NEW PORT RICHEY — Music is the force in Bryan Weaver's life, the thing that moves him the most and taps into his deepest emotions.
While a passion for music has been central in the life of the 22-year-old Pasco man living with the rare genetic disorder Williams syndrome, no one could have dreamed it would take Weaver to country music's biggest stage.
No one except Weaver, that is.
"I love music,'' said Weaver, who lives with his mother in New Port Richey. "Music has been my thing for a long time. I have been ready to be a famous person in music my whole life."
Weaver will join about 20 others with developmental disabilities in Las Vegas on Sunday to perform with country star Darius Rucker at the 46th annual Academy of Country Music Awards.
Last July, Weaver earned a grant to attend the Lifting Lives Camp for young adults with developmental disorders held each year by the academy at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center in Nashville. It's a weeklong camp in which participants tour city landmarks, meet country stars and play music.
It's not only a dream come true for campers, it also gives researchers a chance to observe and learn more about conditions such as Williams syndrome. Its victims are born missing as many as 26 genes, said Weaver's mother Maggie Covar.
Symptoms can include learning difficulties, heart problems, mental retardation and attention deficit disorder. Weaver attended special classes in Pasco County schools while growing up. His mother worked in human resources at the local VA clinic.
"He is a grown man,'' Covar said, "but he has the mental development of a 9- or 10-year-old."
Weaver also has traits associated with Williams syndrome that make him the life of the party. He is rarely without a smile on his face, and he hugs his mother, nuzzling his nose on her cheek with joy.
And like most with this disorder, music captures his imagination. Weaver first picked up a guitar when he was 2 years old, and now also plays the harmonica and piano. It's not known why, but music is often a cornerstone in the lives of those with Williams syndrome, Covar said.
"Music makes me happy inside, very overjoyed inside,'' Weaver said. "Happy and ecstatic."
Covar said she couldn't believe it when she got the call that her son would be performing at the country music awards show. It will be the first time for both of them in Las Vegas. Weaver is scheduled to begin rehearsals there Saturday.
Weaver and the Lifting Lives Camp crew will, along with Rucker, sing a song the group wrote with country songwriters Chris Young and Brett James at last year's camp. Weaver beams when he talks about the song Music from the Heart that he helped write with his "second family."
"I can't wait to see all of my friends," he said of reuniting with his fellow campers.
And seeing a few celebrities will be icing on the cake. Weaver has already met superstars such as LeAnn Rimes.
"I'm telling you that girl is really cute!" Weaver said with a wide grin.
Weaver's big performance also will bring his mother great joy, not only for her son, but for all families with loved ones with special needs.
"It's making my son so happy, so I am grateful for that," she said. "But I am also honored because they are doing a great thing by showing people these children can live productive lives."