Like singing? Beer Choir nights at Traegers may be the place for you
Organizer says monthly sessions draw up to 50 participants
FARMINGTON — If singing is something you enjoy, but you require a little liquid courage to motivate yourself, Virginia Nickels-Hircock has got the right organization for you.
Since September 2019, Nickels-Hircock — best known for her work as the choral music director at San Juan College and the director of the Caliente Community Chorus — and fellow San Juan College music instructor Robyn Woodard have been organizing monthly Beer Choir nights at Traegers bar, 5170 College Blvd., Suite 106, in Farmington. The local group is an offshoot of the rapidly-spreading national Beer Choir organization based in St. Louis, and organized by composer and conductor Michael Engelhardt.
The informal events typically feature several dozen participants coming together to sing a variety of well-known popular tunes, imbibe in a few adult beverages and enjoy each other's company.
Nickels-Hircock leads the group and organizes each gathering, but she emphasized everyone — regardless of the quality of their voice — is encouraged to take part. Simply put, no one worries much about quality, she said.
"This is just for fun — strictly fun," she said, describing the idea as "glorified karaoke."
Nickels-Hircock said she and Woodard were attending the National American Choral Directors Convention in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area in 2017 when they met Engelhardt and became aware of the Beer Choir concept. They loved the idea and eventually approached Traegers owner Scott Weaver about importing it to Farmington, and using his tavern as the gathering spot.
Weaver already had heard about Beer Choir chapters in other cities while he was researching the idea of opening his own bar here, so it wasn't difficult for Nickels-Hircock to talk him into it. He figured the idea was a natural for Traegers, especially since his wife Ruth is a music teacher and they both already knew and liked Nickels-Hircock.
At that first gathering late last summer, approximately 15 to 20 people took part, but it wasn't long before the monthly meetings started generating a turnout of 50 participants, establishing it as a big success. The group is anchored by a cast of approximately 25 regulars, many of them Caliente members, while a rotating set of other participants rounds out the events.
"It's gotten bigger every single month," Weaver said. "It's been a really fun event for us."
Nickels-Hircock said the sessions typically last an hour, and participants are encouraged to visit the Beer Choir homepage and download a hymnal that includes the lyrics to dozens of tunes. For those who are really committed to the concept, the website also features Beer Choir T-shirts and ballcaps that are available for purchase.
Each meeting includes the performance of approximately 15 to 20 tunes, and Nickels-Hircock usually stages some sort of game or icebreaking activity halfway through to make newcomers feel welcome. The songbook includes polkas and parodies of operatic or baroque music, but it also features songs by popular artists ranging from the Beatles and Jimmy Buffett to Van Morrison. Woodard accompanies the singers on piano and occasionally another instrumentalist, such as an accordion player, shows up to lend a hand.
The material for the monthly sessions also reflects the seasons, with Nickels-Hircock sprinkling in timely holiday tunes. During the March 11 session at Traegers, a week before St. Patrick's Day, she anticipated using songs that featured limericks.
Weaver said Beer Choir came as a bit of a surprise to some of his regular patrons, but they quickly warmed to the idea.
"Our regulars wanted to know what was going on the first time they saw it," he said. "But then, the next thing you knew, they were up there singing."
Now, he said, he has customers coming into Traegers asking when the next Beer Choir session is scheduled. Weaver loves the way the events help break down social barriers and get people to know each other a little better.
"A lot of this is inspired by the old idea of what authentic taverns were supposed to be — places to get together and sing silly songs," he said.
The Beer Choir sessions serve as community-building opportunities, he said, and they goes hand in hand with the role he wanted Traegers to fulfill when he opened it.
"We want to be a big part of our community," he said.
Nickels-Hircock leads the group for fun, but she said it has had the benefit of attracting new members to Caliente and the college choir as people discover that singing is something they enjoy. That's an idea she does her best to promote all the time, believing the world would be a much better place if people simple sang more often.
She cited the example of a very shy acquaintance of hers from the college who showed up at Beer Choir one night and discovered to her delight that she adored singing with other people.
"She said, 'I can't believe it — you've gotten me to sing twice this week,'" Nickels-Hircock said. "Our goal is to get people off their couches, off the TV and their phones, and out in the community and have some fun."
The next Beer Choir session will take place in April. The events usually are planned for 6:30 p.m. on a Wednesday. Call Traegers at 505-278-8568 to learn the date.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/216TU0e