Q & A with Ichthus Festival Director Jeff James
I think things are up and running here again, but there will be a domain name change here shortly, so I’ll keep you posted on that. This Q & A is with Jeff James, who is the festival director of Ichthus, which will be held June 10-13 in Wilmore. It’s a little all over the place — it was on the phone and I didn’t have much time — but it gives a good insight into what makes this festival different from other ones around the country and what people can expect from this year’s Ichthus.
TY: Tell me about some of the new stages you will have this year.
JJ: We’re doing a new worship stage that’s going to be fully programmed. The Worship Together organization is going to be programming all of that. Then we’ve got some local help that’s going to work on that as well who are friends with the festival, some local and regional talent to that. We’re going to try to get as much local church involvement for the future as we can. One of the things we’re emphasizing is ownership of the festival, belonging to the central Kentucky church rather than the para-church ministry, Ichthus. We have new indie stages, unsigned bands. We’re also adding a techno stage.
TY: What can we expect for the 40th anniversary?
JJ: We’re going to do some celebrating stuff Saturday night — a look back at the founders. Our Ascenxion Band project, world-class musicians, is going to hop up (on the main stage), and we’re going to run a couple of classic Christian artists up in front of them. There will be some crossover from that. We’re going to use our local worship team for the festival, Mike Vandemark at Southland is putting together a regional fantastic worship leader band that’s going to perform at the festival for main stage, and then we’ll run them on the worship stage.
TY: Ichthus began in 1970 as a response to the Woodstock Festival in 1969. Do you think it has accomplished that task?
JJ: I do think so. It’s morphed into something more. Woodstock was kind of a counter-culture movement, and Ichthus was kind of the counter-counter-culture movement. Some of the manifestations of that have stuck with us over the years in that we’ve actually become good at not just critiquing culture — because that’s not good enough — and we don’t condemn culture, but we’re talking about the value of culture and God’s value on human culture. So we kind of become a culture creator, if you will, in some ways. And that’s a goal of mine where we’re going to create a generation of young people who see themselves and their creativity as a value added in everyday American culture. So much of the church has been about either criticizing or condemning the existing culture rather than being a positive influence.
TY: Is that what makes it different than other Christian music festivals? That aspect of culture?
Exactly. Performance is a big part of it, and it’s the draw, but the point isn’t the concerts. The point is what we have to say and what kinds of things we talk about. it’s not really highly popular in conservative evangelical circles to talk about green issues, which we’ve done for several years with Matthew Sleeth. But everybody in this young generation knows that’s just a good thing to do. It’s not a political idea. People have taken some of the stewardship issues that the church ought to really be in control of, frankly, and turn them into political footballs. The church has to be careful not to live its life on political stances. So what we do is we’re saying have a holistic life, have a positive impact, but that includes a whole range of issues that the church may not be able to embrace.
Thanks to Jeff for getting back to me, as we missed each other several times with our busy schedules. He also clued me in off the record of some of the names we can expect from the 40th anniversary celebration, and there are a couple of names that I am very excited to see this year.