The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Jun3Filed under: Ichthus Festival, Music, rc talk - Christian pop culture, Religion; Tagged as: Anberlin, Britt Nicole, Casting Crowns, Chris Tomlin, Community Day, Hillsong United, Ichthus Festival, Mark Vermilion, Matthew West, Night of Worship, Phil Keaggy, Quest Community Church, Questapalooza, Rupp Arena, Switchfoot, The Almost, the Newsboys, TobyMac, wilmore, Winter Jam
The Ichthus Festival is focusing on a new market: Central Kentucky.
During the past four decades, the Wilmore Christian pop music festival has drawn fans from all over the Eastern United States and even farther away.
Ichthus CEO Mark Vermilion points to the festival’s heyday 10 years ago, when entire sections of the camping area would be made up of people from Michigan. Now, just a handful of the event’s more than 10,000 patrons are from the Great Lake State.
And the same is true of Georgia, Illinois, Virginia and other areas more than half a day’s drive from Wilmore.
“Our market has shrunk to a 200-, maximum 250-mile radius of Wilmore,” Vermilion said.
Two big factors contribute to that.
First, there’s everyone’s favorite headline: gas prices. If you think your SUV can drink up the fuel, wait until you try filling up a church van.
Also, the number of festivals and similar opportunities to see Christian bands has increased, so audiences are finding they don’t have to travel as far to see favorite bands. Even in Central Kentucky, where Ichthus used to be the sole annual Christian music event, other attractions such as two one-day festivals in Lexington — September’s Questapalooza at Quest Community Church and March’s Winter Jam at Rupp Arena — have given music fans other opportunities to see many of the same acts.
And in some ways, while there is still free camping on site and four straight days of rock at Ichthus Farm, the event is marketing itself to locals as an attraction similar to those one-nighters.
It started last year with a festival-opening “Community Night” featuring chart-topping artists TobyMac and the Newsboys. This year, Ichthus is offering two days geared toward locals. The festival will open June 15 with a Night of Worship featuring praise superstars Hillsong United. Three days later, it will close with Community Day, letting single-day attendees access the festival for a discounted price.
Both days are $25 each, if tickets are purchased by June 10, or a Night of Worship/Community Day package is $40.
“There will always be people who want to come for the full three- and four-day experience, and we believe that’s where real community happens,” Vermilion said. “But we also want the people from Central Kentucky to look at Community Day and say, ‘That’s my day.’”
Ichthus stayed true to the form of recent years, ending the festival on a worshipful note Saturday with the Main Stage pairing of Casting Crowns and BarlowGirl.
One of the things many people were commenting on over the weekend was the strong pairings of evening headliners – the rock night of Skillet and Red, modern rock of Switchfoot and Relient K -and the Saturday night duo had sort of a worship/traditional contemporary Christian music vibe.
Saturday’s headliners had tough acts to follow.
TobyMac and Switchfoot fielded big, lively bands Wednesday and Thursday respectively, and then Skillet came with that and Fourth of July-worthy pyrotechnic show.
Crowns, by comparison, put most of the responsibility for filling the amphitheater on the shoulders of lead singer Mark Hall. Barlow Girl, which in previous daytime Main Stage outings (they were one of the bands that braved the snow day in 2005) was packed to the center of the stage by the equipment of later acts, seemed a little lost spread out across the entire main stage, Saturday night.
Sanctus Real, playing earlier in the afternoon, delivered the most lively set I got to sample on the Main Stage Saturday.
For those who wanted to rock a little more before going home, there were offerings on other stages such as Disciple and Pillar on the Deep End, and many took in those shows. This year, the Deep End really did claim the title of Main Stage Jr. as much as it ever has.
And this was as complete a festival as Ichthus has put together. From this perspective, it was a little like going to New York: Not enough time to do everything you want to do, even with the extra day. It hardly feels like a weekend in rural Kentucky, until you look around at the hills and cows – and we don’t mean the Chik-fil-a cow.
Photos by Rich Copley | LexGo.com
The main stage at the Ichthus Festival is about as loaded as it has been in several years, with a good variety of artists from the contemporary worship sounds of Casting Crowns to the pyrotechnic rock of Skillet. So, we’re curious who the masses are dying to see here.
