Rotary Downs' Jason Rhein is raising money to document the remarkable efforts to rebuild The Shed barbecue joint.
Early in the morning of Sunday, February 12, The Shed burned to the ground outside Ocean Springs, Mississippi. On the following Friday, it was once again selling barbecue, and Rotary Downs' Jason Rhein is raising money to tell the story of how that happened.
The Shed BBQ and Blues Joint is just off I-10 near the Van Cleave/Gautier exit, and for a decade it has been a barbecue destination. The major food television shows have found their way to it on the strength of its food and the scene. It's a family-run, family-built restaurant operated by 35-year-old Brad Orrison, his brother Brett their sister Brooke, and their grandmother Linda. For a decade, it has offered free live blues on Friday and Saturday nights "in a family atmosphere," Orrison says, laughing. "Until midnight when the moonshine comes out."
The colorful scene and solid food drew Man vs. Food, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimern, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and more to The Shed, and a number of production companies told the Orrisons that they'd make a great reality show. Orrison's wife is friends with Rhein's wife, so Jason suggested that he shoot a "sizzle reel" - footage of the family in action designed to sell the idea of a show. At that point, Rhein had worked as Director of Photography for the documentary Mine, which told the story of pets that were rescued after Katrina and adopted out to new homes, only to have their original owners track them down. The rest of his non-musician experience was as a producer on the radio show American Routes, and helping The Imagination Movers cut songs for their television show. "We were a pop song factory," he says. "The network would say, 'We need a song about sneezing for next week's episode. Can you send us a demo by Thursday?'" He'd grab the Movers during breaks in shooting and hustle songs together, and he estimates that they made more than 75 songs in three years that way.
Rotary Downs is part way through the process of cutting a new album, but singer James Marler's on a long honeymoon, so when Orrison called Rhein the day after the fire to tell him what happened, and that people were showing up with stuff to donate, he and cameraman Jonathan Evans drove to Ocean Springs to start shooting.
"We documented them as fire marshals were still there trying to determine the cause of the fire," Rhein says. "We were there on the first walk-through through their wreckage as they started to find the memorabilia they wanted to repurpose in the new Shed. What was remarkable and clear from the get-go was their incredible resilience."
Orrison decided, "We're going to set up mobile-style," and figured out where to put a trailer they could serve out of, where to put tables, port-a-lets and a makeshift stage, and they got to work. He says proudly that not only did they not lay off any of their 48 staff members, but they've actually added staff. The word that they intended to continue less than 50 yards from burnt remains of The Shed got around, and soon competitors showed up to loan the Orrisons grills so they could start cooking.
That sort of engagement is the story Rhein and the Orrisons hope to tell with the documentary they're trying to fund through Kickstarter. "Man, we've got a lot of friends," Orrison says. "Yesterday, we're five months after the fire and a guy pulled in with a trailer full of antique doors and windows from this old house. We're getting support from every state in the Union, from people who have money and don't have money, people who found stuff in their yard and said, 'Let's give it to The Shed.'"
Orrison is trying to find a way to use everything that's donated, even some of the stranger items. "People are bringing in old Maytag washing machines, and stuff. They'll bring in a whole box of antique toys, things that are so odd and rare, but somehow they fit at The Shed." When someone donated old pallets, he built a new bar from the pallets and an old bowling alley.
Because of the restaurant's reputation as a blues club, they've got permission to use music in the soundtrack by Buddy Guy and Grayson Capps among many others who also played there. "After the fire, Percy Sledge called me on my cell phone, crying," Orrison says. "Pinetop Perkins played his last show at The Shed - died a week later. Hubert Sumlin played that show. Died four weeks after Pinetop." In addition to clearing music for the soundtrack, musicians donated their performances for the first two months after the fire.
The rebuilding process just became a little more storybook when Orrison's wife gave birth to their first child last week. "This is real life," he says. "Owning your own business is the American Dream, but having your customers believe in you to the point that they'll help you rebuild your business after a tragic fire - that's what movies are made of, and we're living it."
To help fund the documentary on the rebuilding of The Shed, go to Kickstarter.com.