Tag Archives: Side Door Lounge

Pitch Poet

June 8, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

She sets up on a bustling Old Market corner. The footpaths jostle with tourists and locals doing their weekend shopping, dining,
and sightseeing.

Jocelyn Muhammad pulls the acoustic guitar slung over her back then slowly strums a chord that rings throughout the heart of the old-timey business district.

She massages sweet melodies from her guitar, but it’s not until the baby-faced, curly-haired 19-year-old songstress adds her silvery vocals that passersby stop to admire her. No one could escape her charm.

“I want to feel the breeze through my hair, through my hair,” she sings. “I want to go somewhere. I want to be someone. I want to fall in love just like everybody else.”

Muhammad’s voice flows freely at her top notes, pleasantly vibrating eardrums. She’s a showstopper—and a guitar-wielding poet of sorts.

A young musician relatively new to Omaha’s music scene, Muhammad’s voice has a textured, lived-in quality. Perhaps that’s her appeal. Caught off guard, spectators pause to hear her old-soul poetic lyrics and heart-on-her-sleeve folkie romantic songs, which are totally unexpected from such a young, jovial person.

Muhammad is a promising singer-songwriter who has already attracted an incredibly large social media following and the attention of the music industry.

A live, buzzworthy video snippet of her song “Just Like Everybody Else” recently went viral to the tune of almost 5 million plays on YouTube, even before the studio version was released in November. The 23-second clip, filmed on a few cellphone cameras, features Muhammad belting out the chorus of her song.

Taken aback, she was surprised her song reached people from as far away as Russia. It was a humbling experience, says the recent Millard South graduate. In fact, one fan wrote a song in
honor of her.

Songwriting is such an intimate practice and the truest form of flattery, she says. “It’s the idea of singing a song that you wrote about someone. The way they make you feel. And you get to put it to a melody and add words.”

Social-media savvy Muhammad stays connected with her fans through her music blog (jocelynmusic.com), YouTube, Snapchat, and Twitter. She documents her musical journey, taking fans along the quirky moments in studio sessions to interviews with the media.

Aside from hearing her from-the-heart work on Old Market street corners, fans catch her at open mic nights around town. She sings a mix of original melodies and covers about love and loss, loneliness and desperation, and pleas to find her soul mate. Under her musical belt, per se, she’s performed at open mic sessions at the legendary Whisky a Go Go in L.A. and the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. She plans to return to L.A. this summer to finish piecing together her first record.

Muhammad got her music start at age 14. Though she participated in school choir, her happenstance of guitar picking came later when she rescued a black Indiana acoustic guitar dubbed “Black Bastard” from the flames of a friend’s bonfire.

She took it home and cleaned it up. She studied her favorite British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran’s likes and dislikes. His musical preferences and tendencies influenced her own.

A friend taught her the fundamentals of guitar strumming—how to play a G on Cadd9 chord. Two weeks later, she wrote her first song, “Burn It Down.”

She couldn’t bottle up her newfound love for songwriting and guitar playing. So, she packed up her guitar and headed for the Old Market.

A few months later, she says she was introduced to Aly Peeler, who, at the time, was in charge of an open mic night for the then-Side Door lounge. Soon after, she met her current manager, Jeff McClain of Midlands Music Group, who offered her a placement in the group’s free mentoring program for budding musicians.

Muhammad is grateful that she has Peeler and McClain as soundboards to help her polish her melodies and lyrics. Still honing her skills, she says she owes Peeler and McClain for helping develop her talent through many lessons and repetitive exercises, which prepared her to perform live.

“I’m not going to let a melody be just a melody,” she says. “It has to be the right one. I’m practicing constantly…working to get better.”

When she’s performing on stage, Muhammad says, “It’s just me. It’s just me there, singing to you. There’s nothing else … no one else. Just me and you. And, I’m singing.”

Muhammad has been nominated three times for Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards’ best singer-songwriter, but has yet to take home the hardware.

“I’m, like, the youngest artist there…so that’s really cool,” she says. “I’m still working on winning though. I’ll get there someday, but it’s cool just to be nominated.” 


This article was printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Encounter.

Ooh Là Là

October 12, 2016 by

Vilaine Frange has planted her roots more than 88,000 Cornhusker football fields from home. But to this native of Besançon, France, the Cornhuskers—and football, for that matter—probably don’t mean a helluva lot. Pardon the Nebraska colloquialism.

Nearly 5,000 miles away, Frange has begun to make a name for herself in the Omaha art community as a celebrated illustrator. In 2014, she showcased an exhibit at the Side Door Lounge and has now created work for restaurants like V.Mertz while also designing event invitations. She may have traded wine fields for cornfields, but a fish out of the water she is not.

