The Eleventh Billy Reid Shindig kicked off on the afternoon of August 23. Its venue, Wilson Park, was packed with citizens ready to experience the sounds, smells and tastes of the night. For something this big to be held in what one would consider a “small town”, it is widely perceived and accepted as a gift from Reid himself.
The emcee of the night, Brent Reed, expressed how he believed this to be true.
“The cool thing about it is that Billy Reid doesn’t have to do [this here], he’s doing things like the MET Gala!,” Reed said. “I’m just excited to be part of it. I think it’s a big deal [and that] it’s good for our community.”
The Shindig has grown every year it has been a part of Florence. The event started small, Reid even held a dinner at his home the first year it began among the other events. This year, however, its reputation alone calls for larger venues to withstand the droves that come to experience it. Among the many is Florence’s mayor, Steve Holt.
“I think I enjoyed this one as much as any of the others,” Holt said. “He has some tremendous music talent that comes in every year, plus people from all over the country — if not globally — that are involved in the fashion industry.”
Holt said they make Florence their home for a weekend.
“Its invaluable,” Holt said. “You could never buy the kind of publicity that we get from people coming here and enjoying themselves.”
The events of the first night unfolded as sunlight filtered through cirrus strands of smoke and vapor. Music artists Erin Ray, Devon Gilfillian and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band performed for free. Other acts like Cautious Clay, Motel Radio and The Watson Twins played over the course of the weekend at Wilson Park. There were paid performances by The Raconteurs, and Margo Price as well held at the Shoals Theatre.
One artist in particular, Devon Gilfillian made the most out of his trip to the area.
“I came down about four years ago when I first moved to Nashville and wanted to check out the music scene here and the old studios: FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound,” Gilfillian said. “[Then, I] was just a fan, a bystander, [but] last night we got to record a couple songs at Muscle Shoals Sound. It was surreal.”
The end of the night consisted of a preview of the new Ken Burns documentary “Country Music” presented by Alabama Public Television. It showed clips from the sixteen hours of content it boasts over a span of eight parts. Mike McKenzie, public information director for APT, recounted some choice words about the country music industry.
“They say [that] whether the music is happy or sad, it helps you through the problems you have. It helps you work those things out,” McKenzie said. “That kind of makes sense to me even a sad song can help you realize things, it tells you that you’re not the only one that has a problem in the world.”
For the rest of the weekend, food and music were in equal parts ingested. A slew of chefs who have found their success in the south performed, but in their own craft. Their lyrics hid in the cuisine, smells were their symphony. Reid had artists and artisans present to showcase their talent.
Florence would otherwise be looked over by such reputable figures if not for Billy Reid. The mayor got a chance to express his and the city’s gratitude honoring him in the form of a ceremonial key and proclamation.
Holt said he gave Billy the key to the city.
“[He’s] is a world-renowned designer and he’s got stores in most of the big cities around the world, but this is home,” Holt said. “He could do Shindig anywhere else, but he does it here. We wanted to celebrate that with him [to] just let him know we appreciate him, his family and what he does [for us] all the time.”
To state the town’s thanks to Billy and all he has done, the Shoals Theatre marquee said it best in big, blocky letters:
“THANK YOU BILLY!”