WILMORE — The land of Central Kentucky was parched and dry, and the people called to the heavens for relief.
And the good Lord heard their prayers and brought forth the Ichthus Festival — which always comes with rain. Or so it seems.
The 42nd annual Ichthus Festival started Wednesday, as many previous editions have, with rain and thunderstorms moving through Central Kentucky. It was enough to delay the beginning of camping on the grounds of Ichthus Farm and mess with some of the festival infrastructure. But it was nothing approaching major weather events that have plagued Ichthuses past.
"We're repairing tents, not putting them back up," Ichthus CEO Mark Vermilion said as music started on the main stage with Canadian worship artists The City Harmonic.
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Flipping hamburgers on a portable grill at the Ichthus Farm campsite, Joe Vatalare of St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Charleston, W.Va., said the late-morning storms delayed setup of his group's campsite.
"Metal poles and lightning aren't a great combination," he said, sporting an apron that said "Cookie."
But Ichthus and a youth group trip are a great pair, said the group's leader, Ginny Johnson.
The campers were bucking a trend Ichthus organizers had identified of more people coming to the festival for a day instead of camping for the duration of the event, which runs through Saturday.
"It's really the fellowship that they enjoy," Johnson said, referring to the teens in her youth group. "And we also like the variety of music. Some of them like the hard rock and screamo, and some like the mellower stuff."
Johnson said her group had looked at other festivals near Charleston, but Ichthus had the best variety and price, at less than $100 for a weekend ticket.
"A church I once came with looked at another festival the next year, to try something different, and it was going to cost them $400 each," said 17-year Ichthus veteran Joe Howell of Southport United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. "You can't beat this."
Even members of Oasis Community Church in Lexington were setting up tents, though they could have easily shuttled in and out of the festival.
"It's more fun camping and hanging out with friends, and it's a longer drive to Lexington," said Sydney Miller, 17, of Lexington.
Whether they camp or shuttle in and out, The Oasis group represents who Vermilion wants to see more at Ichthus: Central Kentuckians.
"What we really want out of this weekend is for people in Central Kentucky to see Ichthus as something that belongs to them," Vermilion said. "We want people to say, 'We're proud of this festival and want to be a part of it.' That's the key to another 42 years."
The weather put a damper on attendance for the opening night, billed as "A Night of Worship," featuring Australian Christian music superstars Hillsong United. But Vermilion was hopeful for strong attendance for the rest of the fest, which usually attracts between 15,000 and 20,000 people.
The rest of the event might well get help from the weather, with sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s and 80s predicted the rest of the fest.
And that, organizers say, is good.