How Billy Reid Created One of the Country's Coolest Food Events
No one in fashion gets food like this Southern designer.
“Shindig,” as its known, is a singular event. The first one, thrown in 2009, was fashion designer Billy Reid’s attempt to gather all of his favorite creators in one spot for a low-key weekend of food, drink, music, and fashion in his hometown of Florence, Alabama.
Reid's network runs deep. At this year’s Shindig in late August—the 10th ever—the designer wrangled some of the most well-recognized chefs in the country to cook at events throughout the weekend, including Frank Stitt, Sean Brock, Rodney Scott, Cassidee Dabney, John Currence, Kelly Fields, and far more stars than we have the energy to finish writing out. Year after year, chefs return to Shindig to support Reid, convene with old friends, and enjoy themselves in a relaxed, not-swarmed environment.
This year’s Shindig opened with an outdoor dinner featuring dishes from Brock, Stitt, and Dabney, among others. Well-dressed, art-adjacent Southerners, many of whom seemed to have a relationship with Reid, enjoyed libations from Tales of the Cocktail. Unashamedly enjoying my third portion of Gulf White Shrimp with Jefferson Red Rice, prepared by Austin's Michael Fojtasek, I struck up a conversation with Jeremiah Ariaz, an award-winning, Louisiana-based photographer and (of course) acquaintance of Reid's who was debuting some work at Shindig. (His most recent project, Louisiana Trail Riders, chronicles the Southwestern Louisiana subculture of African American Trail Riding Clubs.) Ariaz told me he tries to make Shindig every year.
How does Reid get so many creators to come back, year after year? To a town that is not easy to get to, no less. What's his secret?
It might be the food. Her second year at Shindig, Willa Jean chef Kelly Fields participated in the annual Big Bad Breakfast event along with Currence and Vishwesh Bhat, offering a sumptuous spread of sweet and savory brunch dishes (shrimp and grits muffins, quiche, egg and sausage crostini) and morning cocktails. Fields' spread of sweets, in particular, was one of the more anticipated showings of the weekend: the line of breakfast-goers slowed down upon reaching Fields stacked-high presentation of cookies, coffee cakes, puddin', muffins, pimento cheese, and shockingly fluffy biscuits.
"I’m pretty sure I just met him at the store one time, years ago," says the chef, trying to remember how she first got connected with Reid. "It’s one of the funnest weekends I had last year and this year. The people that come, the quality of chefs that’s there, the focus of food and music and fashion ... We’re all artists and creative types working from the same parts of our brain."
Or maybe Reid is beloved by chefs for more sinister reasons. "Billy Reid got a new store and we all love him in the hope that he’ll give us cheap deals on clothing," Atlanta chef Hugh Acheson joked a few years ago.
This year at Shindig, Reid celebrated the event’s ten-year anniversary by hosting an intimate fashion show in an old gymnasium—his first ever in his hometown. He outfitted Billy Reid from employees around the country in the new designs, and after, everyone migrated downtown, where Kacey Musgraves headlined.
After the fashion show, I caught up with Reid backstage. He said he's mulling over opening a large new retail space in Birmingham, AL that may have a restaurant component, and with his connections, it would be huge.
Reid's close relationship with the food industry—and food in general—is longstanding, which may just be unavoidable when you're raised in Alabama. (His recipe for cheesey grits casserole is one of our all-time favorites. "Folks in the South start eating grits young," he told us in 2008. "You learn to love them as a kid and it never goes away." )
"To be somebody like Billy who has his own stage and shares it with so many others who wants to uplift artists," says Fields. "It's pretty magical. That’s just who he is."