Ichthus Festival picks opening acts whose mainstream success adds to their allure

The Almost, fronted by Aaron Gillespie, performed at last year's Ichthus Festival and will be back next month for its opening night.
The Almost, fronted by Aaron Gillespie, performed at last year's Ichthus Festival and will be back next month for its opening night. Lexington Herald-Leader

For the past two years, the Ichthus Festival has opened with a Wednesday night designed to lure Central Kentuckians to some of the biggest names in Christian and worship music.

In 2010, it was rockers TobyMac and Newsboys, uniting two-thirds of one of genre's all-time great acts, dc talk (Newsboys frontman Michael Tait and TobyMac). Last year, it was a big-time worship night with Australian stars Hillsong United.

This year's opener is just a straight-up rock concert with two acts that have strong mainstream appeal, Switchfoot and The Almost, bookending the bill.

While many acts that will play the 43rd annual Ichthus Festival are known almost only to Christian music fans, this go-round of the community night is a chance to celebrate the acts have been able to take their messages out of the confines of faith-based events and enjoyed success.

Switchfoot, which gave Ichthus an amazing performance two years ago, has garnered a primarily mainstream profile with past albums while maintaining strong messages about social justice and personal and spiritual responsibility. In 2009, The Sound, about Christian and civil rights activist John M. Perkins, was the soundtrack to a Blackberry commercial.

Frontman Jon Foreman has indulged a solo and side project, Fiction Family, that clearly was aimed at mainstream, adult rock audiences.

Talking to the Herald-Leader in 2010, Foreman addressed Switchfoot's status as a mainstream artist saying, "For me, my faith has never been a genre. We've always played for whoever would let us in the door."

Ichthus fans have been flinging the door open for more than a decade now. Recently they also have been opening it to Aaron Gillespie.

The Almost frontman's roots are in another genre-straddling metalcore band, Underoath, which also has strong followings in secular and faith communities. He played drums and sang. In 2010 he left to concentrate on his solo career and The Almost. Gillespie's solo work has been explicitly worship-geared, and he has toured with groups such as the Billy Graham Association and will be playing Ichthus' Galleria Stage again this year.

The Almost has been a hit in the modern rock world while, much like Switchfoot, carrying a message of faith and integrity.

That opening night also will feature Christian rockers Kutless and evangelist Tony Nolan, so fear not all who worry about messages getting watered down. A pretty explicit Christian message will emanate from the Ichthus stage June 20.

Questions about whether Christian artists should play to the mainstream is a perpetual topic of conversation.

But as acts such as RED and Family Force 5 demonstrate this year, Christian artists in mainstream rock and pop is a ship that has sailed, and if you're one who views the world as the darkness, then the opening night of this year's Ichthus Festival would be a good time to celebrate some light getting out there.

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