FLORENCE — When men's fashion designer Billy Reid held his first Shindig in downtown Florence 11 years ago, he didn't expect it to become as popular as it has.
This weekend, Shindig 11 will not only offer residents free music in Wilson Park on Friday, but another free day of music and more on Saturday.
This is in addition to two ticketed concerts at the historic Shoals Theatre, one of which is sold out. There will also be events featuring world-renowned chefs and a sandlot baseball game.
"We kind of put something together and brought some people in 11 years ago," Reid said. "They went back to New York and L.A. and wrote a lot of nice things about us and we said, maybe we'll do it again. So we kept doing that, and it kept growing and the experience kept growing, and it's morphed into an all-weekend festival."
Reid said the annual event draws "several thousand" people to the Shoals from across the country and places like Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada and elsewhere.
The most expensive VIP packages at the Stricklin Hotel, the Gunrunner Hotel and the Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa have sold out, and other motels will also be occupied by Shindig fans.
Reid said about a half a million dollars is invested in the event, the majority going toward the music acts that include The Raconteurs, Margo Price, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Drivin N Cryin, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Watson Twins, Devon Gilfillian, Erin Rae, Motel Radio, Cautious Clay and the New Muscle Shoals FAME Gang, featuring special guests.
Music is just part of the Shindig, which also focuses on food and, of course, fashion.
Each year, Reid invites world-renowned chefs to host cooking demonstrations during the weekend. Reid is also hosting a runway-style fashion show that will showcase some spring and summer 2020 items, as well as some future products.
"We treat it just like if we were doing a show in New York," he said.
In the previous 10 Shindigs, Reid offered ticketed shows Friday and Saturday nights in the intimate confines of the historic roughly 700-seat Shoals Theatre. On Friday evening, there was a free concert in the park that has hosted such acts as St. Paul and the Broken Bones, bluegrass legend Del McCoury, Jerry Douglas and the Earls of Leicester, the late Tony Joe White, the Texas Gentlemen and War and Treaty.
"We really started thinking about this year's Shindig and we wanted to create more public events," Reid said. "So we've actually changed the format somewhat."
There will be the usual free Friday music in the park, award-winning chefs, food trucks and food stands, but after the music, there will be a screening of the preview for the new Ken Burns documentary "Country Music."
There is also the sandlot baseball game that had been played at the University of North Alabama baseball stadium on Friday. This year, the game is being moved to Saturday to allow more people to attend, Reid said.
The concession stands will be staffed by chefs who will provide unique food and beverages. Raconteurs member, guitarist/drummer and producer Jack White, will lead his "Warstic Woodmen" against Reid's "Alabama Slammers" baseball team.
"One of the biggest changes, we added a whole day of free music, food demos and craft demonstrations in the park on Saturday," Reid said.
Birmingham's Pepper Place farmers market is bringing a scaled-down version that will be set up in Wilson Park, and chefs will be hosting food demonstrations.
"It's one of the best farmers markets in the country," Reid said.
There will also be live music from 1 to 9 p.m. featuring Motel Radio, Erin Rae, Cautious Clay and the New Muscle Shoals FAME Gang with special guests.
Reid said he and his team are involved in curating the festival's musical lineup.
"We wanted it to be a diverse lineup all the way around," he said.
Florence City Clerk Bob Leyde said the city's "entertainment district," which allows alcoholic beverages purchased at certain establishments to be taken outdoors in a specially marked cup, will be in place Friday and Saturday during Shindig.
"It's such a wonderful thing for our community from so many respects," Florence-Lauderdale Tourism Executive Director Rob Carnegie said.
One aspect is the amount of media that attend the event for the music, the food and the fashion.
"These folks come in and Florence and the Shoals get so much attention and hype through the stories, the imagery, blogs and social media," he said. "It brings in an audience of people from the far reaches of the country who may not necessarily travel here. They get to see what we enjoy on an everyday basis."
Reid said the most fun he has during Shindig is watching people from other places interacting with local residents, and hearing those visitors reactions to the Shoals.
"That dynamic is a really magical part of it, when you see all these people, with nothing in common in a lot of ways, sharing a pretty special time for several days. That's my favorite part," Reid said. "It's just an intangible that creates something that helps move us all forward."
While Reid's Shindig receives support from local sponsors like Buffalo Rock, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, FAME Recording Studios and Bank Independent, it's also sponsored by national and international brands like Donelan Family Wines of Santa Rosa, California, Balvenie Scotch of Scotland, Crystal Hot Sauce from Louisiana, Wiseacre Brewery from Memphis, Tennessee, Tito's Handmade Vodka from Austin, Texas, Blackberry Farm Brewery of Maryville, Tennessee, and others.
Reid, who resides in Florence with his wife and children, said he gets wonderful feedback from Shindig visitors.
"They're coming in pretty amped up and they know it's not like this every weekend," he said. "We have visitors that come in all year long, and they're blown away by the beauty of the area. We're the small town in the South that is really doing a lot of things. I think Florence and the Shoals represent the new South that is a little more progressive and forward thinking. We have a lot of forward momentum happening."