When the Mon River Town Program approached Cycle Forward about organizing a paddling trip, they suggested coming up with a theme and offering a “Mon River experience.” They suggested incorporating the historic Whiskey Rebellion. Before long, the Rebel Rebel Float Trip was conceived and would bring together kayaking, David Bowie, and stories of rebellion.
Dates: August 2017
Client: Mon River Town Program (returning client)
Location: Washington County, Pennsylvania
Outdoor Asset: Monongahela River
Project Type: Destination Marketing, Event Planning
When Cycle Forward was contracted to create a Mon River paddling experience, Mon River Town Program manager Cathy McCollom imagined a play that would unfold along the riverbank. She suggested a Whiskey Rebellion theme being that much of the 1790s rebellion played out in Southwestern Pennsylvania. The result? Rebel Rebel Float Trip, an event that promised the story of the rebellion “with a David Bowie Twist.” The experiential paddling trip – complete with interpretation, music, food, and cocktails – sold out well ahead of the event.
Involving the right partners and vendors was critical to the success of Rebel Rebel Float Trip. Venture Outdoors, which leads trips aimed at getting people outside, was engaged as the activity partner. They provided the kayaks, canoes, and expert safety paddlers. Next, the Washington County Historical Society was brought on to help develop the script and identify interpreters. Finally, having the right food and drink partners was key! Prohibition Pastries, which infuses its baked goods with spirits, provided a rustic period supper with whiskey-infused pot pies and other delights. Wigle Whiskey, a distillery with family ties to the rebellion, mixed cocktails (the “Major Tom” and “Ginny Stardust” drinks were total hits!).
Cycle Forward also leaned on its experiential travel training (via the Gros Morne Institute for Sustainable Tourism) to create a memorable event. It was important to emotionally engage participants with an interactive experience that appealed to the senses. In addition to the drinks and pot pies, people enjoyed local peaches, fake tattoos (Bowie, of course), live music, and a DJ set, all on the river’s edge.
A themed, guided paddling trip along the Monongahela River
The event goal mirrored that of the Mon River Town Program, to highlight the Monongahela River as a regional asset and draw people to use it. Of those who completed the post-event survey, 25 percent were first-time kayakers, and nearly 9 out of 10 hadn’t paddled the Monongahela before. We provided a safe and fun group experience that provided those new kayakers an entry point to the activity and river. In addition to those who attended this one-time, somewhat magical experience, thousands more read about the event through news articles and social media. Read Cycle Forward’s Rebel Rebel Float Trip blog post to learn more about how the idea was conceived as well as what Amy’s key takeaways were.
But don’t take her word for it. Writer Sherrie Flick, who attended the event, went on to write an essay about the experience. Titled Rebel Rebel: A Gen-X story about kayaking, the Whiskey Rebellion, and David Bowie, it beautifully captures the spirit of the event as well as the challenges faced in post-industrial areas.
Can’t get enough of David Bowie? Here’s a Cycle Forward blog post about people connecting via the David Bowie Is exhibit.
Rebel Rebel event photos by Shauna Benz Patterson, Kathi Radock, and Cycle Forward.