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Groce Man Jam honors local picker, helps young musicians

Even when he was up before dawn milking the cows on his family’s farm on Pudding Ridge, Gary Groce had his music.

The radio playing from a ledge in the milking barn put out a sophisticated, high-brow sound. That’s what his father, Wade Groce, liked to hear.

Gary would change the channel.

Earl Groce remembers the scene of his brother and father, not saying too much about each other’s music, constantly changing the channels.

Gary Groce taught himself to play the banjo in his early teens by slowing down old ‘78 records, Earl said. Gary had his area off the porch with his records and electronics. “His rebellious streak had him seek alternative music,” Earl said.

Gary Groce died on Dec. 20, 2012 at age 72. According to his brother, “He never passed 18.”

He left behind a family that reaches far beyond the Groce bloodlines. A family of friends. A family of students. A family of fellow musicians, co-workers and acquaintances.

On Sept. 13 at Junkers Mill outdoor theater in Mocksville, those families are getting together for a big reunion and they’re inviting everyone. It’s the second Groce Man Jam, named after and held in memory of Gary Groce. Balsam Range is playing, and Massive Grass, a bluegrass band from Wilmington that has a couple of Groce boys of its own, will hit the stage. Tickets are $15, and all proceeds go to a scholarship fund to help young people learn music.

Linda Groce likes the fact that her late husband’s name is being used to help young people. “He liked to mentor kids, just helping them out and showing them chords,” she said.

“He really loved to watch kids play music,” Earl said.

One of those kids was Gary’s daughter, Mandy Tenery. Her love of music obviously comes from her father.

She said when her father was sick, he told them when he died, have a party for friends and bluegrass buddies. They did, last year at their home. It was the first Groce Man Jam and it was bone-chilling cold.

But still, people showed up. They picked and told stories and ate and picked some more. And they threw money in for a scholarship to help a young person learn music. They contacted Kip Miller at Counterpoint Music and they helped pay for lessons.

The family realized they could establish a fund at the Davie Community Foundation that once reaches a certain amount, will provide scholarships every year. It could be lessons at a private studio, or from a musician. It could be at a college. The goal is for it to go to someone with a real desire to learn music who can’t afford the cost.

“Kids and music were two of his favorite things,” Mandy said.

Earl loved to play at the fiddler’s conventions, and with the band Hard Drive. But his favorite love, Linda said, was to sit around and jam. Either in the camping area at a convention, or in someone’s back yard — it didn’t matter. If there was a kid there he could take under his wing, it was even better.

What would Gary Groce think of the Groce Man Jam?

“He’d be amazed, slightly embarrassed,” Linda said. “But he would love where the money goes.”

Learn more at www.grocemanjam.com.

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