No Swan Song for Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse

August 3, 2014 Durham, NC –

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“I wouldn’t have gotten this far if it wasn’t for the African American community.”   Mel Melton

For all of his animated presence, Mel Melton chose a quiet exit for Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse after closing his doors July 19. He’s just not much of a good bye guy.  Mel’s been known to slip out of the Roadhouse backdoor rather than spend another hour saying his goodbyes.

The closing of the Cajun themed restaurant and Blues venue caught many by surprise, but not Mel. With the inability to expand at the current location and juggling five careers including venue management, fronting a busy band, catering operations, kitchen and general restaurant operations,    Melton saw an opportunity to hit the “Quality of Life” reset button when the lease at Greenwood Commons came due.

Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse stage was the birthplace for several local artists. Before the Bulltown Strutter’s became a parading showcase of Durham’s inclusive eccentricities, PMR gave them a home for their weekly Tuesday jams. Melton provided them a friendly stage and audience to build their Mardi Gras chops and repertoire.

Papa Mojo’s was the first place that brought the Mardi Gras culture to Durham. They were also an early adopter of recyclable or compostable take out containers. – Cathy Kieler, Co-Founder of Bulltown Strutters and Durham Mardis Gras

Papa Mojo’s stage fostered local acts Blues World Order, Matt and Nikki Hill, Tad Walters, T.A. James, Jasme Kelly, Jennifer Evans, and the Triangle Blues Society. The Triangle Blues Society’s monthly First Sunday Blues jam moved to The Blue Note Grill. Their first monthly jam is Sunday 8/3 at 7:00 pm.

It was a wonderful 4 and a half years. Mel and I have worked together to keep the OpenMic going. I chose his spot because it had the right 'vibe', great location with parking, and wonderful Creole/Cajun food. I will miss Mel and the staff, as they've become part of my OpenMic family. Come see us at our new home 58 fifty Bistro. - Brett Chambers, Brett Chamber’s OpenMic
It was a wonderful 4 and a half years. Mel and I have worked together to keep the OpenMic going. I chose his spot because it had the right ‘vibe’, great location with parking, and wonderful Creole/Cajun food. I will miss Mel and the staff, as they’ve become part of my OpenMic family. Come see us at our new home 58 fifty Bistro. – Brett Chambers, Brett Chamber’s OpenMic

It was home to the best open mic in the region. Brett Chambers and the Usual Suspects weekly Wednesday night open mics, is one of the area’s best offerings of live R&B, Blues, and poetry performances. This high end “bring your A-game” open mic moved to the new 58 Fifty Bistro in Sutton Station.

National acts that have passed through the Roadhouse include C.J Chenier, Doyle Branham II, Delta Moon, Michael Burks, Bob Margolin, Soul Rebel Rebellion, Buckwheat Zydeco, Will McFarlane, Tinsley Ellis, Sonny Landreth, Seth Walker, Dennis Gruenling, Bill Toms, and Damon Fowler.

When asked about the future of the live Triangle Blues scene, Melton said, “A viable Blues scene has been a struggle around these parts, for years.” With the closing of Blues friendly venues such as The Hideaway BBQ, Blue Bayou, Berkeley Café, Casbah, and Billsborough Music Hall, Blues fans have bounced back and forth between the Roadhouse and The Blue Note Grill. However, The Blue Note Grill does not curate touring bands at the level Melton offered. With the lack of a viable Blues venue in the Triangle, touring acts may pass right through the region.

First time we played there, we were on our way to Canada. I walked in and thought we were just playing another restaurant but by show time, it transformed into a kickass music club. I thought I WAS in South Louisiana. Audience, food, drinks, and hospitality were all great. Thanks for the kicks, Mel! – Mark Johnson, Guitarist, Delta Moon

For all of the accolades Durham receives for its diversity, Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse may have been the only venue that nurtured authentic diversity. It served gumbo and Gospel, Jezebels and Jazz, Beaver Queens and Blues, Business Suits and Boomers, while fostering a non-judgmental environment of free expression.

The first time I went to the Roadhouse, it was to see Sonny Landreth. I came back for OpenMic, Randall Bramlett and Doyle Branham II. I’ve lost count since. It’s rare to have direct access to these national artists. I was able to chat them up at the bar while eating my favorite gumbo, then danced all night until my mascara ran.

As Durham’s urban development and “improvement” initiatives continue to extend our skyline and homogenize our demographics, I will shed a tear for our mutual loss.  The neon sign might be turned off, but Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse will always be the foundation of authentic diversity, local and national blues, rock, and R&B scene in Durham.

Feel free to add well wishes, favorite memories, or thoughts.

Papa Mojo’s has been a major supporter of the Blues Festival and our entertainment community. Whether it has been Mel playing at the Festival or supplying some awesome food, Mel is a vital part of the Blues community. – Marc Lee, Emcee, Bull Durham Blues Festival, Hayti Heritage Center

I will sorely miss Papa Mojos. This was My place – but I’m sure that feeling is shared by a lot of my friends. A big thank you for the individual efforts that Mel, and the ever changing Krewe, put into the food, the music, and the Fun.  I anxiously look forward to launch of Papa’s 2. – Daniel Phillips, Mojo Patron

Mel knew that starting a dedicated Blues club posed challenges and that bringing in national blues acts was a risk, but he did it anyway.  Some of the best bands in the Blues world played there and some of them only brought in a handful of people.  It was a bright torch in a rather dim scene.  Josh Preslar, Triangle Blues Society

The Roadhouse was a strong supporter of our work. Mel hosted two fundraisers at the club, the annual Holiday food drive, as well as performed for the Food Bank’s Summerstock fundraiser.   – Pete Sloane, Feeding America

5 thoughts on “No Swan Song for Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse”

  1. Hello. Great article. This is Bill West, Owner of Billsborough Live Music Hall. We are definitely not shut down. We have moved to a brand-new location called 54 West. Is there a way to correct this?

  2. I was introduced to Papa Mojo’s thru some local police officers, needless to say we would have a ball. Then I started going to the open mic night…I knew Brett from Talk of the Town so I knew if he was a part of this venture it had to be good. OMG…as you schedule your work week you always made sure Wednesday night was open for some fantastic music and good food. But no matter how crowded it was…it was like a family affair…everybody enjoyed everybody. The artists would come together like they had been playing professionally all their lives…that was so amazing to me. I hate that you had to leave us Mel…but I know sometimes we have to change out course
    and simplify our lives. Good luck and God bless!!

  3. I’m in shock. Keep me posted on where you’re playing. I really enjoyed your music when ya sat in with Albert Castiglia in Bonita Springs a couple of years ago. You made an instant fan of me. I have traveled modest distances to experience the music I love and if you all even get close to Florida, ya better let me know. Best of Luck to you no matter what you’re doing. :)0

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