Please take the poll below or, if your favorite is not listed – Vizu allows a maximum of 10 answers, so I just listed the evening acts – please reply below or direct message @copiousnotes on Twitter.
Ichthus 2010 will boast a four-night mainstage lineup featuring the return of Switchfoot, which will top a Thursday night schedule that also includes Relient K.
The 2009 festival had a subdued schedule with organizers keeping the tight economy in mind and wanting to put an emphasis on teaching. But the lineup for this year’s event, June 16-19, is loaded with star power, and organizers say they are still putting it together.
And they are providing a fourth night of music. Since moving to the summertime in 2006, the festival has started quietly with a free set for early arrivals by smaller artists on the Deep End stage. But you don’t start quietly with TobyMac. He leads the headliner lineup Wednesday, followed by Switchfoot Thursday, Skillet Friday and Casting Crowns Saturday.
Also scheduled are Thousand Foot Krutch, SuperChick, DecemberRadio and Stellar Kart Thursday. Friday includes Red and Fireflight, whose “For Those Who Wait,” is due Feb. 9. Saturday’s lineup will also include BarlowGirl.
The festival is also putting headliners on the Deep End Stage. The Devil Wears Prada Friday night and Anberlin Saturday have been announced already. Like we said, the schedule is still being made, so it could get even better.
Until the end of the month, weekend tickets are $69 adults, $34 ages 7-10. Ichthus is billing these as the lowest ticket prices in six years.
Dec18Filed under: Ichthus Festival, Music, rc talk - Christian pop culture, Religion; Tagged as: 2010, Bluetree, Britt Nicole, Calvary in Savannah, Casting Crowns, Devil Wears Prada, Echoing Angels, Extreme, Gatlinburg, Ichthus Festival, Immanuel Baptist Church, Jeremy Camp, Josh Hawk, MikesChair, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Year's Eve, Newsboys, Rebecca St. James, Red, Say It, Skillet, The Lost Get Found, tickets
Immanuel Baptist Church might have made the question “What are you doing New Year’s Eve?” easier to answer for some Christian music fans.
Chart-topping Christian pop artist Britt Nicole will be on stage at the church to help ring in the new year and say goodbye to the aughts.
The New Year’s Eve bash was the brainstorm of Josh Hawk, Immanuel’s pastor of students and families. He says working with an organization called Student Life, starting when he was attending New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, oriented him to presenting big events. When he was the student pastor at Calvary in Savannah, Ga., he brought in artists such as Jeremy Camp and Rebecca St. James.
So, when he came to Immanuel, he wanted to do the same sorts of things.”We wanted to do a big ‘New Year’s Eve rocks’ kind of thing,” Hawk says. “So we said, let’s do it right the first time.”
Hawk says he actually had Nicole in mind when he called a booking agent he had gotten to know but thought he wouldn’t be able to get her. He quickly found out the price was right.
“I was looking for someone who’s a rising star, and I saw her a few years ago at a New Year’s event called ‘Extreme’ in Gatlinburg, and I knew she was a great performer,” Hawk says.
Nicole released her second album, “The Lost Get Found,” this fall and had a No. 1 hit with the title track.
She debuted in 2007 with “Say It,” which introduced her as a hip, 21st-century young woman who could easily navigate a dance track. The new album continues in the same vein, softening the edges a bit.
Hawk thinks Nicole is poised to follow in the footsteps of Christian pop star Rebecca St. James.
Now, New Year’s Eve is not a typical concert night. Midnight is the focal point for the evening.
Hawk says that openers MikesChair will play at 8:30 p.m., take a break and come back to lead worship before Hawk delivers a talk.
“We do want a message to be part of the evening,” Hawk says. Then Nicole will take the stage about 10:30 and play until it’s time to ring in the new year.
“We’ll be tuned into Times Square and the ball dropping,” Hawk says. Then Nicole will play a few more tunes to start 2010.
2010 will include more marquee artists coming to Immanuel, including Echoing Angels on Jan. 11 and worship leaders Bluetree, which will play at morning worship Feb. 21 and return to perform later that day.
Go ahead and mark your calendars for Dec. 31, 2010, as Hawk says the New Year’s Eve bash “is something we envision as becoming a much bigger thing over the next couple of years.”
