Monday, June 21, 2010

In North Carolina, musician with CP finds success as Christian artist

From The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.:

Growing up, Chris Hendricks (pictured) wanted to be a hero.

"I've always believed in heroes," he said. His dream was to be a U.S. Navy SEAL. "I loved the idea of saving the world."

Hendricks was born with cerebral palsy; the doctor told his parents that he might never walk. Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that affects movement and muscle coordination, often resulting in deformed limbs.

Hendricks did learn to walk, but he will never be a SEAL. Instead, he picked up a guitar and started sharing his message: He wants everyone, especially children with disabilities, to know that anyone can dream big.

"I wouldn't change a thing when it comes to my CP," Hendricks said. "Whether it's me or someone else down the line, there is a need for someone for disabled kids to look up to."

This summer, he will share that message with his biggest audience yet: Hendricks joins several big-name performers on the two-month Life and Faith Tour.

With stops in Richmond, Va.; Rockingham, and Atlanta, the Life and Faith Tour features contemporary Christian artists such as Amy Grant, Shenandoah and Hawk Nelson. Organizers said it will attract tens of thousands, raising money for local charities and nonprofit groups.

Hendricks is also working on a full-length album, which might be released this summer.

"We have never played a crowd like this. It's going to be huge," Hendricks' manager, Aaron Gallagher, 25, who shares an apartment with him in southern Durham, said before this weekend's tour kickoff concert in Richmond.

Hendricks grew up in Durham and attended Immaculata Catholic School. After graduating from Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh, he received a degree in exercise and sports science from Elon University in 2007.

Staying active has always been an important part of Hendricks' life. At Elon, he swam and worked out with weights for hours every day, he said.

Although he uses a cane, he's like other 24-year-olds, working regular shifts at Best Buy and chilling with friends in his spare time.

He tries not to let his condition get in the way. He does sit when he's performing. It can be hard to balance a guitar, a microphone and a cane.

Because of Hendricks' disability, Gallagher said, he hadn't expected Hendricks to be very good when they met at a Chapel Hill open mic night. Gallagher said he changed his mind after seeing Hendricks play.

"You can tell that the one place in this world where he really feels at home is on stage playing for people," Gallagher said.

Hendricks is determined to make it in the music business. "The biggest challenge is getting people to take me seriously," he said.

Even his mother fought him over his music at first, he said. Now she's one of his biggest supporters, along with his father, who taught him his first three guitar chords when he was a junior at Elon.

The Chris Hendricks Band has been playing fundraisers, private parties and clubs across the Triangle for over a year. These days, you can sometimes find the band at Bailey's Pub and Grille in Chapel Hill, or at Falls River Music or The Brewery in Raleigh.

Last summer, Hendricks and Gallagher were invited to be on the radio station G105's "Bob and the Showgram" morning show. During the interview, Gallagher said, the host was disappointed that Chris hadn't brought his guitar. But Gallagher had put the guitar in the car trunk the night before.

"It was pretty cool, because that was the station he grew up listening to, and there he was actually singing live," Gallagher said.

Gallagher, who works in pharmaceutical sales and consulting, said he is still learning how to be a manager. Fortunately, Gallagher already had a few friends in Nashville and was able to introduce Hendricks to Grant and her husband, Vince Gill. They also met with Fred Vail, who once managed The Beach Boys and is now an independent country and bluegrass producer. Gallagher said Vail has expressed interest in producing Hendricks' album.

"To be honest with you, it's crazy how fast this has taken off," Gallagher said. "I've got a lot of friends in Nashville who are in the music industry, and they've been going at it for five, six, seven years. It's just there are so many people trying to make it in the music industry, that the only way you can make it is if you're really good or you have an amazing story."