Bar Choir brings songs with shameless heart to Off-Center season launch

Here’s a video glimpse at a recent Bar Choir gathering where drop-ins learned songs including Pat Benatar’s “We Belong” and the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” 


A few weeks ago at a sleepy happy hour at a local hipster bar in the Baker neighborhood, about a dozen mostly strangers hugged, grabbed a drink and gathered around a piano. Their hosts welcomed them to Bar Choir, a kind of flash mob of melody-makers who were soon learning the harmonies to Pat Benatar’s nocturnal anthem, “We Belong.”

It was a little too early in the Thursday evening for anyone at the bar to be much bothered. As stragglers slowly started to saunter in, they were greeted by the surprising live choral sounds of The White Stripes’ foot-stomping rocker, “Seven Nation Army.”

“And I’m bleeding, and I’m bleeding, and I’m bleeding right before the lord.”

This was no church choir. No “Amazing Grace” in earshot. Heads and ears quickly turned. After an hour or so of practice, the group rolled their piano closer to the bar and boldly started into their unannounced, three-song set, which also included Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now.” The crowd, not expecting live music until beloved local songster Josh Novak and his band were scheduled to play later that night, roared in unexpected appreciation.

And a few minutes later, poof. They were gone.

Bar Choir is an emerging new and all-inclusive social club that meets at various bars around Denver on the first and third Thursdays of every month. It is the brainchild of accomplished local composer Gary Grundei, who created all the music for the DCPA Theatre Company’s current production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It; and popular singer/actor GerRee Hinshaw, host of The Bug Theatre‘s venerable monthly Freak Train talent show, as well as the Colorado Theatre Guild’s annual Henry Awards.

“OK, so we totally stole the idea,” Hinshaw said. Further confessed Grundei: “I heard a story on NPR about this Canadian choir called Choir Choir Choir. They are kind of the (bomb) there, and they sing at a bar. So we started our own here in Denver.” 

A recent Bar Choir gathering in Baker. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA's NewsCenter. A recent Bar Choir gathering in Baker. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA’s NewsCenter.

To Hinshaw, the conceit could not be simpler: “Everybody likes to sing, and everybody likes to drink, but there are so few places to do it together.”

Hinshaw started a Facebook page earlier this summer welcoming singers of all experience levels – including none. On this night, the group included a woman with Broadway credits, alongside several others whose public singing to date has been limited to the shower. And they blended together perfectly. Or as perfectly as Bar Choir calls for.  

“You don’t have to be a very good singer, because everyone here is so friendly,” said Bar Choir singer Libby Ingraham. “No matter how good you are, there is a spot for you with this great group of people and inside this amazing sound.”

Bar Choir works, Ingraham said, because there is no ongoing commitment – you only show up when you want to – and because there is no preparation, or pressure.

“I loved being in choir when I was in high school,” Ingraham said, “so it was great to find something where you get to sing great songs – and in a bar. Plus, it’s amazing when you have somebody who is in charge of drunk adults.”

Gary Grundei QuoteIngraham and her friend Melanie Sobeck are teachers by day, and, twice a month now, Bar Choirers at night. “We didn’t know three people when we first came here, but you become instant friends,” Sobeck said. And in the end, her friend added, “You all come together and create this goosebump-causing sound because you are all doing it together. And it all comes together in like, 30 minutes.”

Bar Choir is taking a turn from its usual bar setting this week to make a special appearance at the Denver Center’s Jones Theatre (where beer and more will be readily available). Off-Center, which is the DCPA’s more innovative wing, is throwing a Season 5 launch party on Friday with a full slate of entertainment – including Bar Choir. Any and all participants are welcome to gather at 6:30 p.m. to learn the latest chosen song – the ubiquitous radio hit “The Best Day of My Life” by American Authors. Hinshaw will teach all comers the harmonies and melodies while Grundei plays piano and offers his own experienced advice. Later in the evening, they will all be called up to the stage to show the crowd what they have learned.

Off-Center’s mission is to create theatrical experiences for adventurous audiences. It delivers out-of-the-box collaborations with local artists and other unique theatrical performances such as last year’s Perception, an immersive and interactive experience that played out over an entire floor of the DCPA’s Newman Building.

Other guests on Off-Center’s Friday night lineup:

  • Black Cube: a Nomadic contemporary art museum
  • Jack’s Stands: A successful lemonade stand owned and operated by a 9-year-old entrepreneur named Jack
  • El Carte 303: Serving up authentic tacos, burritos, quesadillas and more
  • Music from the Noah Wilson Collective
  • DJ Savior Breath, who will lord over both pre-and post-show dancing

Hinshaw loves leading Bar Choir because of its guerrilla style. “It’s like springing a live performance on an unsuspecting bar,” she said. “This choir is not asking for a paying audience. The only people who pay are the actual people in the choir” (typically $5 a session).

Hinshaw and Grundei choose the songs, but they let Facebook followers weigh in. There is only one criterion, Hinshaw said. “These are songs with shameless heart,” she said. Grundei calls the Bar Choir playlist “popular songs you wouldn’t ever want a choir to song – or think that they should. That’s part of the fun.”

While Bar Choir holds a certain kinship with karaoke, Grundei said, “there’s nothing that compares to singing with a group of people, or the physical resonance of your body while singing harmonies in unison. There is nothing like it.”

Grundei would especially love to welcome Bar Choirers who have been made to believe they can’t sing somewhere along the line.

“Everyone has a voice,” Grundei said. “If you can talk, you can sing. If somebody at some point in your life told you that you can’t sing, what the (bleep)? Are you going to believe that? The more you sing, they better you get. So come (bleeping) sing with us.”

Added Hinshaw: “You don’t have to sing well. You just have to sing proud.”


Photos of Bar Choir by John Moore for the DCPA’s NewsCenter. To download any photo for free, click “View original Flickr image.”


    Ticket information: Off-Center Kick-Off Party and Mile High Mashup:

  • Friday, Oct. 9
  • Bar Choir rehearsal begins at 6:30 p.m. Pre-show drinks start at 7, show at 8
  • Jones Theatre, at the intersection of Speer Boulevard and Arapahoe streets
  • Cost $15
  • To participate in Bar Choir, order online and click the “Bar Choir” ticket option. Arrive  at 6:30 p.m. to learn your song, and your group will later perform as a part of the event. No preparation and no pressure. (No show-choir outfits required, either).
  • Call 303-893-4100 or
  • Also: Purchase in person at The Denver Center Ticket Office, located at the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex lobby. Buy and print online at
  • Beer provided by Great Divide. Vodka and Bourbon provided by Breckenridge Distillery
  • More info on Off-Center: Go to Off-Center’s home page
  • For more on Bar Choir, check the Facebook page
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