Detroit’s BoHo Mojo

A bare-bones Detroit club with gritty urban appeal is catching the attention of New York acts

BoHo MojoIt’s hard to find a better place to soak up Detroit’s gritty promise than the Bohemian National Home. The ramshackle 16,000-square-foot music club and art gallery, located in a snoozy neighborhood on the western fringe of Corktown, has staked a claim as one of the best performance spaces in the country for experimental jazz as well as original music of all genres.

Since musician Joel Peterson opened the club’s doors in July 2005, the reinvented immigrant social center has hosted the likes of the Sun Ra Arkestra, percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani, and local jazz great Faruq Z. Bey. BoHo, as Peterson calls it, even gave model Kate Moss room to get loose during her W magazine photo shoot around the city. Today the club fields about 10 requests a day for shows from musicians from around the world.

“We’re aiming for living legends, cult heroes, and new stuff that’s original and pushing music somewhere,” says Peterson, whose many projects include his ongoing gig as a member of Odu Afrobeat Orchestra.  “We want to provide a forum for all the living arts. Everybody who’s doing something important, we’re trying to get them here.”

Admission prices are low (usually $5-$15) and offered on a sliding scale, in order to lure those who might be leery of shelling out for unfamiliar music. Most of the club’s shows happen in its first-floor library, an airy space that offers a pool table, a hodgepodge of furniture, bookshelves loaded with tomes available for borrowing, and a roomy performance area. Upstairs, an enormous room comprises a stage, bar, and basketball court and hosts bigger concerts, film screenings and dance parties. Peterson plans to open a café/bar on BoHo’s first floor by the spring.

The club’s ability to attract cutting-edge talent (many BoHo acts are giving their only show outside of New York), its raw atmosphere (expect bare-bones décor and drinks to be served in plastic cups), and Peterson’s easygoing manner help lure a diverse, unpretentious crowd that’s nonetheless serious about music. Performers can expect to have the audience’s full attention.

“There are music venues where people show up and chat at the bar and there happens to be a band playing,” says Brad Duncan, the club’s door guy. “The Bohemian is for people who want the music to be at the center of their evening.”

Upcoming shows include concerts by Detroit natives Awesome Color on Dec. 29 and guitarist Mary Halverson after the new year.

Peterson is installing permanent recording equipment; the club has used portable equipment to capture many of its live shows, and Peterson is mulling releasing a Live at the Bohemian compilation.

“I’m trying not to make it a double CD,” he says. “Which is hard.”

Bohemian National Home, 3009 Tillman, Detroit; 313-737-6606.