Eric Douglas Published

Larry Groce Talks Honorary Degree, Being A Mountaineer

Larry Groce points to the audience during a Mountain Stage show.
Larry Groce, co-founder, host and artistic director of WVPB's "Mountain Stage."
Brian Blauser

Larry Groce contributed to the local music scene even before he helped found Mountain Stage 39 years ago. He has received honors and accolades for his work, but this weekend he is receiving something unexpected: an honorary doctoral degree from WVU.

Eric Douglas sat down with Larry earlier this week to discuss the award and what it means to him and the long running radio show.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Douglas: This weekend, you’re being honored by WVU with an honorary degree. When did you hear about that?

Groce: Well, it wasn’t that long ago. I don’t know how they pick these things. They do them in the spring and in the fall. I’m sure this one is smaller because this is a smaller graduation. I got a call from someone. The woman said that Dr. (Gordon) Gee had personally decided to give me an honorary doctorate this fall. I mean, I was totally honored, and totally overwhelmed and truly surprised. I think this is one that’s called the Presidential Doctorate.

From my point of view, it’s like the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame and being included in that. Anytime that I get honored by a West Virginia institution, entity or whatever, it’s a big deal for me, because I really love this place. I’ve committed myself to this place. I chose this place.

Douglas: You’re originally a Texas boy, right? 

Groce: I’m 50 years in West Virginia as of last October. I was 18 years in Texas. And I was four years in Illinois, and a year in New York City and a year in Los Angeles. And then I got the opportunity to come to West Virginia. And it didn’t take me even a whole year to be here before I realized I don’t want to leave. The hit song was here, and things that really made me known to the general public, all the Disney records I made and all that were done as I lived in West Virginia. Many people think, “Oh, you did all that. Then you came to West Virginia.” No, that’s not true. I came here first. And I had a base. And then I realized after a few years that this is this place I love, this was my home. I don’t foresee ever leaving.

Douglas: I think at this point, 50 years, and we’ll just declare you a West Virginian.

Groce: I hope so, because I’m going to die here. It’s funny, because now that I’m moving out of Mountain Stage, some people say, “Well, where are you gonna go Florida, Texas when you retire from this?” I don’t want to go anywhere. This is where I want to be. I can deal with the wintertime. And I certainly can deal with the other three seasons. I mean, I love them. And now that I’ve gotten into fishing and stuff, it’s even more I want to be here. I can even do a little bit of that in the winter. But I love it. And I love this place. I met my wife here, raised two West Virginians here — two West Virginia girls, who are now women.

Douglas: What’s the greatest accomplishment you think of musically in West Virginia?

Groce: Well, no question that the founding of Mountain Stage has made the biggest effect of anything that I’ve done here for the state. Mountain Stage as a radio program helped raise up a little bit the profile of West Virginia among music lovers, in a way swimming upstream. To be from West Virginia and call yourself a title that has “mountain” in it, everybody suddenly will assume it’s fiddle music. Well, we love fiddle and banjo and have had plenty of it on the show. It’s just not all we have. It’s a minority of what we have, but everything’s a minority of what we have. And I think that’s important for other people to know that. Anytime I can help break a stereotype about the state, I’m happy to do that. That’s, I think, the biggest contribution we’ve made, and also to show that we can produce a show here that’s good enough to be a national show, and that people want, stations want, and NPR wanted. And so I think that’s the importance of what I’ve done in music here.

Douglas: Well, this weekend is the 39th anniversary, so you’re gonna have a great weekend. 

Groce: I am and I don’t even have to work on the second part.

Douglas: You’re set to retire next summer.

Groce: Yeah, my 40th one year contract. And after that, I’ve told my boss, Adam Harris, that I’m not going to have another contract. I may do some things for them on a smaller level, make a special or two, I don’t know. He hasn’t talked about if he wants anything else or not.

One of the reasons we’ve lasted for 40 years while others come and go, is that we’re not hooked into my personality. We are kind of transparent. Our band, even though we have a house band, we got all this stuff, but they understand their place. It isn’t to be out front. It’s to be supportive. It’s to be the frame of the painting. The painting is the artists and they do their own painting, and we frame it and we present it to you, in a room on a wall, you go, “Wow, that’s great!” We want that wall in that room with lighting to be great. We want everything to be perfect. So when you see it, you’re impressed. That’s our job is to make the artists look good because it’s going to live and die on the artists.