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Lighting up the world with love: Berkshire County music legend David Grover is remembered fondly

A seated man in a plaid shirt plays guitar and sings, flanked by two young people. Behind them, a man plays bass guitar in a gazebo.
Leigh Davis
David Grover performing at the Great Barrington, Massachusetts gazebo.

After the death of iconic Berkshire County musician David Grover this week, those who knew him best are sharing their memories.

Grover, the much-loved bard of Berkshire County, traveled the world doing what he loved over a long and celebrated career. From playing free concerts at the Great Barrington gazebo for 40 straight summers to producing acclaimed children’s programming on PBS, his musicianship was combined with a deep empathy and a commitment to nurturing compassion in the world.

Grover died Wednesday at age 69.

“He was driving, he was on a trip, he was near Utica, New York, and he was rear-ended," said Kathy Jo Grover. "And they took him to St. Elizabeth's Hospital. David also had a number of underlying conditions that he was dealing with, and between the two things, they were just unable to bring him back. He was in the hospital for quite some time, about 12 days. There were just so many things going on that they couldn't keep up with it.”

Grover is David’s wife of 17 years.

“David really was who everybody saw when you heard him play or sing or when he talked to you," she said. "He was really the kindest most generous man I've ever known in my whole life. And he never had any judgment of anyone. He always was accepting of who everyone was just the way they were.”

Also a musician, Kathy Jo performed alongside Grover for years.

“We played the White House Easter Egg Roll, we played at the UN with Pete Seeger," she told WAMC. "He wanted a gazillion awards. He traveled with Arlo, but honestly, I think the thing that he was probably the most proud of was just to be able to share music with children, especially kids with special needs. To see a kid come out of their shell in a moment and be comfortable and sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ into the microphone or something like that made him so, so happy.”

One of her favorite memories of Grover comes from one of those moments with a young person.

“He was playing a show at your auditorium, at the Linda," Kathy Jo told WAMC. "He was sitting on his chair playing his guitar in the middle of a song, and there was this tiny little girl, she couldn't have been more than three or four years old. And in the middle of the song, she just walked up onto the stage and she scooched him over in his chair and she sat down next to him. And she wasn't there because she wanted to sing or tell him anything. She just wanted to sit next to him because she could just feel what a wonderful human being he was. She just could feel that he wasn't a scary grown up. He was just somebody she wanted to be next to, because that's the kind of guy he was. And that sort of sums it up for me. As far as our relationship, he was the same way. He always just loved me for exactly who I was, which was beautiful.”

“David could play with anybody in any country, in any genre, in any musical format. He was competent and able enough to be able to hear," said singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie. “And that's what a real musician is, somebody who knows how to hear, not somebody who knows how to play something. Like a real artist knows how to see, as opposed to paint something. He was one of those. And I appreciated that from the first day I met him and started working with him, and I always will treasure that.”

The two started their decades-long relationship in 1975 at a benefit concert for a health clinic in Worthington. Guthrie liked Grover’s group Shenandoah, and brought them on as his backing band.

“David was a terrific arranger. Everybody in the band sang, and so when we had as many as seven people in the band- I mean, it was huge. To have seven vocalists, you could place them and get really intricate harmonies long before it became popular with other groups. Maybe the Beach Boys were working on that kind of stuff, or the Beatles, or somebody like that. But nobody locally, for sure. Shenandoah was able to do that, and they were able to do that because of David Grover, who had the organizational skills, the music skills, the chops to actually make that happen.”

One memory from Guthrie’s days on the road with Grover and Shenandoah comes from the Flynn Theater in Burlington, Vermont.

“While they were playing, the fire curtain fell, somehow got loose, and fell right on the band," laughed Guthrie. "And they kept playing. They didn't let it stop them. And I just looked at them incredulously, and it was just the most amazing- I mean, not the most amazing event of the night. It got worse from there. But I will always remember and treasure that moment when something totally unexpected happens on stage and it doesn't faze you enough, it doesn't make you stop what you're doing, but you continue, you push through. And David did that. I will love him for that.”

Drummer Terrence Hall, better know as Terry a la Berry, has been friends with Grover since they were teens and played with him in Shenandoah and other groups:

“[He was] very funny at times, and really serious about the music that he wanted to create," a la Berry told WAMC. "That was the work side, but then we traveled the country, all over the place, went everywhere, and got to see and share so many incredible places from the Grand Canyon to the White House. He was literally my best friend for a very, very long time.”

A fundraiser for Grover’s family has already raised thousands more than its initial goal of $10,000. Kathy Jo offered this message to all of those now in mourning who heard David perform over the years.

“They should know that he loved them as much as they loved him," she said. "And that he would want them to sing. He used to say, If God gave you a beautiful voice, you should sing in gratitude. And if he gave you a terrible voice, you should sing to get even. And so they should, they should think you should see him play and, and be glad and know that he loves them.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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