WILMORE — Just before dinner time Saturday, Scott McCoy was getting ready to enjoy an early Father's Day present: an evening of Christian pop music at the Ichthus Festival.
"It was something fun to do, and it's our first time here," said Tara McCoy, Scott's wife. The couple, who like listening to Christian pop radio, decided they would check out Ichthus "as long as they can stand it," Tara said, referring to their three children — Lincoln, Douglas and McKinley, ages 4 to 2.
The McCoys took advantage of the Ichthus Festival's $25 Community Day promotion on the final day of the four-day Christian rock event. The advance ticket price for Saturday — tickets at the gate were $40 — was part of an effort to attract more Central Kentuckians to the festival, traditionally a destination for Christian music fans from the region.
According to festival chief executive Mark Vermilion, an estimated 2,500 people took advantage of the promotion.
The festival is reaching out to locals because of the changing nature of the Christian festival market and a need to build a stronger base of support for Ichthus in Central Kentucky, Vermilion said. Before the final main stage performance Saturday night, Vermilion planned to make the festival's first-ever direct appeal for donations.
"Since moving the festival from the spring to the summer, it has struggled to break even," Vermilion said, noting that when Ichthus was profitable, it gave its money to causes it supports. For instance, Ichthus gave a substantial portion of its land off U.S. 68 to Wilmore for a park and then gave money to build the park.
"We've given away more than $1 million," Vermilion said. "We want to appeal to people and say if you have been blessed by Ichthus, if this festival made a difference in your life, we would like to ask you to consider supporting it financially."
In addition to the Saturday collection, a donation button will be activated Sunday on the festival Web site, Iloveichthus.org, and an online auction of memorabilia from this year's festival, such as signed guitars and banners, is being planned for later this month, Vermilion said.
Ichthus is also interested in selling the festival site to someone who would lease it to the festival each year, thus relieving the organization of the financial burden of maintaining the property, Vermilion added.
Among those open to the idea of supporting the festival financially were some parents from Louisville's Crestwood Baptist and Southeast Christian Church who said they make the festival an annual event for 40 to 50 youth at their churches.
"It has been a great place for fellowship and witness," Crestwood's Tom Goldsmith said. "It gets them out of their routine and into nature, and we all love music."
Getting kids out of their routines includes getting them away from diversions such as computers and Facebook.
"This is far better than Facebook," said Seth Botner, 17, of Corbin, who was with his friend, Alex Thompson, 16.
When asked how Ichthus could make a stronger pitch to the Central Kentucky area, Adam and Kristen Ross of Versailles said festival organizers should advertise outside of traditional Christian markets such as churches and Christian radio. They cited another successful Christian music event, Quest Community Church's Questapalooza, which is traditionally preceded by church members driving around town with the event's name and Web site painted on their windshields.
Kristen said, "It's amazing what a little window paint can do."