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Billy McLaughlin to speak, perform at Christian Cupboard breakfast

Billy McLaughlin. Photo credit: Ryan Taylor

Musician Billy McLaughlin will be the special guest at Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf's second-annual Connecting Community Breakfast on Sept. 20 in Oakdale.

CCEFS is a non-profit that provides food to struggling people in Woodbury, Oakdale and neighboring communities. The food shelf will also celebrate its 35th anniversary at the breakfast, and attendees will be assembling 500 weekend meals for local children.

McLaughlin, an acoustic guitarist and composer from Minneapolis, became known for using a technique that included "hammer-ons" and "pull-offs," creating a harp-like sound.

In 1995, he signed a contract with Virgin Records. His first album, "Fingerdance," reached no. 7 on the Billboard charts. He also won a regional Emmy in 2013 in the "Musical Composition/Arrangement" category.

But in 2001, he was diagnosed with focal dystonia, a neuromuscular disorder that affects how he moves his right hand. Rather than give up the guitar, McLaughlin decided to relearn it — with his left hand.

"I always (play during talks) as an example of how experts aren't always right," he said. "I was told I would never play again and I think it's important to believe in yourself (and) invest the time it takes to stay on the pathway to your goal."

McLaughlin said before he discovered what was wrong with his hand, he often stumbled through songs in front of an audience. His right hand — his dominant, guitar-playing hand — would freeze up, and he would struggle to use it.

"It's a real challenge to share with audiences that I have a disability, and it hasn't gone away," McLaughlin said. "It caused a lot of embarrassment and humiliation for me when it first started happening. ... When my body started to break it was really terrifying."

Now, McLaughlin gives talks and plays concerts across the country, combining his inspirational and uplifting life story with his unique style of guitar, including at a 2010 TEDx conference in Atlanta.

"The second layer to my career has been sharing my story that goes along with the music, and that is a big shift for a person to go from just playing their songs and actually digging into and sharing their life in a very honest and open way," he said.

McLaughlin said there's still a high risk that the disorder affecting his right hand could one day also affect his left hand. This possibility causes him to cherish playing the guitar even more, adding "another level" to it.

"I live with the reality that today could be the last day that I get to do what I love to do," he said.

"But the happy ending is that I found another way to play music even better, in my humble opinion."

If you go

When: 7-9 a.m., Sept. 20

Where: Envision Event Center, 484 Inwood Avenue North, Oakdale

Tickets: Advance registration is $25 and increases to $35 after September 11. Registration and payment can be made online at ccefs.org/breakfast.

Hannah Black

Hannah Black is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism interested in the intersection of politics and the everyday lives of citizens. Outside of reporting, she enjoys running, going to museums and concerts, and trying new coffee shops and breweries. Her favorite thing to do is spend time with her dog, Wendell.

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