ll see the results of their efforts soon.

Cancel 2012, and the next Ichthus is at least 21 months away. In 21 months, students starting junior years of high school and college will have graduated. The next presidential term will be six months along. We will have had two Thanksgivings, Christmases and Easters. In this market of meteoric rises, today’s garage band could become Ichthus 2013’s headliner in 21 months.

It’s a long time.

Add to that weariness the loser image, fair or not, that dogs an event that has to shut down. Yes, times are tough in a variety of ways, but closing down carries a connotation of failure.

Some may view not selling the Ichthus property as failure and say that should have been a sign to organizers that is was over, or at least time to take a break. And there could be validity to that.

But to put it in simple rock ’n’ roll terms (credit The Clash) the question was, should I stay or should I go?

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