Women to Watch: Justice Oepping, “Voice of the Heavens”

Justice Oepping is a mellow human being. You might expect her to sway and croon about late nights walking home in tall-heeled boots.

But she does not croon. Once she begins, you’ll hear an intensity even as she starts low. Some times she skips freely about the scale like a new wave blues singer, while at others her voice barrels out from deep inside of her in a way that makes you want to rise from your folding chair and roar like a mighty jungle cat. Even when backed by a single guitarist, the stage seems to shrink under her.

Your next chance to hear these stellar vocals live is at Nu Gruv‘s next showcase on October 14, 2017 at Rozz Tox. She’ll be on the mike with an indefinite number of instrumentalists and other players (Nu Gruv is fun like that – you never know who’s going to show up).

Justice still dancing after a set in downtown Rock Island.


Twenty years old as of this month, her August performance at a benefit for Planned Parenthood (sponsored by Safe Harbor Records and Promotions) was well received not only by the audience but by area band leaders and producers.

Beej Dillard, the brain behind QC3degree Radio, says: “Keep an eye on that girl. She’s gonna be big.”

I’m inclined to agree; her songs are heartfelt, and the music is danceable, in keeping with her own tastes for “anything funky or tribal in nature. Anything that can make me dance.”

She told me over Facebook Messenger: “[While] I’d like to create an album in 2018, I’m more into the idea of creating elaborate multimedia performances.”

For the moment, though, she’s taking her time getting to know herself as an artist, and stretching her performative boundaries. She’s already branched into the Quad Cities, performing in shows sponsored by Utopiugly and Safe Harbor Records and Promotions.

“A show at Castle Caladan (RIP) in December of 2015 was my first exposure to the QC music scene. There I met Ian [Lambach] who introduced me to so many wonderful people involved. I credit a lot of my confidence to perform to spending time at Rozz Tox.”

Justice and Ian at New Ground Theatre. From Facebook.

This outlet was important for her development. With a home base in rural Iowa, her experience with large venue performance is limited. But don’t get the impression that Justice is unsure of herself. While most singer-songwriters her age are over-eager to shove their way into the spotlight, she is devoted to cultivating her craft.

“My process is still very loose,” she says. “I don’t force myself to finish anything… [there are] things I’d like to accomplish and places I’d like to go, but currently all I am striving for is good health and to enjoy where I am now.”

I also enjoy where she is now – writing about her thoughts and experiences, her self as a young woman of color, an Iowan artist, operating in a quiet American town (“I grew up in Wilton, Iowa and still live very near there on a riverside property, which I love very deeply.”) when the national narrative is decidedly unquiet.

Maybe that’s the key to her power performances; coming from a place of calm and keeping some distance allows Justice to keep her perspective and write about what’s really important. Still waters run deep, right?

Aside from the Nu Gruv showcase, Justice has one more performance scheduled. Hopefully there are more to come, but for now keep Utopiugly’s 2018 Jantopia on your dance card, where she’ll be performing as JSO.Jantopia2

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