The Ichthus Festival is a Christian music festival in Wilmore, Kentucky. Held 44 times from 1970 to 2015, the event was originally a Christian-music answer to Woodstock but developed into both the longest-running Christian music festival and a Christian ministry serving tens of thousands of attendees annually. With financial difficulties in the 2010s, the festival left Wilmore after 2012 and put on one last event in 2015 at the Kentucky Horse Park in nearby Lexington, Kentucky. In 2021, the festival was revived in Wilmore.
|Years active||1970–2015, 2021|
|Founded by||Bob Lyon|
Professor Bob Lyon was inspired by 1969's Woodstock to create a similar experience for fans of Christian music. In spring 1970, Lyon and some of his students at Asbury Theological Seminary hosted thousands at the first Ichthus Festival at Wilmore Campgrounds in Wilmore, Kentucky. Admission for that first event was US$2.50 per day, or $4.00 for the weekend (equivalent to $17.44 and $27.91 in 2021). The name was taken from the ichthys, a "symbol used by the earliest Christians as a secret sign". Student-run for decades, the festival hired a director in 2000, and spent that decade expanding Ichthus Festival into a greater Christian ministry.
After Ichthus 2013 was cancelled due to financial problems, it was announced that the 2014 event (September 26–28) would be held at the Kentucky Horse Park in northern Fayette County, Kentucky, as part of Creation Festivals. The dates were later changed to June 4–7 before the festival was moved to 2015 entirely (July 8–11) due to the 2013–14 North American winter causing an "unusually high number of snow days" that prevented local students from attending. The 2015 Creation-led Ichthus Festival was that group's last, as they announced on February 4, 2016, that there would be no Ichthus 2016: "We underestimated the time and financial resources necessary to restart this great ministry. So, after much prayerful consideration, Creation Festivals has made the difficult decision that stepping away from Ichthus Festival will be in the best interest for the event and its future."
On May 6, 2016, Asbury University announced that it had obtained the rights to the Ichthus Festival name and legacy from Creation Festivals. Fuse Ministries held a relaunch event of the Ichthus Festival on September 18, 2021, at Servant Heart Farm in Wilmore; 600–700 people attended, and the venue operators—Joe and Cheryl Lycan—said it was a success.
The Wilmore Campgrounds hosted Ichthus Festivals through 1998. Starting in 1999, the festival was held at Ichthus Farm, a 111-acre (45 ha) parcel bought specifically for the festival. Fuse Ministries' September 2021 event was scheduled at "Servant Heart Farm in Wilmore, KY [, ...] the location of the festival from 1999 to 2012." The farm was sold and renamed in 2013.
For many years, the event was annually scheduled for the last full weekend in April—which in the Bluegrass region meant foul weather: "Ichthus had enough soggy, stormy weekends [...] that it earned nicknames such as Mudthus and Ickythus." In 2005, the festival saw snow, leading then-executive director Jeff James to move the weekend into June, saying, "It's better to be wet and warm than wet and cold." In 2008, an all-inclusive weekend ticket cost $119.00 (equivalent to $149.77 in 2021).
In 1991, the festival saw 11,500 attendees; eight years later that number was 18,000. As of 2009, the five-day, three-stage Ichthus Festival was still attracting 17–20,000 attendees and upwards of 100 musicians and speakers; by 2012, it was the longest-continually-running Christian music festival.
- Altar Boys
- The Awakening
- Big Tent Revival
- Rick Bonfim
- Burlap to Cashmere
- Steven Curtis Chapman
- The City Harmonic
- Andraé Crouch
- David Crowder Band
- DC Talk
- DeGarmo and Key
- Israel Houghton
- The Imperials
- Jars of Clay
- Phil Keaggy
- Mylon LeFevre
- Hawk Nelson
- New World
- Larry Norman
- Out of Eden
- Charlie Peacock
- The Rainbeaux
- Relient K
- Resurrection Band
- Ron and Bill Moore
- Michael W. Smith
- Chris Tomlin
- White Heart
- Robison, Greg (2009). "The Granddaddy of Them All: The Ichthus Festival". Christian Rock Festivals (First ed.). New York City: Rosen Publishing. pp. 7–14. ISBN 978-1-4358-5122-1.
- Moon, Victoria (June 1999). "Front and Center: Ichthus Festival". Louisville Music News. Archived from the original on June 12, 2018. Retrieved February 15, 2021.
- Copley, Rich (2009). "At 40, Ichthus isn't looking back". Lexington Herald-Leader. ISSN 0745-4260. Archived from the original on June 14, 2009. Retrieved February 19, 2020.
Wilmore festival's past a platform for staying in tune with future
- "Ichthus music festival to return in 2014 at Kentucky Horse Park". The Jessamine Journal. May 8, 2013. Archived from the original on August 29, 2013. Retrieved February 19, 2020.
- Ward, Karla (April 12, 2014). "Planned renewal of Ichthus Festival is called off until 2015". Lexington Herald-Leader. ISSN 0745-4260. Archived from the original on June 13, 2018. Retrieved February 19, 2020.
- Copley, Rich (February 9, 2016). "Ichthus Festival canceled, again". Lexington Herald-Leader. ISSN 0745-4260. Archived from the original on June 12, 2018. Retrieved February 19, 2020.
- "Asbury Obtains Rights to Ichthus Name and Legacy". Asbury University. May 6, 2016. Archived from the original on February 19, 2020. Retrieved February 19, 2020.
- "Ichthus return is success, says operator". The Times-Tribune. Wilmore, Kentucky. September 24, 2021. Archived from the original on October 3, 2021. Retrieved October 8, 2021.
- "Ichthus Festival Is Coming Back!". Fuse Ministries. Archived from the original on July 1, 2021. Retrieved July 1, 2021.
- Kocher, Greg (September 15, 2017). "Music festival comes to former Ichthus site". The Paducah Sun. Retrieved July 1, 2021.
The last Ichthus Festival was held on the property in 2012. The next year, the farm was sold ... and was renamed Servant Heart Farm.