The running started around 6:47 p.m. The destination, an onstage conversation between home renovation megacelebrities Chip and Joanna Gaines, wouldn’t materialize for another 43 minutes, but security had just let in the first wave of ticket holders—who had been in line for three hours—and they all wanted a spot right up front. The fans kept their cool at first, walking briskly past the clothing, jewelry, bath and body, plant, and men’s accessories shops that are the most recent additions to the Shops at the Silos, the 4.9-acre shopping center in downtown Waco that is the heart of the Gaineses’ brand, Magnolia. But these shiplap junkies started to pick up the pace as soon as they passed the Wiffle ball field and the food trucks, all but sprinting across the artificial-turf open space, which had thankfully been cleared of the cornhole boards and beanbag chairs that had been strewn across it earlier in the day.
“I got a Dr Pepper for you!” shouted one guest to her friend, who had hurried ahead with the rest of their newly formed party, a group of Magnolia fans from California, New York City, and Washington, D.C., who had not known each other at all until they lined up at 3:30 p.m. The mini can from the Waco-founded soda company was a complimentary gift from Magnolia staff, to be used in an alcohol-free toast later that night.
The festivities were part of a twentieth-anniversary celebration of all things Magnolia. The Silobration, as the company calls the event it’s thrown for the past eight years, carries the sacred gravitas of the Feast of Saint James in Spain, and the road down to Waco is a Camino for all who worship modern farmhouse decor. The Gaineses have only been household names since 2013, when their wildly popular home renovation show, Fixer Upper, premiered on HGTV, but their brand began with their union a decade earlier. The couple married in 2003 and shortly thereafter opened the first Magnolia Market—“the Little Shop on Bosque,” as it’s forever referred to in Gaines lore. The downy-leaved flower is now the namesake of an empire: a house-flipping business, multiple home-goods stores, a bakery, a coffee shop, and an exclusive line at Target. Last year the Gaineses launched an entire television network, skyrocketing Chip and Jo into a rare category that includes Pat Robertson and Oprah.
Magnolia’s mushrooming popularity has been well documented, and even the Gaineses’ detractors are aware of how the city of Waco went from being known as the home of the Branch Davidians to the home of Chip and Jo. Much to the surprise of those of us who grew up near Waco, the Central Texas college town has become a tourist destination that attracts more than a million visitors a year (whether or not this is good for Wacoans is up for debate).
Tens of thousands of Magnolia superfans descended upon Waco for this year’s Silobration, a three-day party with shopping, live music, Magnolia trivia, and more-exclusive ticketed events, including tours of the Silos, rooftop access for photo opportunities, and “An Evening with Chip and Jo” on both Friday and Saturday nights. Obviously, there were wide-brimmed hats available for purchase, the kind you might see in an “Autumn!” Instagram post or mocked on Saturday Night Live. The streets on the north and east sides of the Silos footprint were lined with independent artists selling candles, T-shirts, bags, cards, books, jewelry, and other twee items.
The first question I asked every visitor I spoke with was “Are you local?,” and the answer was almost always no. I met visitors from Pennsylvania; New York; Minnesota; Michigan; Alberta, Canada; and South Korea. They were often groups of friends or family members. Occasionally they were (hetero) couples, the husband having surprised his wife, who has always loved Fixer Upper. I heard a lot of “We’ve been meaning to do this for years” and “We wanted to do a girls’ trip and this was the perfect thing.” I also met people who make the trip a tradition, including one woman who has made annual visits to the Silos with her son since 2017. “He knew right off the bat watching Fixer Upper that he wanted to be Chip Junior,” she told me. “Chip and Joanna—through their TV show, and their way of being a couple, a family, business owners, it really means a lot.”
Many guests I spoke with cited a love not so much of the Gaineses’ lifestyle brands, but of the Gaineses’ lifestyle in general. Magnolia is all warmth and optimism; it’s obviously Christian (there is no alcohol sold at the Silos, even during Silobration), but not overtly so. “Everyone has a story worth telling” is painted in big, blocky black letters on one of the shopping center’s many white brick walls. A lot of people told me that what they love about Magnolia, and Silobration, is the welcoming feel. “It’s where I get my inspiration from,” said a woman who had flown in from New York. Another annual visitor told me she always leaves “feeling motivated, feeling inspired, feeling refreshed. I love everything Jo does.”
