Want to know how weird the last two years have been, events-wise? Just ask the producers of the Reno River Festival.

The Reno River Festival is a weekend of music, food, adventure and more, all in the heart of downtown Reno. On Saturday, May 7, and Sunday, May 8, attendees can enjoy a number of activities like headlining performances by two of country music’s rising stars—Ryan Griffin on Saturday, and Lindsay Eli on Sunday—a bike ride/concert hybrid known as the Reno River Roll; bounce houses; rock-climbing; plenty of food and drink; a cornhole championship tournament; and so much more.

“We canceled our festival in 2020 for obvious reasons, and then in 2021, we were trying to do a restricted festival with capacity limits,” said Jess Horning, co-owner and co-founder of Liquid Blue Events, which took over ownership of the Reno River Festival in 2015. “We were planning it for its typical Mother’s Day weekend, but once we got close … we realized that the capacity limits were so strict that we weren’t able to produce it like we normally would. We thought we could do it, and open it up a little bit more, in June, and we were approved by the state to be able to do a festival under certain restrictions.”

Then, on June 1, the state removed capacity limits on outdoor events—which was perfect timing for the Reno River Fest, which had been rescheduled for June 12 and 13.

“Last year’s Reno River festival was the first major event that had happened since 2019,” Horning said. “We were really excited about that—and the community showed up in a big way. It was really our busiest event ever last year.”

The 2021 festival wasn’t completely restriction-free, however.

“Especially because of the tight time window … not knowing what the restrictions were going to be, we had to cancel certain things like certain mechanical rides,” Horning said. “We had to keep people moving throughout the festival all times; I couldn’t do any congregating events, although live music was approved. We couldn’t hold the whitewater events last year, because it was more of a spectator event, so people couldn’t congregate in certain areas to watch the whitewater athletes—plus, in June, the water was so low it was impossible, anyway. But for the most part, we were able to run it as normal.”

The Reno River Festival is one of the markers that summer is coming, Horning said.

“It has become known as the big kickoff to the event season, because there are so many great events in Northern Nevada,” Horning said. “This is a big one out of the gate. It really does kick off the summer, so we have transformed this festival into a summer kickoff event. Everything that really resonates when people think of summer is at this festival—food or drink tasting, adventure, riding your bike, being down by the river, and outdoor music. We brought it all in, and put a lot more focus on those things to make it more of a summer kickoff festival.”

Some new and improved events are set to take place this year, such as the RRF Cornhole Championships, an open-to-the-public, professionally run cornhole tournament. Two-person entrance fees start at $40.

“One of the things that, to us, is very summer-oriented is cornhole,” said Horning. “Tailgating out in your backyard and barbecuing and cornhole has really grown significantly in the last couple of years, to where now, there are major cornhole tournaments around the region and around the country, where people are nationally ranked. Our cornhole tournament is going to be one of the biggest in the region, and we’ll have participants from all over the western United States coming to play here.”

This year also marks the return of the bike ride/moving concert known as the Reno River Roll, on Saturday. Tickets start at $35.

“We did it for the first time in 2017,” shared Horning. “We couldn’t do it in 2021 because of the restrictions, so we haven’t had it since 2019. It is a slow roll for 7 miles through downtown Reno, along the river, and around the downtown area. It’s really built around showcasing some of the development, growth and beautification of downtown Reno. It’s a costume bike ride that is led by a live, really high-energy cover band that will play for over an hour as you cruise behind it, with a police escort, through downtown Reno. There’s also a caboose with a DJ on the back end playing music, so if you drag behind a little bit, you still have music along the way. It’s just a lot of fun and a lot of togetherness, and it’s a family-friendly event with kids on bikes. It’s not just bikes, either; people will be on scooters or rollerblades or whatever.”

COURTESY PHOTO/A happy participant of last year’s Reno River Festival.

While admission to the event used to be free, organizers started charging an entrance fee last year. A portion of this year’s ticket fee will go toward the buyer’s choice of either Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful, the Nevada Humane Society, or the High Fives Foundation.

“Because of the restrictions that we were dealing with last year and capacity limits, it was the best way for us to be able to maintain a specific capacity count within the festival,” Horning said. “Again, the week before the festival happened, restrictions were opened back up, but we had already sold so many presale tickets that we just kept with that. Everything is getting more and more expensive; the support and the funding that’s available to us is not as strong as it always has been, and costs keep increasing, especially at parks. The only way for this festival to exist is to charge some sort of admission fee, and even though it’s very, very minor, it really does help pay for the city staff, the event security, and everything else that goes along with it to make sure the event is safe.

“We realized that, since this event has been free for so long, we don’t just want to take money from people. We know that there are a lot of groups around town that really dedicate a lot of time to keeping Nevada strong and beautiful. … We want to support those causes, so we selected three nonprofit charities, and a portion of those tickets will go toward the charities.”

Horning said building community is important.

“We’re seventh-generation Nevadans,” she said. “We love Reno; we love downtown Reno, and we’re so lucky that we have a river running through our downtown area. It’s such a unique commodity that a lot of other towns don’t have, so just … watching how the community is a very active outdoor-event community, we harnessed that energy and got feedback from the locals about what they’re looking for in this type of event.”

The Reno River Festival will take place 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday, May 7; and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday, May 8, at Wingfield Park, at First Street and Arlington Avenue, in Reno. Tickets start at $10; kids 17 years old or younger are admitted for free. For tickets or more information, visit renoriverfestival.com.

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