On a recent Sunday night, Phil Matyja braved the cold to play a handful of country songs during the Trackside Lounge’s weekly open mic night.
He didn’t have to go far.
Matyja lives in an apartment above the bar at 60th and Woolworth Streets. He took up the guitar a few years ago, wrote some songs, and after some encouragement from his friends, brothers Andrew and Joseph Janousek, he started playing his songs at the weekly event. Joseph sometimes gets on stage with him and sings harmony.
“They’re damn nice kids,” said Matyja, who got to know them at Trackside, where all three are regulars. As it turns out, he said, the Janousek brothers are from the same town as his mother.
Which perhaps is part of why they all came to frequent the Trackside — as well as the bar’s Sunday night open mic, which the Janousek brothers started last summer.
Andrew, 29, and Joseph, 26, grew up in Schuyler, Neb., where Andrew learned to play guitar and badgered his little brother to learn to sing so they could be in a band together.
“I liked Oasis a lot,” said Andrew, who as a high school student dreamed of recreating a Nebraska version of the English band with his own brother.
“I knew we would sound good together.”
Joseph was reluctant at first, but he complied, and the brothers bonded over music. Andrew introduced Joseph to bands like the White Stripes and the Strokes; Joseph introduced Andrew to the Velvet Underground and Led Zeppelin. They were in bands together throughout high school and college, and eventually moved to Omaha where they formed Rock Paper Dynamite with Trey Abel and Scott Zrust.
The brothers’ first Omaha apartment wasn’t far from the Trackside. And perhaps because of the crazy, red-and-white striped paint, the neon martini glass in the window, or the inviting smell of the bar’s fried chicken, they quickly discovered the lounge. “It reminds me of a bar in Schuyler,” Joseph said.
The Trackside became the place where they went for last call after concerts, and once their own band was established, after playing their own shows. It was a place to grab a drink after work and a place to hang out on Sunday evenings to make the weekend last a bit longer, said Andrew, who would occasionally bring his guitar and sing. They got to know the bartenders, the other patrons, the jukebox.
Last year, Joseph and Andrew moved to Charlestown, S.C., where they wrote an album together. While there, Andrew worked in a bar, where he started an open mic night. When they moved back to Omaha, they decided to try out the concept at Trackside.
Andrew, who remembered being intimidated at some of the more established open mic nights when he first moved to town, wanted it to be low-key — a place where a small-town kid from, say, Schuyler, would be just as comfortable as an established Omaha musician.
They told their friends and started out slowly. On nights when few people showed up, Andrew and Joseph would fill most of the slots with a mix of harmonic folk-rock and acoustic covers of Rock Paper Dynamite songs. Over time, though, word got out, and the brothers spent less and less time on the small, makeshift stage in the corner of the bar. Some nights, the list fills and the brothers don’t play at all.
The night has attracted Omaha musicians including bands like All Young Girls are Machine Guns, Creighton students and a ukulele-playing high school student whose mom called ahead of time to see if minors were welcome (they are, with a heads-up to the bar and parental chaperon, Andrew said).
It’s drawn Trackside regulars like Matyja, and one Trackside bartender who sang cover songs while Andrew accompanied her on guitar.
“You never know who you’re going to see,” Andrew said.
Jacob Duncan, a regular at Omaha open mic nights, played at Trackside for the first time a few weeks ago. He had never been to the bar before.
“I heard they’ve got the best chicken, but I don’t eat meat,” said the 31-year-old guitar teacher.
Duncan played a few folk rock songs early in the night, then hung around to watch.
“There’s a lot of very good singers and songwriters,” he said. “I’ve liked everybody so far.”
Andrew had never met Duncan before that night, and he was thrilled — as he always is — to see a new face among the familiar ones at Trackside.
It’s not a fancy place, but it’s become a second home to Andrew and Joseph, and the brothers hope to many other musicians, too.
“Despite the looks on the outside — and maybe on the inside, a little bit — it’s very warm and welcoming,” Joseph said.
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