Celtic whistle, acoustic guitar, percussion, violin, piano and bagpipes—the combination, plus three-part female vocals, creates the distinct music of SimpleGifts. Formed in late 2001, the group that takes an original approach to Christmas music has released six albums. “It’s old-world music with a modern twist,” says Billy McLaughlin, acoustic guitarist of SimpleGifts.
McLaughlin began playing guitar at 13, and by 15 was getting paid to play in groups. After studying music in college, McLaughlin got a record deal for solo work. He still enjoyed playing with an ensemble, however. His musical career was complicated by focal hand dystonia, a neurological condition involving involuntary muscle contractions or loss of muscle coordination.
“For three-and-a-half years, I wondered, ‘What is going on?’” After seeing many doctors, McLaughlin received an initial diagnosis in 2001. The condition ended his solo career for a while, but prompted him to work with other artists. Around the time of his diagnosis, McLaughlin collaborated with four other musicians; the group decided to experiment with Christmas music, which led to the start of SimpleGifts.
McLaughlin still plays with his dystonia symptoms, but taught himself how to play left-handed. He developed his own tuning techniques for playing with his right hand. “The tuning compensates the fact I only use two fingers,” McLaughlin says.
Comprising of six members, SimpleGifts will be playing numerous shows, including some in Minneapolis, Edina and Roseville. The group has a set list, but may play songs suggested by the audience. SimpleGifts makes sure every piece brings something new. “We won’t do a familiar piece unless we’re adding to the legacy of the piece,” he says. With SimpleGifts doing just that, the music is a magical treat to celebrate the season.
Dates, locations, times and ticket prices can be found at the website here.