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President plays rock star

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When you're the head cheese at a university of 14,322 students and some 2,200 employees, you'd better be able to think on your feet. University of Montana President George Dennison did just that last Thursday night when things went haywire during his karaoke performance at a fundraiser in the University Center.

After witnessing several acts ranging from bagpipes to belly dancing, the hundred or so spectators welcomed Dennison to the stage with a healthy round of applause. If the crowd was a bit skimpy, it was only because the other 14,222 students were in front of a television somewhere, watching the men's basketball team battle it out with New Mexico in the NCAA tournament. But the audience was boisterous and enthusiastic as they welcomed their leader as the last act of the evening.

Dennison claimed before the performance that he never really gets stage fright.

"I speak to groups all the time," he said.

But what about singing?

"It's not much different than giving a speech," he said, "as long as I know what I'm doing."

Given the widely published photo of Dennison brandishing a Fender Stratocaster nearly 50 years ago, it's a safe assumption the man knows his way around a stage.

After thanking the organizers for helping raise funds for Doctors Without Borders, Dennison readied himself while the music for Ray Charles' "I Can't Stop Loving You" wafted from the speakers. He started singing, but struggled to find the key. After a few seconds, he asked to start over. The sound guy obliged, starting the track again. But again, the erstwhile rock 'n' roller foundered, unable to find the right note.

"Is Tyler still here? Can I borrow your guitar?" Dennison asked. Aspiring country artist Tyler Barnham, who'd performed earlier, delivered his black acoustic to the struggling singer. A stool was brought onstage, and Dennison began strumming the out-of-tune guitar, launching into the song in a comfortable key. He sang it with gusto, finally captivating the crowd. He even played an encore.

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