Larry Groce is the last person who would take any sort of credit for the success story that is Mountain Stage.
For one, Groce knows it takes a lot of people, funding, hard work and more than a little pro bono help to make the renowned musical variety program work. But Groce also is a fairly humble guy, quick with a compliment and slow to take credit.
Still, it’s hard to imagine Mountain Stage, which has run for 38 years and is broadcast across the United States and beyond, being what it is without Groce, who announced this week that he’s stepping down from hosting the show.
From the 200-seat theater in the Culture Center in Charleston, where the show is usually recorded, Groce’s voice has been the mainstay of the program that has proved a wildly successful, deeply moving and image-positive West Virginia export.
The soft-spoken, snowy bearded host has introduced eclectic acts from across musical genres, ranging from R.E.M. and Wilco, at the height of their popularity, to iconic country and bluegrass musicians and obscure up-and-comers for nigh on four decades. Groce himself was a reflection of the show’s broad range of musical content. In some ways, he has embodied Appalachian culture and the unique art that it produces, but he never played to tropes or stereotypes and always embraced the magic of music wherever it came from. In other words, he’s authentic.
Groce, 73, has certainly earned the right to retire. It’s still hard, and not a little bit sad, to see him go. Since its founding in 1983, Mountain Stage has recorded 972 shows. Groce has hosted all but 20 of them. He told the Gazette-Mail’s Bill Lynch that he had hoped to step away after his 1,000th show, but the disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years made that milestone harder to reach and less important.
His announced successor, Grammy Award-winning country and bluegrass singer Kathy Mattea, seems like a natural fit. She’s been a frequent performer on the show, and has guest-hosted for at least one of those 20 shows that Groce didn’t helm. Most importantly, Mattea, a South Charleston native, grasps the show’s importance to music, the arts and West Virginia. She also went to bat for West Virginia Public Broadcasting, the show’s home office, when the state Legislature tried to eliminate funding for the agency earlier this year.
So, it would appear Mountain Stage is in good hands with Mattea as host and some remaining involvement from Groce, who will be staying on, at least for a short time, as artistic director.
Hopefully, regular recordings will resume soon. In the meantime, we offer a sad but grateful goodbye to Groce and a warm welcome to Mattea.