Washed by the water: Festival combines rain, rock and religion

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By Donald Richie

There was heat, there was rain, there was a ton of cicadas.

Most of all, there was good fellowship, music and fun.

It was the 39th annual Ichthus Music Festival in Wilmore, Ky., held last Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It was also my first time going.

For those who don't know, Ichthus is a three-day Christian music festival which has been held near the Asbury College campus since 1970.

The first thing anyone learns while there is that Christianity has many different faces. In order to appreciate that, throw out any visions you may have of tie-wearing, clean cut typical Christians.

They're there, but so are pink haired, tattooed punk rockers. So are long haired, bearded hippies. So are sports jersey-wearing rappers.

In short, Ichthus is all about showing how diverse the culture of Christianity really is.

The most obvious way that shows is in the music.

Four stages operate basically non-stop during the festival. At any given time, you can hear punk rock, hardcore, funk, pop, contemporary - just about any kind of music which suits your taste.

Theres much more than music, however.

Several times a day, there are sessions where different aspects of Christianity and Christian life are covered - mostly aimed at teenagers, who probably struggle the worst with their faith.

There is plenty of literature and information on hand and even prayer tents where you can talk one on one with someone who will try to help you with a specific issue.

I went with my church, Connersville Christian. We set up camp Wednesday afternoon and although we were a little cramped, I think everybody had a great time and experienced some type of growth.

I know I did.

On Thursday I did a fair amount of exploring. I took in the sights, checked out what booths were set up and - of great importance - found out where the coffee would be the next morning.

Also, I tried to find other area churches just to see familiar faces. Although I'm sure they were there, I never saw any of them. After all there were around 20,000 people on that farm.

I left camp that afternoon to go to the state tournament game in Lexington. I missed one of my favorite bands - Skillet - but there were plenty more to see.

Friday brought another day of oppressive heat. Carol and I went to the main stage at lunch time to get a good spot.

We were able to see a few bands we'd never heard of before and a couple we had.

Then the rain came.

Carol, Josh Jenkins, Jade Jenkins, Sarah Jenkins, Cindy Hill (who had just sat down in her chair) and I had to high tail it out of the arena area to find shelter with lightning striking all around and what I'm pretty sure was hail beating our backs.

Afternoon turned into evening and there was no sign the storms would quit.

It was Ichthus after all.

Friday was arguably the biggest night of the festival.

Christian rock giant tobyMac (a former DC Talk member and pioneer of the modern Christian Rock scene) was supposed to headline.

Everywhere I had gone in the days before, I overheard excited conversations (usually among girls) about seeing tobyMac.

Unfortunately everything was cancelled after 5 p.m., so no tobyMac.

You would think the weather coupled with the cancellation of the shows star would bring spirits down.

You would be wrong.

As Ken and Angie Lucky and Carol and I were on our way to get food for the almost 30 people in our group, we received a phone call.

Our kids and a group from another campsite had formed a conga line in the rain and mud.

That folks, is resilience.

Once the rain subsided, we did our best to dry out our gear and get a good night's rest.

The next day proved much better as clouds gave way to sun and the shows went on uninterrupted.

The biggest act - at least judging by the size of the crowd in the pit in front of the main stage - was Atlanta-based crunk band Family Force 5. While the older folks don't like them much, the kids really get into them.

The age divide really showed when they were on stage.

Like I said, you don't have to like them as long as the message is getting across. I've heard Wayne Smith say many times, the methods change but the message doesn't.

Tired and dirty, we all packed up our gear and after a great performances by David Crowder and Casting Crowns, made the long trek back home.

Many people left there changed as well.

For my daughter, the change meant a desire to further her walk with God.

For me, it was a renewal of spirit and hopefully a closer walk.

I'm not sure what it meant for the rest of the group, but I hope it was something good. I know I'll be back next year and possibly may try to get to some more shows this summer.

Now that I'm back in the swing of day-to-day life, I hope I can maintain the charge I got last week.

That, after all, is the biggest challenge facing all of us.