“You think of France as this beacon of art, but I’ve found the Omaha art community is more receptive and developed than my home city,” Frange says. “My exhibit at the Side Door was a fairytale that just seemed to kind of happen.”


Every fairytale has a beginning, and for Frange, her once-upon-a-time moment came by chance. Her friends asked her to create a poster for a music festival. She obliged, in part, because she was bored and looking for a new direction in life. Previous attempts to pursue degrees in literature, communications, and linguistics had all come up short. Soon after her first foray into art, though, she began filling her time more regularly with drawing and sketching.

“I started later in life and admittedly have no formal training,” Frange says. “This also means I have no blinders.”

Before moving to Omaha to live with her Nebraska-native boyfriend in November 2015, she developed her skills as an artist working at Superseñor, a screen-printing collective workshop. For the next seven years, when not creating art for local magazines and music venues, Frange filled her time (and wallet) making extra cash selling wine for cheap. 

This experience schlepping wine to college tourists inspired her to create a large mural of vino and liquor on the side of a decaying building, knowing it would be destroyed. While her art can be described as simple, yet pretty and pouring with color, she chooses to call it ephemeral—take and discard.

For V.Mertz’s summer Tiki & Tacos event, she designed a promotional image, one that’s sure to have disappeared from the viewer’s mind, perhaps even before the event was over. She also just finished a billboard for a French music venue, more art dressed-up as marketing that’s here then gone. For her 2014 exhibition at the Side Door, she created pieces that captured fleeting moments in time as a reminder that even art is not immortal.

“You think of France as this beacon of art, but I’ve found the Omaha art community is more receptive and developed than my home city”

-Vilaine Frange

“I like to make things that aren’t going to last,” Frange says.

Distance, borders, and even the Atlantic Ocean all mean little to Frange. The exhibition, titled “This Is Not A Myth,” was done while she stayed in Omaha for two weeks. Today, most of the works she completes still go back to clients in France. 

“There’s freedom in art,” Frange says. “I can do it when I want, how I want, where I want.”

Visit vilainefrange.com for more information.



Melissa Dundis

February 9, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In a dim corner of Dundee’s Blue Line Coffee, Melissa Dundis places petite fingers to six nylon strings. A strum, followed by the coo of her voice, and the windowless back half of the café is aglow. Her hand glides up, down, over, and across the thick neck of her classical guitar as her nails pluck out a slow, steady rhythm. “I get by with what I have/Like a caveman,” the 26-year-old’s lyrics and melody are spellbindingly simple.

“Sometimes the song happens all at once. Once I pick up a vibe, I just start singing,” says Dundis.“I’ll write a verse then find what key I want the song in. It really starts from inside.”

By day, Dundis serves as the only female disc jockey at an independent radio station, but by night she’s a classical guitarist and vocalist, performing at venues across Omaha from España to the Side Door Lounge to Pageturners. A graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Music Education program, Dundis also teaches private guitar lessons on the side.

Dundis first began playing when she found an acoustic guitar in the basement. Her grandfather, a former bar owner, obtained the instrument after a drunk gave it to him in trade for a bottle of whisky. She picked up classical guitar as a student at UNO. At first, she only performed one hour a day. This evolved to four hours a day as her senior recital approached.

“I couldn’t have been happier to witness her success in the classical program,” says Michael Saklar, Dundis’ former guitar teacher. “I’ve had close to a thousand students over 25 years, and she stands out at the top.”

Even as a kid growing up in Springfield, Nebraska, Dundis was obsessed with the rhythmic flow and simplicity of folk rock. At age 4, Dundis remembers requesting her first song on the radio—Neil Young’s “No More.” While her peers sang “I wanna zigazig-ah” along to the Spice Girls, Dundis listened to songs created for older audiences and looked for ways to share her connection to this music with others.

More than 20 years later, she continues this as a part-time DJ at KVNO, a station primarily devoted to classical music. As one of the youngest staff members, she writes her own scripts and plans to help KVNO reach new audiences by playing unique interpretations of classical music, creating playlists that mix opera, video game theme music, and compositions by the Talking Heads.

Dundis hopes to release a self-penned EP soon, but for now her focus remains on radio. She’s vying for a full-time gig at KVNO and contemplating a future as a radio producer. Whether she’s holding a radio mic or her guitar, Dundis’ passion and belief in music is unwavering.

“Music has the ability to help us recognize our own artistic gifts,” she says.

Visit soundcloud.com/melissa-dundis to hear her work.