The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
One of the challenges that faced the now-closed Ichthus Festival and vexes other Christian rock presenters these days is a relatively small group of acts that can be legitimately billed as headliners.
There are plenty of bands and solo artists that can ably fill opening and smaller stage slots. But as far as Christian artists that can top a bill and attract audiences in the thousands and even tens of thousands, it’s a fairly small and somewhat stagnant club.
“There just aren’t a lot of headliners in Christian music,” says Mark Vermilion, the last executive director of Ichthus, which announced it was closing earlier this month after 42 continuous years.
“When there are so few headliners, it creates problems for us because they are so saturated with tours like Winter Jam and other festivals. We all have to go to the same well to get headliners.”
Tim Gerst, a Central Kentucky native who has worked in numerous aspects of Christian music, says, “The industry needs to figure something out because it’s hard to attract audiences when you consistently present the same 6 to 8 bands.”
Generating excitement about the acts at the top of the bill is harder when that group headlined the previous year or topped the bill at another festival or their own headlining tour that recently passed through the area. The groups have headliner status because they are widely liked, but the novelty can wear off.
This year’s edition of the Winter Jam tour, which stops at Rupp Arena in March, will feature Tobymac, 48, who just headlined at Ichthus. Last year’s Winter Jam presented the same situation with Skillet.
Skillet, with its pyrotechnic spectacle of a show, headlined Friday Night at Ichthus for several years until this year, when the spot was taken by Red, one of the few acts to emerge as a legitimate headliner in the last few years. Red is also coming back on Winter Jam.
In fact, every headlining artist at this year’s Ichthus had headlined the event before, including worship artist Chris Tomlin, who closed the festival for the second straight year.
Vermillion says the shallow pool of headliners for big events has come up at meetings of Christian Festival Association, not just because of the small pool, but it is aging too.
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