Ichthus price drop
While you’re looking ahead to 2010, you might want to start thinking about Ichthus tickets. The prices, down 20 percent, will take you back to the middle-aughts. Through Jan. 31, full-weekend tickets will be $69 for adults and $34 for ages 7 to 10.Acts already announced for Ichthus 2010, June 16 to 19, include Casting Crowns, Red, Skillet, Devil Wears Prada and Newsboys. For tickets, visit www.ichthusfestival.org or call (859) 858-3001, Ext.110.
The first few chords of “Until the Whole World Hears” gave me high hopes for Casting Crowns‘ fourth studio album. The title track opens with a drum crash and grinding guitar intro that seems to portend the unlikely Christian chart toppers fully embracing and enjoying their role as musicians.
Casting Crowns’ story makes you want to root for the band: A church praise band, they caught the ear of producers with a demo CD and rose to the top of the charts with albums that spoke directly to mainstream evangelicals. But they reportedly still make sure they are back at their Atlanta-area church each week. Nice story, and they’ve recorded several strong albums marked by youth pastor-frontman Mark Hall’s plainspoken lyrics.
But how far will that carry you? On the latest album, Casting Crowns assigns itself the task of telling listeners about Jesus and stumbling into creative doldrums. That’s exemplified by “Joyful, Joyful,” Crowns’ effort to put their own mark on Beethoven’s timeless “Ode to Joy” melody and subsequent hymn by Henry van Dyke. Their mark is to load it with orchestrations and harmonies that predictably soar at the end. It’s a sense of grandure, but no sense of, uh, joy.
That’s “Until the Whole World Hears” in a nutshell. The musicianship is fine, as is the production by Mark A. Miller. The sentiments are valid, and frequently lovely. But it all sounds like stuff we’ve heard before from Casting Crowns and plenty of other contemporary Christian music artists. Most of the tunes sound like retreads of Crowns hits from the past. But they lack the urgency of songs like “What if His People Prayed?” the poignance of “Praise You in This Storm” or lyrical craftsmanship of “Slow Fade,” all songs that helped make Casting Crowns one of the top-selling acts in Christian music history.
Album No. 4 is often the one where artists ascend to another level, after getting a few albums and far too many tours under their belts. Unfortunately for Casting Crowns, this seems to be the album where the band is losing its voice.
Nov6Filed under: American Idol, Music, rc talk - Christian pop culture, Religion; Tagged as: American Idol, Amy Grant, Awake, BlackBerry, Casting Crowns, CCM Magazine, Gospel Music Association, Hello Hurricane, iTunes, Jimmy Kimmel Live, John Styll, Kris Allen, Larry Norman, Michael W. Smith, Skillet, Switchfoot
Switchfoot’s This is the Sound rocks the new Blackberry commercial.
During the past year, there have been public signs that Christian pop music is on the rise.
Last spring on American Idol, a pair of openly Christian contestants vied for the title and one of them, Kris Allen, won. Your TV doesn’t have to be on long to hear the rumblings of Switchfoot, one of Christian music’s top bands, on commercials for BlackBerry’s new Storm2 smartphone. Late in the summer, when Christian rockers Skillet released their latest, Awake, it perched itself atop iTunes’ rock album charts and at No. 3 overall.
Pretty good stuff for a niche genre, eh?
But beneath the surface, there have been rumblings for some time.
Late in the summer, Gospel Music Association president and CEO John Styll stepped down, saying he was sacrificing his salary in an effort to stabilize the organization, which has laid off a number of staffers. Then, in October, the GMA held an all-star fund-raiser – we’re talking Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith heading a lineup that included Casting Crowns and other chart toppers – billed as “Save the GMA.”
Even though that $1,000-a-head event apparently was a success, raising more than $350,000, there were rumors late last month that the GMA was closing its doors.
The association’s troubles come on the heels of other setbacks in Christian music, such as the shutdown of the print edition of the industry’s flagship publication, CCM Magazine, which was founded by Styll, and attendance drops at some festivals.
Christian music also has faced the double whammy of the economic downturn and the effects of a rapidly changing music marketplace less dependent on major labels for distribution and increasingly challenged by problems such as digital music piracy. (Yes, people are stealing Christian music. Go figure.)
