RCTalk: Ichthus Festival resurrected; return scheduled for 2014

Switchfoot performed at the 2012 Ichthus Festival. Last year was the last for the original Ichthus, which had a 43-year run in Wilmore.
Switchfoot performed at the 2012 Ichthus Festival. Last year was the last for the original Ichthus, which had a 43-year run in Wilmore. Lexington Herald-Leader

The organization that presents the East Coast and West Coast Creation festivals will resurrect Central Kentucky's Ichthus Festival, although logistically it could be a very different event from the one that played for 43 years in Wilmore.

Ichthus, widely regarded as the original contemporary Christian musical festival, announced in December that it was closing and put much of its physical and intellectual property up for auction early this year, primarily in an attempt to pay off outstanding debt.

But at the Winter Jam concert at Rupp Arena in March, the crowd of nearly 17,000 was the first to hear the news that Ichthus would return, and more information would be coming soon.

Festival director Mark Vermillion said it took a little longer than he and the new festival owners had hoped, but this week they announced that Ichthus will return in late September 2014 as a three-day event, Thursday through Saturday.

"The thing I'm really excited about with Ichthus being part of the Creation team is that we have very, very strong values alignment," Vermillion said of Come Alive International, which produces the Creation festivals, and other Christian music festivals and events around the world.

"The things that have been important to Ichthus throughout its history are very important to the Creation team as well. Those things would be a ministry focus, doing things with operational excellence and being culturally innovative."

Creation Festivals executive producer Bill Darpino echoed Vermillion's assessment that there is a unity in purpose and history between Creation and Ichthus that persuaded the group to acquire the festival.

"We're really excited for the future of Ichthus and coming in and becoming part of that family," Darpino says. "The history there, the legacy, the ministry component really just resonated with us."

Creation Festival Northeast started in 1979 in a park in Lancaster County, Pa., and later moved to its current venue of Agape Campground in Mount Union, Pa. Creation Northwest started in 1998 in George, Wash., and is now held in Enumclaw, Wash. Come Alive also produces the Sonshine Festival in Willmar, Minn., and events in Haiti and Ghana.

Vermillion said the combination of Ichthus' desire to return to the school-year calendar, where it had been until the festival moved to June in 2006, and its desire to stay away from unpredictable and sometimes violent spring weather prompted the move to late September.

"In April, we also were contending with a lot of activities late in the school year, like finals," Vermillion said. "In the fall, we feel like we'll be catching people fresh."

He said football might be the main conflict for attracting high school and college students on a fall weekend, "but there will always be something. If we were in Texas, Friday night football might have been more of a deal-breaker."

The big question is the venue. In the sale of property, the Ichthus grounds have gone to a private owner, although Vermillion does not rule that out as a possible venue. And the new owners, Joe and Cheryl Lycan of Servant Heart Holding Co., LLC, say they would like to host the festival.

"We have offered to Ichthus to have the Festival," Joe Lycan said Friday. "Our only purpose in securing the grounds is to see ministry continue. We believe in the city of Wilmore and what God has done there, and we want to see it continue."

Lycan said he and his wife have been cleaning up the grounds, and they aim to have Christian and family-friendly events there.

But for Ichthus there are other options.

Darpino, Vermillion and others expressed a strong attraction to the Kentucky Horse Park as a potential new home for the festival because of its facilities, including the indoor Alltech Arena, and the park's proximity to Interstate 75.

Horse Park executive director John Nicholson confirmed that he has talked to Ichthus representatives, and that the Horse Park is interested in having the festival.

The location has to be decided, but the date of the festival will be September 2014. The Winter Jam announcement had included the promise of a festival-lite event this coming fall, but Vermillion said it has turned out to be a little late to pull something together that quickly. He and Darpino say they are looking at staging preliminary concerts under the Ichthus banner in Central Kentucky and other hubs of the Ichthus audience, such as Cincinnati and Indianapolis.

People who had already bought tickets to Ichthus 2013 will be able to find information on refunds or trading them in for other Ichthus events soon through its website,, Vermillion said.

Both Vermillion and Darpino said they understand that there will be people who feel angry or let down by the dissolution of the previous Ichthus, but they hope to draw them back into the audience.

"We're so excited about the future of Ichthus and building and strengthening those new relationships," Darpino said. "We want to build a new legacy."