Ichthus, America's Oldest Christian Music Festival, Teeters Over Financial Struggles

The Ichthus music festival is the United States' oldest Christian music festival, but the 42-year tradition may be coming to an end. With the 2011 festival recently finished, it's not certain that Ichthus will be able to bring in enough funding for next year.

The festival, which started as a Christian response to the distinctly non-denominational Woodstock festival, has brought in tens of thousands of fans in the past, but its remote location in Willmore, Kentucky may be deterring thrifty travelers from making the trek. For the past six years, the festival has lost money, and organizers' outlooks have been grim.

Ichthus Ministries CEO Mark Vermillion told CNN, "What happens in August and September will determine where we go and how we look at 2012."

Though the ministry has attempted to cut costs by dismissing members of the staff and reducing expenses, the only option now may be to sell the 110 acre property where the festival takes place. Unfortunately, the weak real estate market makes this a bad time for them to sell, and Vermillion stated that "It's not our desire to move from the land, [but] it doesn't make sense for us to own the land when we're using it one month out of the year."

Things have changed since the event began in the 1970's. "There are a lot more music events than there used to be," Vermillion said, "One-day festivals have popped up in local communities. With gas prices, it's hard for people to travel the distances they used to."

Questapalooza, a Christian music festival started in 2006 by Quest Community Church, takes place just 15 miles away from Ichthus. Questapalooza has been more successful the Ichthus recently, but the two festivals seem to share a message of solidarity. Quest Community Church Assistant Pastor Justin McCarty said, "We love Ichthus. We're part of the same team. We're on each other's side."

Vermillion is hopeful that the community of Wilmore will pull though for the festival, remarking, "More than 40 years of history gives you an identity in an area, I don't think there's anybody who wants to see us leave."

In the video below, watch San Diego rock band Switchfoot play their 2003 hit, "Meant To Live," at the 2010 Ichthus Festival: