Acclaimed guitarist Billy McLaughlin and the Eclectric String Quartet will perform in concert on Saturday, Jan. 15 at 7:30 p.m. at The Phipps Center for the Arts.
McLaughlin has been changing people's idea of what an acoustic guitar can sound like since the 1980s. He is recognized as an innovative performer and composer who embraces the advantages of acoustic guitar amplification, unorthodox techniques, and altered tunings while celebrating a gift for melody. His enormous yet fluid acoustic guitar tone has carried him around the world, to Billboard's Top Ten Chart and most recently through a devastating medical disorder called focal dystonia. McLaughlin has had to re-learn the guitar left-handed and is in the early stages of what might be described as "one of the great musical-comeback stories of all time." His story is the subject of an award-winning documentary film called "Changing Keys -- Billy McLaughlin and the Mysteries of Dystonia."
Employing what would become his signature style of placing both hands on the fretboard, McLaughlin began composing for his first release using a technique of "hammer-ons" and "pull-offs" that create a harp-like effect on the acoustic guitar. This unusual approach led McLaughlin to extensive national touring earning multiple Campus Entertainer awards from the National Association for Campus Activities. In 1995 McLaughlin signed a multi-album international contract with Virgin Records label Narada whose first release, "Fingerdance," peaked at #7 on the Billboard charts. Hundreds of shows a year and another release deep into the contract with Narada, he began struggling with his hands -- something felt "off" and it was getting worse.
As the symptoms grew worse, he could no longer perform most of his own repertoire. In 2001, McLaughlin was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disorder called focal dystonia. Feeling utterly lost without his music and not willing to give up, McLaughlin began the unlikely journey of teaching himself to play in his signature style, left-handed. Late in 2004 a documentary film crew began following McLaughlin's desperate attempt to regain his career. Warned by doctors of a higher likelihood for developing focal dystonia in his remaining good hand, McLaughlin chose to press on towards an ambitious goal he had yet to achieve -- to perform and record a new project with a string orchestra.
In January 2007, McLaughlin published a limited release of "Into the Light," a concert recording of compositions for acoustic guitar with string orchestra. This collaboration with Grammy nominated arranger, Eugenio Toussaint, is McLaughlin's first recording as a left-handed guitarist.
McLaughlin's story is truly an inspiration. "Changing Keys" aired on over 50 major market PBS stations during 2010. McLaughlin is touring internationally, including China, the Philippines, India, Europe, and extensively throughout the US. "Many people fail because they quit too soon" reads the fortune cookie saying that McLaughlin taped to his dashboard in 2001 -- it remains there to this day.
Tickets are $24 for adults and $17 for all students. Reservations may be made by contacting The Phipps Center ticket office at (715) 386-8409 or online at www.ThePhipps.org.