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April 19, 2006

The Return of the Guitarist: McLaughlin is back in the music scene

Sarah Hasselquist
Posted April 18, 2006


Billy McLaughlin stood alone in the center of the stage in the Rafters in blue jeans and a black shirt, holding his guitar. The room was dark except for the blue and red stage lights shining from behind on the guitarist. His hands were a blur of motion on his guitar, and the guitar sang. He swayed to the music he created, turned to the microphone and belted out the lyrics, “Not by power, not by might, but by spirit,? with prerecorded female vocal harmonies echoing him.

Such was the scene when McLaughlin performed at UMD earlier this month on Wednesday, April 5. He will be back in Duluth for a performance on Friday, April 21.

It looked so easy when McLaughlin performed at UMD on April 5, but because of a disorder called focal dystonia, playing guitar is more of a challenge for him than his performance lets on.

After becoming nationally renowned for his guitar playing, this disorder prevented him from performing for almost four years. His disability forced McLaughlin to start over by transitioning from playing right-handed to playing left-handed and by developing a different style that involves playing on the neck of the guitar.

“None of these notes that I play come very easy. It’s like, OK, if I’m going to play this, it’s going to be a note I really mean. There was a point not too long ago where I couldn’t even play this damn note,? McLaughlin said with a laugh in a phone interview a week after his performance at UMD.

Because of that special attention he gives to every note, McLaughlin said he is also writing better music now compared to the material he wrote before the disorder threatened to end his career.

Focal dystonia is a disorder that affects the movement of one particular place of the human body. It is often times linked with small and repetitive movements and results in involuntary muscle spasms and tensions.

“Basically if you’re a person who depends on a certain physical skill to make your living, focal dystonia will kick your ass because it takes away your ability to move freely,? as McLaughlin put it.

Justin Roth, a UMD graduate and a friend of McLaughlin’s since before the disorder began to take its toll, worked for McLaughlin and also played guitar. Roth said in an email that Billy’s music is as strong now as it ever was despite the effects of focal dystonia.

“It’s almost like evolution,? Roth added. “He has evolved his playing so the music he hears inside can survive. That to me only makes the music stronger.?

In order to make this comeback, McLaughlin had to be patient with himself while learning how to play guitar again, even when he did not feel he was good enough and cried while practicing.

“I didn’t want to have this problem, but once I had it I figured I kind of had to get to know it as well as I could if I was ever going to find a way around it,? he said. “That’s just a humble left-handed guitarist talking. I’m still learning from the whole experience. It’s still affecting me now.?

McLaughlin has no intentions of letting this disorder slow him down. He hopes to start a guitar department at a college designed to instruct students on what he calls “unorthodox? uses of the guitar.

“It’s just a piece of wood with a wire stretched over it - that’s all a guitar is,? he said “You can make some absolutely freakin’ incredible sounds on that.?

Other aspirations of his include touring nationally and playing with an orchestra. McLaughlin said that despite popular belief, the combination of a guitarist and an orchestra is no boring matter. He added that the steel-string guitar, which is the type he uses, is generally left out of any “legitimate orchestral setting.?

“Screw that,? McLaughlin continued. “You know what? I’m plugged into 6,000 watts of power when I play with an orchestra, and it’s the coolest thing ever. It works in such a beautiful way.?

In the nearer future, McLaughlin will be performing in Duluth at the Sacred Heart Music Center on April 21 at 8:00 p.m. Opening for him is Jeff Arundel, whose music McLaughlin compared to James Taylor’s. It will be a night of over an hour of acoustic guitar music by McLaughlin plus Arundel’s performance with general admission tickets going for $15 and students tickets $10 with a student ID.

ON THE NET: http://www.billymclaughlin.com/ Billy McLaughlin’s Web site

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April 4, 2006

Kozy Bar's Fate in Question

Sarah Hasselquist
Posted April 4, 2006

The Duluth City Council voted 8-1 in favor of the resolution to transfer the liquor license of the Kozy Bar to Eric Ringsred at Tuesday night’s meeting. But there is a catch to the agreement: There will have to be a decrease in criminal activity by June for the bar to stay open.

Councilor Russ Stewart said that if the amount of crime has not decreased by June, then revocation of the liquor license should be considered.

Ringsred was concerned about the time he will have to operate the Kozy Bar and the ultimate upcoming judgment.

“I feel like a man on death row for two months,? he said after the resolution passed.

While the police department received around 400 phone calls in 2005 for service to the area around the Kozy Bar, some Councilors and citizens said at the meeting that it is not all the fault of that bar.

Ben Marsden, a self-declared life-long Duluthian, said to the Council that it was unfair to blame that bar in particular.

“The Kozy Bar is not that bad. It’s really not,? said Marsden. “You get past the door, and it’s like the American Legion or nap time at kindergarten.?

Councilor Tim Little said that he has been into the Kozy Bar more than once and that he has never seen a fight or argument break out inside of the bar while he was there.

The one vote against the approval of the transfer of the license was cast by Councilor Garry Krause. He presented several examples of “negative activities? that he has seen downtown around the Kozy Bar including prostitution.

Councilor Laurie Johnson said she thought that not transferring the license would not help control criminal activity around the Kozy.

“We’re just going to shift it to a different area,? Johnson said.

However, Krause suggested that crime could be lessened with the assistance of what he called “dispersement.? The idea behind his suggestion is that if places that might encourage criminal activity are spread out, then the amount of crime could be reduced.

Krause added that he was concerned for the overall success of the bar because it is located in an area with a seemingly higher occurrence of crime.

“If you plant a tree in the middle of a desert, it’ll die,? Krause said.

After the resolution passed, Ringsred told reporters that he had mixed feelings about the decision.

“I have a lot of other pans in the fire,? said Ringsred, “and I’m hoping I’m not taking on something I can’t handle.?

Of his plans to help reduce crime around the Kozy, he said solemnly, “I don’t know if it’ll be enough.?

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