Mountain Music Man

24 groceLinda Burton posting from Charleston, West Virginia – Larry Groce has been busy this month. On March 11 Larry and Charleston Mayor Danny Jones announced the lineup for this year’s FestivALL 2013; Larry has been Executive Director of the event since 2005. “This is a special year…as we celebrate 150 years as West Virginia; the state’s sesquicentennial on June 20 is followed by 10 days of our FestivALL,” he said. “We have been working closely with state leaders, the Sesquicentennial Commission, and entertainers with connections to West Virginia to make this year’s event a major celebration. It adds up to 10 days, 130 events and 350 performances.” That kind of planning would be enough to keep anyone head over heels, but that’s not all Larry has been doing. Larry is host and artistic director of Mountain Stage – Where Musicians Come To Play, a two-hour live 24 stage mikemusic program produced by West Virginia Public Radio and distributed nationally and internationally by NPR and Voice of America’s satellite radio service. And he’s been doing that for every broadcast since 1983, when he and Andy Ridenour co-founded the show. I’ve been following Mountain Stage for years; it’s recorded before a live audience at venues all over the world, but usually at the Culture Center Theater in downtown Charleston. And that’s where it was broadcasting tonight (how lucky am I?), but it was Rats! and Double Darn when the weatherman said SNOW was 24 robert craycoming in; I was too chicken to venture out. Sadly (Rats!) I didn’t see Larry Groce and the Mountain Stage crew in action; but I consoled myself “with the radio on” all afternoon listening to the broadcast of last December’s show with Robert Cray; tonight’s show with Loudoun Wainwright III and Grammy-winner Paula Cole will be broadcast after May 24.

How did Larry Groce (b 1948) wind up in Charleston, West Virginia, and how did this long-lived internationally popular show – Where Musicians Come To Play – get started, nowhere near Austin or Nashville or New York City? Larry was born in Dallas and went to high school in the Oak Cliff section of town; some other folks from there you may know of include Stevie Ray Vaughan and Edie Brickell. He recorded an album of hymns in 1969 while still a college student; after graduation he moved to New York. So, you get to West Virginia this way: you perform at a coffeehouse where Melissa Manchester is a regular; you sign a recording 24 groce junk foodcontract; you release an album; you become a National Endowment for the Arts sponsored “musician in residence;” you visit schools in twenty different states. One of those residencies brought him to Charleston in 1972; it’s still his home.

Larry had a top-ten hit in 1976 – it was the satiric novelty song Junk Food Junkie; after that they grabbed him for the Tonight Show, Merv Griffin’s show, American Bandstand, Nashville Now, Disney Channel and, another long-lived radio show, A Prairie Home Companion. And he recorded nine Disney albums; six went Gold and two Platinum; his children’s album Winnie-the-Pooh for President was nominated for a Grammy.

24 stage applauseI don’t have the backstory on how Larry and Andy came to the decision to begin the radio show in 1983, or how they managed to set it up in Charleston and get performers to show up. But I do know the results of their efforts. Washington Post has commented “It’s a good show for hearing the lesser-knowns who have a shot at becoming the better-knowns” and that is true; but the already-knowns have joyfully graced the Stage for thirty years too. Mountain Stage was the first nationally broadcast radio or television program to feature live performances by Lyle Lovett, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Sheryl Crow, Barenaked Ladies, Alison Krauss, Phish, Counting Crows, Sarah McLachlan, and Tori Amos. Add in legendary pioneers who have appeared, such as Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, 24 iris dementPops Staples and Brownie McGhee; top it off with modern superstars like R E M, Martina McBride and Norah Jones. “We respect and showcase musicians,” is their bottom line, and it works. Larry believes that all music is related, so the program is diverse – roots music, indie rock, jazz – the traditional to the brand new; it’s the most stylistically varied of any national radio program. Usually five musical guests appear on a show, which always begins with its theme, Simple Song, written and performed by Larry.

Bummer that I missed the live show tonight; but the good news is that no matter where I am 24 stage logoor what the weather, their site allows me and everyone else to access the Broadcast Schedule and a list of the 130 NPR stations carrying it; the Archives, for individual sets by each performer to listen to again and again; the Song of the Week, to brighten up my day; and the Live Schedule plus the ability to buy tickets, for that magic moment when I’m close by and the weather is (please!) suitable for travel.

Upcoming Live Shows

  • Sunday, April 07, 2013, 7:00 PM at the Virginia Thomas Law Center for the Performing Arts, Buckhannon, WV, featuring Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, The Stray Birds, The SteelDrivers, Glen Phillips
  • Sunday, April 21, 2013, 7:00 PM, WVU Creative Arts Center, Morgantown, WV, featuring Billy Bragg, The Flatlanders, Joe Pug, Amy Speace
  • Sunday, May 19, 2013, 7:00 PM, Clay Center For the Arts and Sciences of WV, Charleston, WV, featuring Mary Chapin Carpenter & Shawn Colvin, Aoife O’Donovan

A Mountain Stage special show will climax FestivALL on Sunday, June 30, at the Clay Center.

Mountain Stage