Center Presents: Jon McLaughlin & Friends: Home for the Holidays

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The Palladium // Friday, December 8, 8 p.m. ET

October/November 2023

Hoosier-born singer-songwriter Jon McLaughlin will perform original Christmas tunes as well as holiday classics alongside some of his talented friends. The Anderson native has been attracting fans with his heartfelt, hook-filled songwriting and impassioned delivery since his 2007 debut album “Indiana.” He has released several full-length albums in the years since and revealed a true evolution in both his piano playing and singing. McLaughlin has played shows with Billy Joel, Kelly Clarkson and Adele, collaborated with longtime friend Sara Bareilles, co-wrote with Demi Lovato, and even performed at the Academy Awards.

Joining McLaughlin for the show will be Leah Marlene, Kris Allen, Sarah Scharbrough and Ryan Ahlwardt.

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Center Presents Jon McLaughlin

Janelle Morrison: I’m excited to give some love and celebrate some Hoosier talent! Going back to your early years, I read that you began playing at age four or five.

Jon McLaughlin: Yep, I’m from Anderson, Indiana — “A-Town” as we call it. I started playing really young. I’m the youngest of three and my family’s very musical on my dad’s side — everybody can play at least one instrument. So, music was always in my house, and my dad was in a band. He met my mom while on tour with his band at one of their shows. There was a piano in our house, and one day after church, I sat at the piano and was sounding out “Amazing Grace” and then my parents set me up with lessons.

JM: At what point did you get into songwriting?

McLaughlin: I didn’t start writing music until I got into college — while attending Anderson University. I studied classical piano there with Dr. Randy Frieling, an awesome professor, and that’s what I was doing most of the time up in the practice room — writing songs. If there was any kind of coffee shop “thing” happening on campus, I would play, and anywhere on campus. And then I started to branch out and was playing down at IU and over at Ball State a little bit. Right after college, I signed with a record label and it went on from there. That was 18 years ago, and my life pretty much looks the same, with the exception that I’m married and have kids — two girls, ages eight and ten!

JM: Wow, those are fun ages!

McLaughlin: They really are fun ages! My oldest is actually turning 11 the day after this show in Carmel. Maybe we’ll do a little birthday shout-out for her.

JM: Absolutely, I think you should! So, last year was the 15th anniversary of your album “Indiana,” and with the events of the last several weeks, I was thinking about your song “Human.” You sing a lyric “hurting instead of healing” and it made me think that this is something that we [humans] are perpetually doing. I think it’s interesting how your song still resonates with people 15 to 16 years later. And I love your insightfulness as you write. It’s a sign of a really great songwriter.

McLaughlin: Thank you … that’s very kind. I think the arts help us metabolize and process the world. There’s something cathartic about making music. To this day, it helps me stay sane, and I think you can’t overstate the importance of the arts to everyone. It bleeds into everything: books, music, visual arts, all of that kind of stuff. The arts are like medicine — and everyone needs a dose.

JM: I read that Ben Folds is one of your major influences in addition to Elton John and Billy Joel.

McLaughlin: I grew up listening to Elton, Billy, Harry Connick, Jr. and a list of other guys. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know these musicians. But I can literally remember the moment I heard Ben Folds Five for the first time. This sounds hyperbolic, but it changed my life — there was a shift in the world. I had never heard a piano being played like that! I mean, I hear this band, Ben Folds Five, being played on X103 FM [currently ALT 103.3 FM], and back then, X103 was playing Stone Temple Pilots and stuff like that. It was the station that you turned down when your parents came into the room. And this piano player [Ben Folds] was being played on that station! I was like, “Cool!” I’ve been listening to a steady IV drip of Ben Folds ever since, and he’s inspired me as a piano player. The depth of his musicianship has been a huge influence!

JM: You’ve performed with Ryan Ahlwardt (of the group Straight No Chaser) before, but share with us how you two connected. And a few words about your other guest singers who will be joining you at the Palladium, if you don’t mind?

McLaughlin: I was doing WZPL’s Jingle Jam in 2008 with Straight No Chaser [and] Plain White Ts at the Egyptian Room in Indianapolis. That was the first time I’d seen a legit acapella group. Eight or nine years later, I ended up on the road with them and Postmodern Jukebox. It was a pretty long tour and I got to know those guys. They’re great, and their show is great. We’re actually managed by the same management team now. I did a Christmas show at the Egyptian Room in 2019 and Ryan came and did a song. It was one of the highlights of the night.

Leah Marlene, I’m just a big fan of hers. I think she’s really awesome and she’s from Illinois, so just a neighbor over. Kris Allen joined our 15th-anniversary “Indiana” tour last year and we did a couple of shows at the Tarkington. He obviously has a great voice — you can’t win “American Idol” without a great voice — it’s so good! He and I are going to do a duet, and then my sister-in-law, Sarah Scharbrough, is a fantastic jazz pianist and singer. She does like a zillion nights at the Jazz Kitchen [Indianapolis], and every other year, I’ve shared a stage with her many times. I’m pumped to hear her on the Palladium stage, though she has played that stage before with the [Carmel] Symphony Orchestra.

I’ve never played this room before, and it’s a room that I’ve wanted to play for years so I’m going to be like a kid on Christmas morning that whole evening, not wanting it to ever end!

JM: Hopefully, you’ll love it so much that you’ll want to come back and make it an annual tradition with us!

McLaughlin: That’s the plan!