Jon McLaughlin's Homecoming

Wed, 2007-10-10 09:38 -- univcomm
October 10, 2007

Jon McLaughlin has had quite a year. Certainly one for the ole scrapbook.

The highlights? There’s his music being used in the movies "Georgia Rules" and "Bridge to Terabithia," as well as making his own silver-screen debut later this fall in Disney’s "Enchanted." That comes after McLaughlin appeared in an episode of the daytime soap "The Bold & The Beautiful" in August.

Then there are his performances on "The Today Show" and "The Tonight Show," the latter of which resulted in sales of his major-label debut "Indiana" (released in May) jumping 60 percent on iTunes. It’s all been enough for US Weekly magazine to name McLaughlin one of "The Boys of Summer."

All of which is fine to the 24-year-old Anderson native. Even though he grew up in the pastoral settings of Indiana, his career trajectory prepared him for life on the road and the success he’s now enjoying.

"I feel like I kind of eased into it," McLaughlin said.

Which is all really kind of ironic when you consider as a teen, McLaughlin wanted nothing to do with music.

Growing up in a household full of it, he started taking piano lessons at age 4. By high school, McLaughlin was ready to quit.

"Nobody takes piano lessons in high school anymore," he said. "I was the last kid left going to piano lessons on Wednesday nights."

He spent years trying to convince his parents to let him quit, but an in-line skating accident that shattered both of his wrists ultimately decided it for him.

"Ironically, the night the accident happened, it was right before I was supposed to go to a piano lesson," McLaughlin said. "I was happy to take a couple months off."

He ended up taking a couple of years. It wasn’t until he started playing keyboards for a band at his church that he fell in love with music again. That was mainly because McLaughlin finally found an outlet to combine his interest in pop music with his classical training.

"Once I started playing with this church, it opened me up to a different side of music — more of a free style," he said.

McLaughlin took the stimulus and majored in music at Anderson University. He calls his time there "invaluable" — a period when he focused on his muse and started writing his own songs.

"AU really kind of gave me an outlet to play on campus, play new songs I had written in a smaller, friendlier environment," McLaughlin said. "It’s a small school, so if you go play a little coffeehouse around town, you’re going to have something of a crowd come out. It eased me into the world I’m now in."

He used modern communication channels to form a grassroots following before the majors came calling. A music career is something McLaughlin has wanted a while now. Yet he’s still not sure why all this is happening to him.

"Man, I have no idea," he said. "I ask that question almost every night. You think, this is wrong. Something got mixed up and it really shouldn’t be me. But I definitely didn’t see myself doing anything different. If it hadn’t worked out this way, I have no idea what I would’ve done. No idea. With the exception of getting burnt out a little bit in high school, I’ve wanted to do this since I was 4 years old. I’ve put all my eggs in this basket."

Now a resident of Carmel, McLaughlin has a couple return engagements — Wednesday at the Murat Egyptian Room as part of his current tour with fellow vernal talent Paolo Nutini and a showcase Oct. 13 at his alma mater. Those are the performances that scare McLaughlin the most — not the ones broadcast on national TV.

"Sometimes it’s a little nerve-wracking coming back and playing," he said. Sometimes it’s easier to play in front of people where no one knows you, and personally you don’t know anyone else. There’s a comfort there. When I play in Indiana, because it’s like a hometown show, and there are a lot of familiar faces out there, it has the potential to be a really intimate and great thing. But it also has the potential to be more nerve-wracking."

His concert in July at Carmel’s "Rock the District" is a perfect example. What was supposed to be an intimate appearance inside a store on Main Street turned into an outdoor spectacle where the whole street was blocked off to traffic. Worse yet, no tickets were sold ahead of time, so McLaughlin had no idea how many people were going to attend.

"My stomach was in knots," he said. "I thought, these poor, sweet people in Carmel are going to be so disappointed when no one comes to this show. Your ego’s on the line a little bit. You feel like everybody’s looking at you like, this is your hometown. It should be packed. That’s a lot of pressure."

Ultimately, it was a smashing triumph for the burgeoning star. v"It potentially could’ve been a disaster," McLaughlin said. "But the fact (thousands of) people came out to the concert gives you such an appreciation for being from here, being connected with Indiana." –Wade Coggeshall is a reporter for The Hendricks County Flyer in Avon, Indiana. Story republished with permission.

Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2008, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the fourth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 60 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.