At the time of writing, very few people are going to bars, never mind playing there, but one thing’s for sure – when the world reopens, bars are going to be jam packed with people who want to hear music, and musicians who’ve been itching to play shows for over a year.
When picking a setlist for your bar show, remember to follow all the normal setlist conventions, such as avoiding switching between tempos too much, never playing songs in the same key back to back, and don’t play black metal at cocktail hour.
That said, if you’re playing an acoustic show, you’ll want to pick songs that present themselves well acoustically (nobody wants to hear Smells Like Teen Spirit on acoustic) and normally you want to have a good few songs in there people can sing along with.
Of course it’s unlikely you’ll play a show that necessitates exactly 9 songs, but hopefully this list will give you something to get started with.
Passenger – Let Her Go
This is a great song to start a set with as it doesn’t come out too hard, but is well known enough to get people’s attention and to get them singing along to themselves – warming them up to getting a boogie going! The song really shines if you have two guitars, and especially if there’s a male and female voice. Let her go was a huge smash when it came out in 2012, and has since become a staple of bar gigs the world over, and it’s easy to see why – the song is easy to play, sounds great, and can be a huge singalong moment in the right atmosphere.
The Chainsmokers – Something Just Like This
There aren’t a ton of acoustic songs that will get people dancing, but this is definitely one of them. It doesn’t hurt that the original was an EDM mega hit, but the acoustic treatment that most people play – modelled on Nicole Cross’s cover – has a very rythmic and stabbing guitar pattern at the right times that should get people out of their seats without having to resort to tired tunes like American Pie.
Mark Ronson ft Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk
Now we’re talking! Guaranteed to get people up and on their feet, Uptown Funk has been a staple of every bar that has music in any form since it’s release in 2014. The song is a barn burner for bar bands, wedding bands, even the right corporate function bands – but the song is simple enough that you can play a killer solo acoustic cover, as long as your singer has some funk in their bones that is. Relying pretty much on one guitar line plus two chords, this is one where the guitarist can lay back and let the singer get the crowd going.
Dua Lipa – New Rules
Another fun song for a setup with a dynamic female vocalist, this tropical house song translates so well to acoustic, you’d think it was originally just voice and guitar. Dua Lipa herself has also played this song the world over on radio sessions and the like as an acoustic number, so people won’t have to stop and think before joining in.
Ed Sheeran – ‘Shape Of You’
Ed Sheeran has done something that nobody else has – headlined stadiums across the world solo with only an acoustic guitar (and sometimes a loop pedal). However, you don’t need stadium chops (or a loop pedal) to pull off this simple cover. Sheeran typically plays parlor guitars, but you can break out the capo to get that higher, tighter sound that adds a little momentum and breezyness to the song, again sure to be a singalong.
Post Malone – Congratulations
If your bar is anywhere near a college, this one will go down huge. Guitar wise the song is very straight forward, though the rap parts (as per the cover below) will require a little skill, but chances are the crowd will be loud enough that it doesn’t matter what you do. Definitely one you can have fun with.
Imagine Dragons – Bad Liar
Every setlist needs it’s up moments and it’s laid back moments, and this is a great modern song to play when you’re trying to slow things down a little. While the song wasn’t a huge smash on release, it’s taken on a life of it’s own as an acoustic standard, with the cover version below getting close to a hundred million views on YouTube (compared to 250 million for the original). Definitely a song that takes a strong vocal and a little finesse to pull off, but rewarding for everyone when it comes out right.
Justin Timberlake – Mirrors
You don’t need an eight piece band to pull off this cover, but it’s definitely one that needs more than one person as the chorus relies quite heavily on backing vocals. That said, if you can pull it off, this song was big enough that you can play it to most crowds, from college bars to after work cocktail spots.
Eagle-Eye Cherry – Save tonight
It can be tempting to fill your setlist with modern songs, but quite often you’ll find yourself doing gigs where most of the crowd hasn’t listened to anything new in 15 years. Luckily for you, you don’t have to go reaching for Santeria just yet, as Save Tonight has been a staple of acoustic gigs in bars since it was released in the late 90s. Even better, the song is just four chords the whole way through, so all you really need to learn is the words – simple!
That’s our list – hopefully this is helpful enough to give you a good modern selection of songs so you don’t have to rely on old Sweet Caroline to get you through the night! Get these all under your fingers and into your head, and you’ll be ready to hit the stage once the world is back to doing shows again.