Even when it's not happening, the Ichthus Festival gets waylaid by bad weather.
In the storied festival's four-decade history, there are many tales of thunderstorms, monsoon rains, tornado warnings and even snowfall dampening spirits. This year, it was the snows of January ... and February ... and March that made organizers conclude they could not go on with the early June event.
The Ichthus Festival was scheduled for the Kentucky Horse Park June 4 to 7, in the same site where the Festival of the Bluegrass takes place each year. But snow make-up days pushed school calendars back into the first week of June, meaning as the festival started many kids in the region would still be in class taking exams, and at graduation ceremonies scheduled that weekend.
"We were moving along, getting bands booked and schedules made, and it kept snowing," said Bill Darpino, executive producer for Come Alive International, the Pennsylvania-based festival presenter that bought Ichthus after Ichthus Ministiries dissolved in 2012. "The growing response was that it was getting harder and harder for people to make a commitment. It was getting obvious that it was way too difficult for longtime supporters and people who wanted to support the festival to come."
Last Saturday, festival directors announced that Ichthus 2014 was cancelled and the new re-launch of Ichthus would be July 8 to 11, 2015, at the Horse Park.
Ichthus started in Wilmore in 1970, presented by Asbury Seminary professor Bob Lyon and some of his students. It is widely acknowledged as the first contemporary Christian music festival. It continued for 43 consecutive years, growing to a point it sometimes played to crowds of more than 20,000 people.
But financial pressures, particularly related to the upkeep of the 111-acre festival site off of U.S. 68 in Wilmore, forced Ichthus Ministries and the festival to fold. Come Alive, which presents the Creation Festivals and other events, bought the Ichthus name and related assets in 2013 announcing an Ichthus return this year.
"We wanted to have a strong relaunch, and it was clear we could not get that under these circumstances," Darpino said.
The cancellation drew some ire on social media, particularly the Ichthus Facebook page, where numerous posters said they had taken vacation days and bought nonrefundable airline tickets and hotel rooms to come.
"It's a difficult decision for everyone," Darpino said. "We have been trying to call each ticket holder and find solutions for them."
This was the second consecutive cancellation of the Ichthus Festival, the 2013 edition called off when Ichthus Ministries folded. On Facebook, some fans complained about Ichthus' record of canceled events.
"We have to respect that," Darpino said, also pointing out that there have been many positive responses to the cancellation too. "At some point, hopefully we will win back their trust."
He did say that having dates locked down for next year and the following two years, "showed we are committed to moving forward."
Meanwhile, there will be music next weekend at the former Ichthus site in Wilmore. New owners Joe and Cheryl Lycan are presenting a concert dubbed "The Redemption," featuring Ichthus favorites Disciple, on April 26.