Riverrock: Nation’s Premier Outdoor Festival Turns 10

Bob and DogBy Allan Sharrett and Audrey Cannon

In 2008, Roy Grier was in Vail, Colo., running a 10K straight up a snowy ski slope.

He was participating in Vail’s Teva Mountain Games, accompanied by Sports Backers’ Jeff Fitch and Jon Lugbill, in the hopes of creating a similar event unique to Richmond, Va.

On the plane ride home, the trio began planning what would become Dominion Energy Riverrock, now considered the nation’s premier outdoor sports and music festival. Its purpose? To encourage an active community and celebrate the beautiful James River that runs through the city of Richmond.

“The festival has evolved and grown with time, and Sports Backers should be credited for its expansion,” says Roy, vice president of Workplace Development who has been with Dominion Energy for 36 years. “Riverrock really has gotten better every year.”

As title sponsor, Dominion Energy brought to the table a passion for the environment and a sustainable future. Sports Backers, a fitness-focused non-profit organization in Richmond, added the expertise in outdoor activities. Venture Richmond joined the initiative as a third partner, bringing knowledge of event marketing, food and music.

The festival debuted in May of 2009 as a one-day event filled with live music, trail running, kayaking, mountain biking and competitive dog jumping.

Known as Dominion Energy Riverrock, the event has expanded to a massive four-day extravaganza, having added to its repertoire rock climbing, slacklining, stand-up paddle boarding, yoga, and a well-loved 5K mud run—to name a few.

Bob Blue, president and CEO of the Power Delivery group, was integral to Riverrock’s creation. Now, he enjoys attending the event each year with his family. Bob has participated in the mud run half a dozen times with his daughter and two sons. He also has competed in the dog jumping contest with his yellow Labrador, Patty. Bob has seen firsthand how there’s an event for everyone in the family. His wife, Liz, has enjoyed the 10K trail run and his sons love the kayak racing events.

“It’s in our front yard,” Bob says of the James River and Brown’s Island, the location of Riverrock, which is adjacent to the company’s corporate headquarters. “Riverrock is the embodiment of Dominion Energy’s commitment to the environment. It’s an incredible way to connect people to the James River, where so many of us live and work.”

While Bob and others knew from the start that Riverrock would indeed be something special, it was not until the first night of the festival’s inaugural year that the creators realized critical mass had been reached. As headliner band “Rusted Root” played on Friday night in 2009, Bob received word that there had never been that many people on Brown’s Island before.

“It took off beyond what anyone expected,” says Irene Roberts, manager of public relations, who has been involved since Riverrock’s inception. “At first, it may have drawn mostly outdoor sports enthusiasts, but now there’s truly something for everyone."

Irene also notes that the event gets a lot of Dominion Energy employee engagement. “Employees volunteer en masse each year,” she says.

The festival also draws hundreds of employee participants, including representatives from the company’s running club.

To celebrate the event’s 10th anniversary, employees are invited to participate in free group activities the workweek prior to Riverrock. The fun will include outdoor yoga, a river rafting trip, a group hike on Brown’s Island, a James River clean-up and a concert on the plaza at the company’s OJRP location.

What started as a concept has evolved over the past 10 years into a nationally recognized outdoor celebration that’s a crown jewel of Richmond’s vibrant festival scene.