Russell Fork Rendezvous goes back to its roots with move to Haysi, VA

For Immediate Release

September 9, 2018

Media Contact:


Russell Fork Rendezvous goes back to its roots with move to Haysi, VA


“Virginia is for lovers. And kayakers.” That was the sentiment expressed by Russell Fork Rendezvous coordinator, Bob Larkin, when organizers decided to move the event from Elkhorn City, KY to nearby Haysi, VA in 2018.

The festival is in its 24th year. It has been held in several locations in Elkhorn City for several years, but originally began in Haysi, VA, with a downriver race an epic party.

In its hay day, tons of people showed up from all over the world to paddle (or cheer on their friends) in a race down the formidable Class V gorge of the Russell Fork River. For a small admission price, people could camp at the festival grounds and enjoy live bands, food, and camaraderie.  Proceeds went to help save the river, which was (and still is) considered by AW as one of the most endangered rivers in America.

As of 2015, people were still showing up for the race and for a party afterward. But with no one officially responsible for the event, there were no bands, food, or even a guarantee of facilities. Many weren’t even sure there would be a Rendezvous that year.

Larkin, then president of the Kentucky-based Bluegrass Wildwater Association, teamed up with Nate Scally, president of the Kentucky-based Viking Canoe Club to begin coordinating the 2015 Rendezvous.

“There was a lot of interest in restoring the Rendezvous to its original vision,” says Larkin. “But it was going to take a lot of work.”

The past few years have seen the return of live music, food and funkiness. The event was rededicated as a fundraiser for American Whitewater.

In 2018, the event will return to its original location in Haysi, VA, about 15 miles away from Elkhorn City.

“We had always hoped to move Rendezvous home to Haysi,” says Larkin. “Even with the increased attendance just in the last few years, we knew we would likely outgrow the grounds in Elkhorn City.”

But Larkin admits that the move likely would have been a couple years down the road. “We know people are creatures of habit, and we love Elkhorn City. We wanted to focus on really re-establishing the event before moving it.”

Unfortunately, the festival was presented with an unexpected challenge in 2017, when a change in the political climate in Elkhorn City caused a lot of tension between the local government and attendees. Unannounced traffic stops at the entrance to the festival and a heavy police presence on the privately held festival grounds left many event attendees feeling unwelcome.

The message from local law enforcement was that they should expect the same from now on.

“That was really the only motivation we needed,” says Larkin. “We were outgrowing the facilities in Elkhorn City anyway, and Haysi has been excited to welcome us back with open arms.”

Rendezvous’s new home at the Kiwanis Park features mountain top views, real bathrooms, concession stands, electricity, and two stages for bands to perform. The shuttle distances will vary depending on what section of the river paddlers put on (Haysi is closer to the upper, but further from the lower and town sections). But to make it easier for everyone, this year’s Rendezvous will feature a regular shuttle service for a small fee.

“We are really excited about this move,” says Larkin. “We’ll be able to offer so much more than we ever could have where we were. And Haysi is just excited to have us as we are to be there. I can’t wait to see everyone there in October.”

The Russell Fork Rendezvous in October 26-28, 2018. Admission is $25 at the gate, and includes camping and music. Lord of the Forks racers get in free. You can learn more about the event, the new facilities, and the history of Rendezvous at