By Robert Gruber

Ichthus '96 A Field Report

Just got back from the 27th annual Ichthus festival in Wilmore, and boy, is my face red. And my arms. I guess it's safe to say that Ol' Man Winter has finally bitten the Big one, judging by this sunburn (but hey, don't put those winter clothes up just yet!).

I was with a crew from New Jerusalem Ministries in the Highlands (including Pastor Michael Aquino who heads up the Park Party events here). Naturally, the rock acts were the serious drawing cards for us, but because we are "the church that sleeps late", we arrived just in time to miss the first two bands, MXPX and The Waiting. Bummer, dude! Oh well...

We had beautiful weather all day Friday. After taking in a couple of wildly popular seminars with Bart Campolo, we made our way toward the stage to catch The Kry, a Canadian pop-rock outfit. They were good, but after about four songs, I got restless and went roaming. Outside the festival, on the crowded main drag in Wilmore, perennial indie-fave Joseph had his acoustic bass and guitar act, wowing the passersby with his unusual style. The RadRockers tent was also a hot spot--I stayed in there so long I missed Out of Eden.

Sixpence None the Richer played a sublime set of tasteful, yet jamming tunes that had the crowd crying for more. They were followed by The Choir, Christian alt-rock pioneers currently on their farewell-to-touring tour. As usual, the Choir's set was hampered by a poor mix, but at least my eardrums didn't bleed this time. After it got dark, Phil Keaggy came out with a cool backup band and proceeded to blow everyone's mind with his awesome guitar work. He could have played for three more hours, and no one would have minded. For some insane reason, Phil was not the headliner this year, though, so he had to give up the stage to the Gary Chapman/Susan Ashton "unplugged" show. It was okay, but it wasn't Phil. Again, I say, oh well....

Saturday, we arrived late again, so we missed Church of Rhythm, Tuesday's Child and Blackeyed Sceva. We arrived just in time to catch Poor Old Lu, a fantastic alternative band from Seattle. Hoi Polloi went on after POL, and, from what I hear (that's right, I missed 'em!), they killed like champions. Rich Mullins, backed by an abridged version of the Ragamuffin Band, had the audience singing during his set. Perhaps it was Rich's warm nature, coupled with the onstage fun he seemed to have with the band that made this one of my favorite shows of the weekend.

And because Rich's music is so worshipful, it made sense that he was followed by a time of praise, worship and communion with T. K. & Co. The entire crowd of 20,000 or so gathered to celebrate the sacrifice Jesus made. Many came forward during the invitation. Ichthus '96 ended with powerful, crowd-pleasing arena rock performances by Whiteheart and Petra. We were itchy to split by the time Whiteheart ended. Excellent timing, too--the sky split open and a hard rain began to fall half way through Petra's set.

Ichthus has gotten so huge, they need to rethink some of their crowd control strategies. It was nice to see the stage closer to the crowd this year, but something should be done to make access through the crowd easier. They should also spend some money on extra lighting and more trash cans. Other than that, the entire Ichthus staff is to be commended for a job well done in keeping things together. Good job--see ya next year!