At Choir Bar, ain’t no mountain high enough to stop friendship, booze, 3-part harmony

Here’s what happens at Kansas City’s Choir Bar

More than 50 people participated in the July rendition of Choir Bar, a pop-up music event where participants learn a song together while also meeting other singers.
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More than 50 people participated in the July rendition of Choir Bar, a pop-up music event where participants learn a song together while also meeting other singers.

“Listen, baby

More than 50 people sway, tapping their feet to the beat.

“Ain’t no mountain high

Strangers look at one another and smile as they clap and their voices swell, filling the room.

“Ain’t no valley low

Jared Scholz, a church pastor and local musician, strums his guitar along to the three-part harmony of voices.

Jazz Rucker, left and Jared Scholz, right
Vocalist Jazz Rucker (left) and guitarist Jared Scholz practiced with more than 50 singers to fine-tune “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Luke Harbur lharbur@kcstar.com

“Ain’t no river wide enough, baby

This crowd has gathered at River Market Event Place on a Saturday evening for Choir Bar, the second session of a now monthly event.

“If you need me, call me

Choir Bar is just what it sounds like: You sing and you can drink. When you walk in, you’re handed the lyrics to the chosen song of the evening and a wristband, which can get anyone 21 or older a free drink.

“No matter where you are; no matter how far

Choir Bar is run by Kansas City-based Swell Spark, which specializes in unusual experiences. Swell Spark is the company behind the Breakout KC escape rooms, which also have locations in Hawaii and Nebraska, as well as the ax-throwing sports bar Blade and Timber, with locations in the West Bottoms and now Leawood.

Jim Crist laughing in audience
“I love to sing and I love the feeling that singing gives you,” said Choir Bar participant Jim Crist. Luke Harbur lharbur@kcstar.com

“Just call my name; I’ll be there in a hurry

While the choir takes a drink break, Jessie Poole, the company’s communications director, admits she’s been a terrible singer her whole life. That’s why she likes Choir Bar.

“I wish I could carry a tune, but I can’t,” Poole says. “My family would vouch for that. In a room with so many other people and with a little direction, it can be incredible. With a little direction, anybody can do it.”

“You don’t have to worry; ‘cause, baby, there …”

Scholz is joined by vocalist Jazz Rucker, who recently moved to town from Columbia to begin teaching this fall at Lee’s Summit North High School. The two teach the singers their parts, broken into lows, mids and highs, for this Motown standard and eventually help put it all together. The whole thing takes about two hours.

“I think my favorite part was just the energy,” says Mallory Harrington of Overland Park, who was in choir from age 5 through high school and came to Choir Bar with her mother. “It’s very fun, very lighthearted, as opposed to choir, where you’re a little bit more reserved. It was really fun to see people let loose a little bit.”

Mallory Harrington singing in group, 1
“I think my favorite part was just the energy,” said Mallory Harrington of Overland Park (second from right). Luke Harbur lharbur@kcstar.com

“Ain’t no mountain high enough

If your only singing experience is in the shower, you can still go to Choir Bar. It doesn’t require any formal experience.

“I think as humans we are created to create stuff,” Scholz says. “It’s not about the guys on stage; we could swap them out at any moment. It’s about creating something together. A normal night out on a Saturday, I don’t know that anyone goes home saying, ‘Wow! I really created something tonight.’”

“Ain’t no valley low enough

The idea behind Choir Bar sparked when Swell Spark co-founder Ryan Henrich was on his honeymoon in Australia, where the similar Pub Choir is gaining traction with nearly 35,000 likes on Facebook. Toronto now has Choir! Choir! Choir!, a weekly singing event. Beer Choir has chapters across the U.S., including one in St. Louis, and provides an official Beer Choir songbook.

“Ain’t no river wide enough

In Kansas City, the first Choir Bar was held in June, and the song was “One Day” by Matisyahu.

Swell Spark co-founder and CEO Matt Baysinger is planning the next Choir Bar for August. The date hasn’t been set yet, but you can find it soon at choirbar.com or on Facebook. Admission is $15; that money covers the venue.

Baysinger said Choir Bar doesn’t make a lot of money for Swell Spark, but for the company, it’s more about the mission: gather people and create shared experiences.

“To keep me from getting to you, babe.”