Musician Billy McLaughlin concedes he might have been writing for a newspaper rather than penning acclaimed lyrics and original compositions had it not been for a guitar-playing teacher at Annunciation Catholic School in Minneapolis.
"My professional career would never have happened had it not been for the music I got, not just in high school but back in elementary school," said McLaughlin, who once was the editor of the Washburn High School newspaper.
"I think it's critical that kids are exposed to music, and to have the opportunity to grow throughout all 12 grades."
That's why he's headlining a fundraising concert Saturday at St. Croix Preparatory Academy in Stillwater. The concert aims to bring east metro residents together to celebrate the arts and raise money for the 33 visual, performance and fine arts programs offered to the 1,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade who attend the charter school at 4260 N. Stagecoach Trail, said Deb Bramstedt, the school's development director.
The concert is the last of three capital fund drives this year. Proceeds from the others, a golf tournament and a marathon, went largely to the school's athletic and academic programs.
Organizers will use special mood lighting to transform the school's north atrium and gymnasium into the "Listen Local Lounge." Stillwater accordionist Patrick Harison and his band, Patty and the Buttons, will serenade guests as they sample fare from Savories Caters and sip wines from Northern Vineyards and beer from the Staples Mill Brewery. Food, but not beverages, is included with admission.
McLaughlin's main stage performance will include a mix of old favorites and new solo guitar compositions that he has yet to record. It also will include a multimedia presentation explaining how 11 years ago he contracted the neuromuscular disease focal dstonia in his right hand and lost the ability to strum his guitar. Through hard work, he retaught himself to play using his left hand.
His story was broadcast on the CBS Morning News, and he recently appeared on a PBS show called "Starry Night."
"I tell kids, if you love music, don't give up if you find it challenging to learn an instrument," McLaughlin said. "I failed three times with the piano, trumpet and drums; three strikes and you become a guitar player."
McLaughlin said he became enamored of the guitar because his seventh-grade teacher used to play in class.
"I have not put it down since," said McLaughlin, who plans to return to Annunciation this spring to play a tribute concert for that teacher, Mary Strickland.
The arts are a daily part of the curriculum at St. Croix Prep, and includes classes in printmaking, pottery and ceramics, along with band, orchestra and choir. Proceeds will be used to keep those programs at a time when many schools are cutting back, Bramstedt said.
She also wants to make the concert an annual tradition to give residents of the east metro an opportunity to celebrate and experience arts in a concert-like setting.
"It's so different than watching a YouTube clip," McLaughlin said. "To go hear live music and experience it, that was formative for me."
Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @timstrib