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.’”
Dec31Filed under: Music, rc talk - Christian pop culture, Religion; Tagged as: Aaron Gillespie, Anberlin, Britt Nicole, Chris August, Disciple, Family Force 5, Fireflight, For Today, Francesca Battistelli, Ichthus Festival, Jason Castro, Josh Garrels, Josh Wilson, KJ-52, Kutless, LeCrae, Living Sacrifice, MikesChair, Newsboys, NewSong, Project 86, Red, Remedy Drive, Rupp Arena, Sidewalk Prophets, Skillet, Sleeping Giant, Superchick, The Almost, the David Crowder Band, The Letter Black, Trip Lee, Winter Jam, Underoath
The new year hasn’t started, but we already can tell Christian music fans about a few things to look forward to in Central Kentucky in 2011.
Chief among them is, of course, the Ichthus Festival, which already has started releasing the lineup for the event, which will be June 15 to 18 in Wilmore.
Some of the new names coming to the main stage include longtime fan favorites Anberlin and newcomers The Letter Black, along with mainstage returns by Family Force 5 and Disciple, who weren’t there last year. There are a number of returns from last year, including Skillet, Superchick, Red and LeCrae, who brought some highly credible hip-hop to the main stage last year.
Christian music has had trouble embracing hip-hop over the years, but this year’s festival will be further evidence that hard rock is having no trouble finding its way in the genre, with heavier acts on the main stage and the growing prominence of the Deep End stage, which will feature acts including Project 86 and The Almost, Aaron Gillespie’s Underoath side project, which has grown into a substantial act in its own right.
Ichthus 2011 will again open on Wednesday night, with a community concert like last year’s Tobymac, Newsboys lineup, and it will include the acoustic Galleria stage. In years past, Ichthus had a grand lineup announcement, but now organizers trickle it out primarily on their Facebook page (Facebook.com/ichthus).
In addition to the acts mentioned above, the lineup thus far includes Jason Castro, Fireflight, Remedy Drive, Mikeschair, Chris August, Sleeping Giant, For Today, Josh Wilson, Josh Garrels, Living Sacrifice, Trip Lee and Britt Nicole.
Tickets for Ichthus 2011 are on sale at Ichthusfestival.org. (If you are reading this Dec. 31, you can still get in on bargain basement rates if you buy before the new year.)
Long before that, when the weather will be more like it is now, Winter Jam will hit Rupp Arena for the fourth straight year. And for the third straight year, it will be a Saturday night. On March 12, the set will feature Newsboys, the David Crowder Band, Red, Kutless, Francesca Battistelli, NewSong, KJ-52, Sidewalk Prophets and Chris August. Newsboys were here last year in their reconstituted lineup featuring Michael Tait, and event hosts NewSong and Francesca Battistelli have been at the Rupp event before. But the rest of the lineup is new to the event, including the Crowder Band, a onetime Ichthus staple whose last big local date was a fall 2009 show at Southland Christian Church.
As in previous years, admission for Winter Jam is $10 and only at the door. For more information, go to Hearitfirst.com/winterjam.
Dec25Filed under: Music, rc talk - Christian pop culture, Religion; Tagged as: 2009, Awake, Beauty Will Rise, Bluetree, Church Music, David Crowder Band, Derek Webb, Flyleaf, Forget and Not Slow Down, God of This City, Hello Hurricane, Israel Houghton, Memento Mori, Monster Monster, Relient K, Skillet, Steven Curtis Chapman, Stockholm Syndrome, Switchfoot, The Almost, The Power of One, Top 10 Christian pop albums
To be totally honest, 2009 was not collectively a great year for Christian pop music.
A lot of what passed across my desk was formulaic and tepid fare that inspired indifference. It sounded like an industry trying too hard to target demographics and not offend anyone while forgetting that what it’s supposed to do is make inspirational music.
But there were several albums that made me giddy with their independence and imagination. And those are the sorts of albums that make it a pleasure to sit down every December and write a list of my Top 10 Christian pop albums of the year.
1. Derek Webb, “Stockholm Syndrome” – Here are two things I really want in music: a strong point of view and creativity. In recent years, no one has delivered like Derek Webb. Webb didn’t take cover with this album, getting in the faces of Christians and challenging them to examine how they present themselves. Does the nation, the world, know you are Christians by your love? No would be his answer to evangelicals who seem to take comfort and pride in their self-perceived persecution. “Stockholm Syndrome” is the album Webb has been working toward for his entire solo career, an audacious challenge to his brothers and sisters in the faith he holds dear. But it is not just a great piece of advocacy, it is a great piece of music with Webb, traditionally a man with an acoustic guitar, exploring his themes with electronic and electrified soundscapes. You like to put masterpieces atop this list, and “Stockholm Syndrome” is one.
2. Flyleaf, “Memento Mori” — This young Texas quintet gave Mr. Webb a huge challenge in my estimation. They have all his confidence and clarity plus amazing musicianship that extends far beyond enigmatic frontwoman Lacey Mosley. “Memento Mori” is as skillful a blend of goth and hard rock sensibilities — two things many people have a hard time understanding together — as there is on record. If Flyleaf continues its upward trajectory on album three and future efforts, the band will have a legendary career.
3. Steven Curtis Chapman, “Beauty Will Rise” — It’s always a bit unnerving hitting the play button for the first time on an album you know was born of personal tragedy. There are several lines it is so easy to cross between legitimate art and, say, wallowing in self pity or seeming to try to profit from tragedy. Chapman, in his first album since the accidental death of his 5-year-old daughter, came no where near any of those lines. He did deliver a powerful testament to faith and how it can deliver you through pain.
4. Switchfoot, “Hello Hurricane” – With a solo and side project by frontman Jon Foreman, Switchfoot’s future seemed a little iffy. But this turned out to be the band’s most focused effort since 2003′s “The Beautiful Letdown.” The songs were examines faith and life, and much of the album sounded like the explosive release of a man who really wanted to rock after several mellow excursions.
5. Israel Houghton, “The Power of One” – I don’t think anyone ever mistook Israel Houghton for being restrained by his group, “The New Breed.” But with this solo effort, he was freer to move around the many styles at his disposal to make a very individual statement.
6. David Crowder Band, “Church Music” – Calling a David Crowder album “inspired” is sort of like calling a sunset gorgeous. True, but we’ve come to expect that. Still, “Church Music” took this great idea of using the form of a mainline church service to build a pop music statement of faith. Inspirational music indeed.
7. Relient K, “Forget and Not Slow Down” – Hardly typical ReK, this album was largely the product of a very lonely few months for frontman Matt Thiessen, and it largely tapped a different set of skills than are normally seen in the band’s trademark punky pop. It was a more introspective style that, if you hadn’t paid much attention to it on other Relient K albums, could change the way you think about the group.
8. The Almost, “Monster, Monster” – First, Underoath drummer Aaron Gillespie created The Almost by himself, playing and singing everything on the debut, “Southern Weather.” Then, he recruited a band to tour it. Then, the band became the band, recording this follow up that sounds like Gillespie’s original vision augmented by other strong ideas.
9. Bluetree, “God of This City” – Did we just hear the next great worship band? We were first introduced to Bluetree through Chris Tomlin’s recording of “God of This City.” This North American debut showed us Tomlin was drawing from a deep well with this passionate Irish band.
10. Skillet, “Awake” — Some have complained this is typical Skillet. But typical Skillet is pretty darned good — why do you think we hear “Hero” every week during Sunday night football — and “Awake” does show John Cooper’s growth as a songwriter and subtle adjustments to their sound that reveal a band not resting on its formula.
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