The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Saturday night at the Ichthus Festival, I arrived in the photo pit at the Deep End stage and saw a familiar face on the front row: Jenny Green, a teen from Crawfordsville, Ind., who I had met the day before hanging out at the front row fence at the main stage.
Friday, she had arrived at the big stage at 10:30 a.m. to stake out a spot for Skillet and Family Force Five. But Saturday night, with a lineup including Disciple and The Almost, Jenny assured me that the Deep End was the place to be.
For her, at least.
The main stage had not closed Saturday. There were in fact thousands of people gathered for festival closers Matthew West and Chris Tomlin. But the worship artists were not going to make your ears bleed and pop your eyes out with pyrotechnics, as cool as How Great is Our God might be punctuated with some fireworks.
But the shifting stages and fan bases were part of why this year’s Ichthus demonstrated something serious Christian music fans have known for a long time: You cannot neatly categorize Christian music under one heading, though that is what the music industry has long tried to do.
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.’”
It is at once hard to believe that Chris Tomlin has been in Christian music for 10 years and hard to imagine the genre without him.
Since his first nationally released solo album in 2001, The Noise We Make, Tomlin has been a driving force both as a recording artist and a songwriter whose tunes are staples of contemporary worship services.
He comes to Southland Christian Church on Wednesday, just a few weeks before the release of his seventh studio album, And If Our God Is for Us …, scheduled to go on sale Nov. 16.
“It’s exciting to think we are still putting out music that is hopefully fresh and taking a new step,” Tomlin says during a telephone interview. “It’s something a little different and a different sound. But the heart of the music is still the same. With the lyric and the melody, it’s still singable and accessible.”
Tomlin describes the new album as having “a little more progressive sound. In the past, we’ve had a bit more organic sound, and this is a little more beat-driven and there are some exciting things in it for me.”
While Tomlin has tweaked his sound on the new album, his essential mission remains the same.
“I hope worship leaders can pick it up and say, ‘Man, I can play this,” Tomlin says. “I hope they find the songs are powerful and have something to say. There’s all kinds of stuff on there. Our first single, I Will Follow, is more pop than what we’ve done before in terms of beat and stuff. But the lyric is powerful — I’ve said before, fun beat to play, big words to say.”
Feb24Filed under: Ichthus Festival, Music, rc talk - Christian pop culture; Tagged as: Chris Tomlin, Delirious, Disciple, Dove Awards, Family Force 5, Fireflight, Francesca Battistelli, Gospel Music Channel, Hawk Nelson, Ichthus Festival, Israel Houghton and New Breed, Justin Lookadoo, Kutless, Natalie Grant, Shane Claiborne, Skillet, Stellar Kart, The Afters, TobyMac
The Ichthus Festival is still working on the overall schedule for its 40th edition, but it has locked in the headliners.
The nighttime pairings bring distinct flavors to each evening. June 11 is very youthful, dancy rock with Family Force 5 and Hawk Nelson. June 12 looks to be rock night with Skillet and Kutless, and then things get worshipful on the closing night with Israel Houghton and New Breed and Delirious. Festival director Jeff James says they plan to make a big deal out of the Delirious set, as it will be the band’s last festival appearance. The groundbreaking worship band is splitting up later this year.
Other bands already announced include Fireflight, Disciple, Stellar Kart, and The Afters. We’ll let you know when acts are added.
Speakers already announced include Justin Lookadoo, whose Saturday talk last year included a skydiver, and Shane Claiborne, a Philadelphia-based minister whose Ordinary Radicals ministry was profiled in a film by the same name, which played at the Kentucky Theatre last year.
If you’re already planning to go, there are just a couple of weeks left before the next ticket price increase, March 14.
Ichthus and Winter Jam: Ichthus is also partnering with Winter Jam, which comes to Rupp Arena March 7, to round up volunteers. According to an Ichthus e-mail, the volunteer period would be from 3:30 p.m. until the end of the evening. If you’re interested, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Winter Jam features TobyMac, Hawk Nelson and others. We had a good interview with Toby that we’ll bring you next week here and in the paper.
Dove nominations: Late last week, the Gospel Music Association announced nominees for the 2009 Dove Awards, and once again, Chris Tomlin leads the pack. His most recent effort, Hello Love, helped him garner seven nominations and further solidifies his place as his generation’s Michael W. Smith. Close behind the Texan are Natalie Grant and newcomer Francesca Battistelli, with five each.
Battistelli, by the way, is on the Winter Jam lineup. She made a big splash last year with I’m Letting Go.
This year, the awards are letting viewers weigh in on two key categories: Artist of the Year and New Artist of the Year. Voting in these categories will begin Feb. 26 and go through the broadcast at 8 p.m. April 23. The fan vote will count as one-third of the overall vote in those categories. Here are those nominees:
- Artist of the Year: Casting Crowns, Steven Curtis Chapman, Fireflight, Marvin Sapp, Third Day, TobyMac, and Chris Tomlin.
- New Artist of the Year: Addison Road, Francesca Battistelli, Fee, Jonathan Nelson, Remedy Drive, Chris Sligh, and Tenth Avenue North.
Once again, the Doves will be carried on the Gospel Music Channel, which is not available in Lexington on Insight cable. It is available on Dish Network at Channel 338. Click here if you’d like to send Insight a notice that you’d like to see GMC added to the lineup. Gospel Music Channel is available on other Central Kentucky cable systems.
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