The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

September 28, 2012

Armless guitar player wows at Lancaster stadium

Dan Nephin
Associated Press

LANCASTER, Pa. — George Dennehy would like you to know that, no, his arms were not bitten off by a shark.

Though the 18-year-old was born without them, it hasn't stopped him from playing music.

Dennehy brought his music and inspirational message to Clipper Magazine Stadium on Thursday before the Lancaster Barnstormers game.

He plays with his toes, sitting in a chair with his guitar flat on the ground. He strums with a pick between the big and second toe of his left foot.

"I know that people are inspired and changed by what they see, how I approach life and how I just get over the fact that I don't have arms," Dennehy said before playing. "I've just moved past that and do what I can with what I have and try to make the most of every day that I'm given."

Dennehy caught the attention of Bob Ford, the Barnstormers' director of business development, at Musikfest in Bethlehem last month, where Dennehy opened for Goo Goo Dolls.

"I'm sitting here, and then I'm hearing it, and I didn't see him; then I look up on the stage and I see this guy playing guitar with no arms, with his feet. It was amazing," Ford said.

The Goo Goo Dolls brought Dennehy onstage to join them in their hit "Iris."

"The place erupted. It was amazing," Ford said.

Dennehy, of Ashland, Va., had come to the attention of the band after a video of him performing "Iris" went viral on the Internet.

He had performed the song at a festival in his town in June. The band saw the performance and arranged for him to join them at Musikfest.

The viral video also took him to Romania, where he was born. He was adopted as a baby. A Romanian TV show host learned of his performance, and Dennehy went there earlier this month and met his biological parents.

Dennehy said he had no interest in music as a child.

"I was 8 years old when my mom signed me up for cello lessons without my consent," he said. "I just did it because I was 8 and you have to listen to your parents when you're under 18."

He said there were challenges, but "if there was a problem, we solved it."

He also plays bass guitar and piano, but the guitar is his favorite.

"I feel like I can express myself most with the guitar," he said.

He performs progressive, alternative and Christian music. He's recently released his first single, "It's a Gift," on iTunes.

Two months ago, he'd planned to go to college to study music, but that's on hold as he spreads his inspirational message.

It's not always been easy, he admits.

"There was definitely a time when I was down and there's no hope for me and there's nothing I'm going to be able to do when I'm older and I'm not going to get married and all this stuff," he said.

But as he got older and more mature, "I realized I was not born without arms on accident, and this was no scientific, molecular accident that I was born like this," he said.

"I believe that God definitely has a purpose out there, a big purpose, for me, and he has a life that he wants for me... I know and firmly trust that there's a reason for it," he said.

The Barnstormers partnered with United Disabilities Services, which helps people with disabilities live more independent lives. Proceeds from Barnstormers' prizewheel games were being donated to UDS.

"We're thrilled that the Barnstormers recognize the importance of highlighting the talents of individuals who have transcended their physical limitations," said Cindy Davidson, vice president of sales and marketing for UDS.