For more than 40 years, Larry Groce, singer, songwriter and one of the founders and host of West Virginia Broadcasting’s “Mountain Stage,” has been entertaining listeners on 275 stations distributed nationally by NPR. He and his wife Sandra Groce, a well-known violinist in her own right, will be returning to the Eastern Panhandle July 31 in a fundraiser for the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education.
Neither performer has let the pandemic slow them down. Larry is just coming off of what he calls a “fun tour” overseas in Slovakia with a band from Charleston, WV. He also worked on two musicals.
“The first is a short musical called, ‘Miss Dirt Turtle’s Garden Club,’ and will be produced by the Albany Art Center in St. Albans, WV, in September,” Larry said. “The second is a musical about the city of Marietta, Ohio. I’m currently still working on it in collaboration with Parkersburg songwriter, Todd Burge. The target date for production is fall of 2022.”
“Mountain Stage” continued during the pandemic, but Larry had to choose archives of shows since he wasn’t able to produce new ones.
Larry said Sandra, who was not available for the interview, has not been able to perform with the West Virginia Symphony because of the pandemic.
“But she has been very busy trying to keep the youngest members of the West Virginia Youth Symphony together via Zoom sessions. She is the conductor of the Youth Strings of that organization,” Larry said. “She also has continued to teach viola and violin to her home studio students, which number well over 20, via Zoom (more recently in person again). It has not been easy for her.”
The couple have both performed in the area before. “Mountain Stage” did a show at Shepherd University and another show at the Opera House in 2016 in Shepherdstown. Sandra also played in Jefferson County several times as a member of the Montclair String Quartet.
Larry was approached by co-Mountain Stage founder Andy Ridenour to perform for the Byrd Center fundraiser.
“He told us about the center and had the idea to do a fundraiser,” Larry said. “The Byrd Center seemed like a great organization to support.”
The couple’s July 31 performance will include mostly songs from an album they made in 2016 called, “Live Forever.”
“It’s a mix of original songs and more well-known songs that have a special connection to ‘Mountain Stage,’” Larry said.
Bob Thompson will also perform. Since 1991, Thompson has been pianist, and regularly featured artist on “Mountain Stage.”
Larry was born in Dallas, Texas and lived in Illinois, New York City and Los Angeles before moving to West Virginia in 1972 as part of a National Endowment for the Arts Musician-in-Residence program. He’s lived in West Virginia ever since. Between 1972 and 1986, Larry sometimes worked as artist-in-residence in communities and schools in 22 states from Washington to Florida. This work included teaching songwriting and music performance to school children and adults. Larry has recorded 24 albums spanning styles from Americana to hymns to children’s recordings.
He has performed on “The Tonight Show,” “The Merv Griffin Show,” “American Bandstand,” “The Midnight Special,” “The Rich Little Show,” “Nashville Now,” The Disney Channel, “Doctor Demento,” and “A Prairie Home Companion.”
Sandra Groce was the principal violist for the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra and its Montclaire String Quartet from 1996 until 2010. She previously was a member of the New World Symphony in Miami, the Spoleto Orchestra (South Carolina and Italy) and the Central City (Colorado) Opera Orchestra. She studied at Yale University, the Eastman School of Music and the University of Oregon.
She is the conductor of the Cadets (youngest members) of the West Virginia Youth Symphony and runs a very active studio for students of viola, violin and piano in Charleston.
The fundraiser is a lawn concert and pig roast from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tickets are $150. It will take place at the home of Bill and Karen Rice of Martinsburg. For details, go to the website at www.byrdcenter.org.