“We love the feeling of family, and the intentionality that Chip and Joanna put into everything they do,” said one woman from Atlanta, who had come to multiple Silobrations. “It’s a gift to all of us if we want to embrace it,” she added. She keeps coming back to the Silos because she loves the way it makes her feel. “It’s an opportunity to see God’s goodness.”
God’s goodness has certainly shone down on the Gaineses, who charged $70 a ticket to join the festivities. During the day, guests shopped and ate, and you were lucky to find an open seat at a picnic table or a parking spot within blocks of the Silos. Queues for Silos Baking Co. and Magnolia Press (the Gaineses’ coffee shop) stretched out the door and around the corner outside both establishments. I waited for cold brew, corn dogs, and cupcakes and tried four different women’s restrooms in the hope of avoiding a long line. I was thwarted at every turn.
But none of those lines compared with the ones that formed on Friday and Saturday for each “Evening with Chip and Jo.” Both programs were to feature a 45-minute conversation between the husband and wife, followed by a concert from Johnnyswim, the husband-and-wife folk band behind “Home,” the Fixer Upper theme song. Both nights sold out quickly, and guests started arriving midafternoon. More than a thousand people crammed onto the Silos turf each night: individuals, besties, old married couples, newly married couples, groups of girlfriends, big families, and new pals made during the epic wait to get inside.
“Holy smokes, look at all the people,” Chip Gaines shouted to the crowd. (Chip has been known to utter a curse word from time to time, but he promised to keep Silobration “PG only.”) The duo launched into a stroll down memory lane, sharing photos from the past twenty years and telling personal anecdotes with the self-deprecating wit that makes them watchable and “relatable” even as their net worth sits in the hundreds of millions of dollars. “I don’t know if Chip understood that when you write a check, you have to have money in the bank,” Jo said of the early days of their relationship. “We almost got divorced and we were only dating,” her husband added, to the crowd’s delight. Engagement rings glistened amid the stage lights as the many other married couples there that night locked eyes and laughed.
At the event on Friday night, a fourteen-year-old girl in the audience asked the couple if their 2003 selves could ever have imagined where they’d be two decades later, and what their 2023 selves imagine for the next twenty years. Jo said “a grandma” and Chip joked that he hoped to be “resting in peace” at the age of 69. “She could be the Golden Bachelorette,” he said of his wife.
Shivers went down my spine when I thought of Magnolia in twenty years. Texas Monthly put them on the cover in 2016, and even then we were proclaiming that the “brand is nonstop” and worrying what it would mean for Waco if it failed. But that was seven years ago, when the Silos shopping center was comprised of two quaint shops, the bakery, and some food trucks. There was no Target line, no century-old castle renovation, and Joanna hadn’t even started making cookbooks yet (she has since published three). Chip wrote two memoirs, and the couple has at least three New York Times best-sellers between them. Warner Bros. president David Zaslav actually said that “everything they touch turns to gold.” It was hard to imagine any of this a few years ago. Trying to picture how much bigger the Gaineses could become two decades from now is honestly a little terrifying.
Surely it’s got to stop somewhere, I told myself. But then I remembered something I’d seen Friday night, shortly after the first wave of that night’s visitors had run across the artificial turf to secure a spot in front of the stage. From my position, I couldn’t see inside the office that sits atop Magnolia Market, but the crowd could, and I knew whenever Chip, Jo, or another member of their family appeared in the window because the crowd would erupt in hoots and hollers. For about a half hour before the show started, I watched a group of women gathered underneath the office window, holding their phones up, waiting. I watched them snap pictures of their idols whenever they were in eyesight, then wait for even more pictures once they disappeared, all the while maintaining wide eyes and ear-to-ear grins. Whatever Chip and Joanna feel like building, they will come.