SimpleGifts Press Kit

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All portrait photos © 2018 St Paul Photo Co.

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Musician Profiles

Billy McLaughlin, Acoustic Guitar

Billy-McLaughlinKnown for his harp-like guitar playing technique he calls “finger tapping,” McLaughlin is an American original – an international performing and recording artist who has achieved Billboard’s Top-Ten Chart. Several years ago, he came to embody every musician’s greatest fear. The award-winning guitar virtuoso began struggling to play his own music. Searching in vain through countless therapies for an answer to his problem, he was finally diagnosed with a yet-to-be-cured neuromuscular disorder called Focal Dystonia. After enduring the loss of all he ever dreamed of, McLaughlin did what for many would be unthinkable — if not impossible — he taught himself to play left-handed. His remarkable story is captured in two award winning documentary films: Changing Keys: Billy McLaughlin and the Mysteries of Dystonia and two-time Emmy Award winning Starry Night – Billy McLaughlin with Orchestra Nova which aired on PBS stations. His triumphant comeback concert was also filmed by WWE camera-crew volunteers who captured Billy’s historic return for a DVD titled Coming Back Alive. Billy currently serves as the Ambassador of Awareness for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation and is a founding member of the American Brain Foundation. See more at his website: billymclaughlin.com.

Billy Oehrlein, Percussion

Billy-OehrleinBilly sings, and plays drums and ornamental percussive instruments. He started playing drums at age six and graduated to a professional musician. He has performed regionally and nationally in the US, and in Europe. Billy toured with WHEELS for several years sharing stages with Randy Travis, Alabama, The Oak Ridge Boys, Marie Osmond, Juice Newton, and made regular appearances at the WE FEST country music festival. Billy has done numerous recording sessions and performed regularly with national recording artists Tina and the B-Sides, Billy McLaughlin, and most recently Jeff Arundel. He brings Simple Gifts season its dazzling holiday spirit with his percussive ornamental accents — ensures that holiday joyousness is on hand.

Heather Moen (Garborg), Vocals, Violin

Heather-MoenBorn into a musical family in Bloomington, Minnesota, Heather has always had her sights set on a musical career. Throughout her elementary and high school years, she participated in numerous competitions in both piano and violin. She earned her Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance from St. Olaf College in 2000. In addition, she also enjoys singing and songwriting and released her first solo album in 2012. Now in addition to being a mother to daughter Adeline, Heather enjoys leading worship at various churches as well as her home church, Calvary Baptist and is excited to rejoin SimpleGifts for her 7th season.

Laura MacKenzie
Wooden Flutes, Whistles, Concertina, Bagpipes

Laura-MacKenzieLaura has learned from many noted tradition bearers on both sides of the Atlantic, and has herself been recognized as a master folk artist. She has received numerous honors and performing arts awards for her participation and dedication in this realm of music, including being selected for the original Cherish the Ladies series, featuring noted women in Irish music in America. More recently, Laura was awarded both Bush Foundation and McKnight performing arts fellowships. Laura performs and teaches on an array of wind-powered instruments, including wooden flutes, whistles, concertina, Scottish smallpipes, Border greatpipes, French cornemuse, medieval greatpipes, gemshorn and voice. Enjoying a richly varied career in traditional music and beyond, Laura has performed and recorded with diverse ensembles, worked with theatrical productions and for public radio, and has performed at festivals across the United States. She can be heard on a multitude of recordings and on several documentaries. In addition to solo performance, Laura’s ensembles include Brass Lassie, Ross & MacKenzie, Northern Gael, Willow Brae (harp and winds) and her duo with Dáithí Sproule. Laura’s recordings can be sampled and purchased at her website: lauramackenzie.com

Karen Paurus, Vocals

Karen-PaurusKaren Vieno Paurus has performed locally, nationally and internationally since 1986 with such local bands as Holiday Ranch and BUG!. Her first solo CD, “Passion, Prayer and Poison” is available on iTunes, CD Baby and other online stores. Paurus has also performed regularly as the featured musical guest in the Fitzgerald Theater’s productions of “Stage Sessions” in 2006-07 with host Heather McElhatton and guests including Robert Bly, Bill Holm, Dan Buettner, Kevin Kling, Colleen Kruse and others. She was also the featured musical guest during the Fitzgerald Theater’s “Talking Volumes” series with authors Jonathan Safran Foer and Jean Harfenist. She’s appeared with Colleen Kruse at the Historic Pantages, and wrote the score for the sold-out Bryant-Lake Bowl Theatre’s productions of “Thirty Days in Frogtown.” Paurus was named “Minnesota Female Vocalist of the Year” in 1999 and has performed/recorded with Billy McLaughlin, Willie Wisely, Stuart Davis, Peter Mayer, Dan Schwartz, Jeff Arundel, Peter Ostroushko and others. She has also performed live on “A Prairie Home Companion,” MPR, Cities 97, KBEM, Radio K, 770 and various stations around the nation.

Amy Courts, Vocals, Melodica

Amy-CourtsSinger-songwriter Amy Courts has been performing live since she was a small girl touring with her family in Denver, CO. After graduating college in 2003, she spent eight years in Nashville, TN where she independently released two critically acclaimed pop and alternative folk albums, and promoted them on multiple national tours. After moving to Minneapolis in 2011 with her family and taking a few years off to dedicate to parenthood, Amy has recently begun performing live on a regular basis with local bands and as a solo artist, along with leading worship at Woodland Hills Church. Amy is thrilled to be returning for Simple Gifts’ anniversary tour! amycourts.com

Set Pictures

Photo © TJ Jensen
Photo © TJ Jensen

Photo © St Paul Photo Co.
Photo © St Paul Photo Co.

SimpleGifts Set Picture
Photo © Melissa Busse

Photo © Melissa Busse
Photo © Melissa Busse


  • O Come All Ye Faithful by SimpleGifts
  • Hark the Herald by SimpleGifts
  • Angels We Have Heard on High by SimpleGifts
  • Carol of the Bells by SimpleGifts
  • Mary Did You Know by SimpleGifts
  • The World is Old / Shepherds’ Carol by SimpleGifts
  • WinterGrace by SimpleGifts
  • O Little Town of Bethlehem by SimpleGifts
  • The Star Carol by SimpleGifts
  • The Wexford Carol by SimpleGifts
  • The Cherry Tree Carol by SimpleGifts
  • In the Bleak Midwinter by SimpleGifts
  • Breath of Heaven by SimpleGifts
  • Go Tell It on the Mountain by SimpleGifts
  • I Saw Three Ships by SimpleGifts
  • O Come, O Come Emmanue by SimpleGifts
  • Silent Night by SimpleGifts
  • Welcome To Our World by SimpleGifts

What they are saying…

“The performance by SimpleGifts with Billy McLaughlin at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School was simply sublime! The angelic vocals and wonderful musical accompaniment are a breathtaking combination. Experiencing this concert makes one pause and reflect on what the season is all about. This is the real music of Christmas.”
Richard Kettering, Acoustic Roots Music Series
Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, Faribault, MN


“There was no “Frosty the Snowman”, or “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” in the performance of SimpleGifts. Rather, Billy and his incredible group covered the arc of the Christmas narrative in a beautiful and profound way that touched the audience very deeply.
Brian Jose, Executive Director
College of St. Benedict Fine Arts Series St. Joseph, MN


Facebook comments

“My first and definitely not my last visit to the Marine on St Croix Town Hall to spend time with SimpleGifts… what a fantastic night of wonderful music, angelic voices, extraordinary talent and humor… and the ambiance of that old 1875 hall….what an experience… thank you! ”
-Kathryn Z.

“As ‘newbies’ we thoroughly enjoyed your performance last night in Zumbrota. We are looking to make this an annual tradition”
-Bill M.

“Thank you for making the pilgrimage to perform in Albert Lea this morning! As always, a most enjoyable set… again, Thank You!”
-Gary R.

“Billy, Billy and the girls are awesome!!! Really puts you in the holiday mood!!!!”
– Joel P.

“This was one of the BEST concerts I’ve seen. Great Christmas music. I highly recommend it for all.”
-H. Stone

“I have seen simple gifts perform nearly every Christmas for several years now and they never cease to amaze with their amazing talent and sheer musical inspiration.”
-Janet B.

“Beautiful concert in Marine on St. Croix last night. The start of a new tradition for me-thank you and Merry Christmas Simple Gifts!!”
– Dawn E.

“Just bought tickets….bringing lots of friends with us!”
– Jean E.

“Can’t wait for the show tomorrow! Best part of the Christmas season!”
– Lynn L.

“What a great show… thank you!”
– Mary J.

“Beautiful show! We are your new biggest fans!”
– Lysa P.

“Just bought WinterGrace! Very excited to listen to it! Thank you!”
– John W.

“”Thank you So Much for a Wonderful Concert in Madison last night. I have been getting text and calls all day telling me how amazing the show was…”
– Bill B.

“What a wonderful show! Thanks for coming to Worthington MN.”
– Tory.

“Awesome show in Council Bluffs! Thanks for starting my Christmas season off with a blessing!”
– Penny R.

“Listened to my SimpleGifts cd while I decorated my Christmas tree. Loved the concert last winter in Marine.”
– Karen A.

“Again, thanks for your wonderful performance, it truly was the highlight of my day.”
– Cindy M.

“Great show this afternoon! My girls and I are such big fans! Thanks for starting out our holiday season perfectly!”
– Mary A.

“Your CDs make heavy rotations every Christmas season..in fact we’re already playing your music! Have a blessed Christmas to all of you.”
-Chad and Tabitha A.

“Thank-you for sharing your talents and joyful spirits with us last night in Marine on St. Croix! We’ve enjoyed attending a variety of wonderful SimpleGifts and Billy M. concerts over the years…..always beautiful music!”
– Steven H.

“Thank you for a great show last night in Omaha! This MN-girl transplant is thankful for a taste of home down here in NE.”
– Janna A.

“We thoroughly enjoyed your concert at Elmbrook Church! Beautiful, inspirational and you are all SO talented! Thank you very much for letting us enjoy your musical gifts! Please make this an annual event!”
– Jeff K.

“Just listening to the new CD. It is beautiful! Wonderful job to all of you. Looking forward to seeing the show at St. Stephen!!”
– Jennifer V.