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Six-piece ensemble offering 20 performances this holiday season

Audiences and associated theater executives have long praised SimpleGifts for staying true to its roots and exceeding expectations year after year. The group includes, in the front row, (from left to right): Amy Courts, Heather Moen and Billy-O. Back row: Laura McKenzie, Billy McLaughlin and Karen Paurus. Submitted photo

If you are looking for a way to kick off the holidays and get in the spirit, look no further than SimpleGifts. Chilling three-part female harmonies and solos — including the Lutheran favorite "Beautiful Savior," sung in Norwegian. Modern arrangements of traditional — and original — Christmas treasures on Celtic bagpipes, concertina and stringed instruments, including tin whistle, piano, guitar, fiddle, bass and percussion played by some of the most accomplished musicians and singers Minnesota has to offer. That's the timeless, all-ages appeal of SimpleGifts as it embarks again on its 16th year of performances this holiday season with 20 concerts during its Christmastide Tour — including three new matinees in select venues for busy fans, families and seniors who asked for afternoon options.

"We challenged ourselves to pay attention to people that don't want to be out late at night," group leader Billy McLaughlin said. "Have lunch in Stillwater, come watch the show and you can still be home before dark."

Whether you attend day or night, SimpleGifts is going to be playing at a peak level, he promises.

Loyal fans and those discovering the alluring, noncommercial sound of SimpleGifts for the first time will be treated to a host of songs in concert from the group's six Christmas albums, including "This Christmastide," which came out late last season. The collection features a rich blend of beautiful new work and traditional standards deftly renewed by this enchanting six-piece ensemble, led by renowned musician and Emmy award-winning composer McLaughlin.

"We love acoustic music on the holidays and realized nobody was really doing that" McLauglin said. "We are looking to the classics and not just the top-10. It's a point of interest of the group that we are paying attention to the music that is getting lost."

SimpleGifts strives to put community celebration ahead of commercialization by pulling the audience into the sublime side of traditional repertoire in a meaningful Christmas event.

"I really think people are going to appreciate the set," McLaughlin said. "It's really neat to see some of these older theaters such as the State Theatre in Zumbrota still open and entertaining everyone."

Tickets are on sale now and available in advance online at simlegiftsmusic.net, or at the door of each venue. Ticket prices range from $15 for students to $35 depending on location.

Concert venues and times

Friday, Nov. 24: JX Event Venue, Stillwater — 2 and 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 25: Delano United Methodist Church, Delano — 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, Nov. 29: Le Musique, St. Michael — 2 and 7:30 p.m.

Friday, Dec. 1: Lakeville Area Arts Center, Lakeville — 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Dec. 2: Crossings at Carnegie, Zumbrota — 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, Dec. 3: Southwest Middle School, Albert Lea — 7 p.m.

Friday and Saturday, Dec. 8-9: St. Stephen Lutheran, Bloomington — 7:30 p.m.

Friday, Dec. 15: Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, Plymouth — 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Dec. 16: Christ Presbyterian Church, Edina — 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, Dec. 17: St. Michael Lutheran Church, Roseville — 7 p.m.

Tuesday, Dec. 19: MN Masonic Heritage Center, Bloomington — 1 and 7 p.m.

Wednesday-Saturday, Dec. 20-23: Town Hall, Marine on St. Croix — 7:30 p.m.

Jake Pfeifer

Jake Pfeifer is a reporter and outdoors editor for RiverTown Multimedia. Previously, he worked at Detroit Lakes Newspapers.

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