These are problems affecting the music industry as a whole, and you know that if the top of the pops is getting battered, the foundations of a niche genre really must be getting shaken.
The last time we checked in on Glasgow native Chris Huffman, in 2004, he was a single guy in a white-hot Christian rock band who got a charge out of seeing his group’s CDs on the shelves at Wal-Mart.
Today, Huffman remains the bass player for Casting Crowns, but he’s a married guy with two kids, which makes touring and getting back to Kentucky a bit more challenging.
“Everybody in the band has kids,” Huffman said Wednesday afternoon from a tour stop in Casper, Wyo. “In fact, my wife and I just had our second child three weeks ago tomorrow.”
That makes getting back home all the more important to Huffman, and leaving harder, particularly because his wife suffers from fairly serious car-sickness, so she can’t often hit the road with the group.
“It can be hard,” Huffman said, “when you call home and find out someone’s been hurt or something big happened to not be there.”
Still, despite the separation, Huffman said that Crowns is a valuable ministry, and the band’s policy of returning home for services at its home base of Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church in Atlanta means he is rarely gone for an extended time.
“When you’re passionate about what you do, the negative sides don’t really bother you,” Huffman said. “I get frustrated a lot of times, but you learn to overlook the frustrations and the hardships.
“I believe God has called me to do this, and as long as he has, my response is, I’m here; send me.”
Huffman, who was born in Glasgow and lived there until he was 10, returns to Kentucky next week with the band’s concert Thursday night at Rupp Arena. The band is touring in support of its new album, Until the Whole World Hears, set for release Nov. 17.
Huffman loves his job, but the band’s fourth studio album and family obligations have quelled that Wal-Mart thrill. Somewhat.
“When I go to Wal-Mart, I’m usually going to the grocery and baby department,” he said. “But sometimes I get to electronics, and it’s nice to see we’re there.”
Sep21Filed under: album review, American Idol, Louisville, Music, rc talk - Christian pop culture, Religion, Reviews; Tagged as: Brown Bannister, Casting Crowns, GMA, Gospel Music Association, Into the Light, Jeremy Camp, Joanne Brokaw, Michael W. Smith, Newsboys, Phil Stacey, Relient K, Rich Mullins, TobyMac
Listening to Phil Stacey‘s Into the Light, you think, if this guy wasn’t on American Idol, he should have been.
His debut on Reunion Records under the guidance of legendary Christian producer Brown Bannister sounds very Idol, with songs that showcase soaring choruses and emotional lyrics, and Stacey definitely has the chops to deliver them.
His post-Idol debut on Lyric Street records was a refreshing sound for the Christian market, introducing some country songwriter cleverness in songs like It’s Who You Know, and bringing some genuine energy to the project. But Stacey says he was miscast as a country guy and pop was always where his heart was, hence the move to the Christian pop label and embrace by Christian pop royalty — Michael W. Smith is his labelmate.
The result is a solid album with catchy tunes like Inside Out and soaring worship ballads like One. He also pulls out a great Rich Mullins cover, Hard to Get, that could serve to show some younger listeners there’s more to the Christian pop legend than Awesome God.
What’s really missing here is any sense of Stacey’s own individuality, which seemed to be so present on that 2008 debut. With Into the Light, Stacey has been embraced by the Christian music establishment. On future efforts, he needs to avoid sounding like a generic contemporary Christian artist.
Is the GMA in trouble?: My fellow Christian music blogger Joanne Brokaw has an interesting post about recent cuts and layoffs at the Gospel Music Association and the just-annouced $1,000-a-plate Save the GMA fundraiser. Is Christian music’s umbrella organization in danger of going under?
Close, but not quite here: Yes, we do have Jeremy Camp coming Thursday night and Casting Crowns in a few weeks. But there are two Christian tours of interest not quite getting here, but they will be close if you’re the road tripping type.
~ If you’ve wanted to see Newsboys with Michael Tait out front, they get as close as Wilmington, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati, Nov. 15. Click here for Newsboys tour itinerary and ticket links.
~ You may also have heard plenty of TobyMac and Relient K live, but still find the concept of their Winter Wonder Slam tour together irresistible. It hits Louisville Nov. 29.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich