WOODSTOCK – Will he, or won’t he? That will be the question on everyone’s mind come about 7:07 a.m. Sunday when Woodstock Willie takes to the bandstand on Woodstock Square for his prognostication.
A Groundhog’s Day tradition, come rain or shine, snow or hail, folks both locally and from afar will gather to see whether or not Willie sees his shadow, to bring on the Spring, or continue this state of winter, for six more weeks.
Regardless of the outcome, there will be plenty of activities and events taking place on and around the historic Woodstock Square leading up to and following Willie’s final say, to celebrate this Woodstock tradition, made famous by the 1993 film, “Groundhog Day,” directed by Harold Ramis and starring Bill Murray.
“This year is pretty special because Groundhog Day actually falls on the weekend, so we’ll be sure to have even more people with many traveling here,” said Woodstock Groundhog Days Chairman Rick Bellairs. “I look forward to talking to people that have come from all over and hear what they think of Woodstock. Also, most of the events are free or for the benefit of local civic organizations and parking is free and available on and around the square.”
Put on by an all-volunteer committee, many of which were stand-ins during the original filming of the movie in 1992, the Woodstock Groundhog Days Festival begins with the Awakening of the Groundhog at 6 p.m. Thursday, with Willie making an appearance on the Woodstock Opera House stage.
The Woodstock Public Library will present groundhog stories in Stage Left Café prior and “Groundhog Day” movie trivia will happen post-Awakening, both in Stage Left Cafe. Then head on over to participate in a beer sampling at ShadowView Brewery to benefit Child Advocacy Center of McHenry County.
Starting Friday, Woodstock Public Library will have pictures and press clippings from the 1992 movie filming as well as film set sketches used and memorabilia donated by Harold Ramis on display through Sunday. Friday evening, the Woodstock Moose Lodge, where the auction and dance scenes in the movie were filmed, will hold their Groundhog Day Dinner Dance, featuring a buffet dinner for purchase, as well as raffles and silent auctions of which proceeds will be donated to Moose Charities.
Saturday is jam-packed with events beginning with Breakfast with Willie’s Woodland Friends, featuring some real-live animals, followed by Jim May’s Groundhog Tales, Opera House and Old Courthouse tours, a chili cook-off, bags tournament, walking tour of film sites, bingo, a pub crawl, and a free screening of the film “Groundhog Day” at Classic Cinemas Woodstock.
“When the news truck comes around the corner in the scene of the film, and you see the first shot of the Woodstock square, the crowd really goes nuts for it,” Bellairs said. “It’s a really great moment.”
That evening, the Woodstock Opera House presents “The Mystery Hour” hosted by 4-time Emmy winner Jeff Houghton, formerly of “The Late Show with David Letterman.” This live talk show style type show has been performed in front of live studio audience for eight seasons.
This non-televised experience will be specific to Woodstock with a high-energy feel. Award-winning Neil Diamond Tribute artist Denny Diamond will be the show’s house band and “Groundhog Day” Location Manager Bob Hudgins and Gavers Community Cancer Foundation President Steve Gavers will be among some of the special guests. Tickets are $38 each and are available for purchase at woodstockoperahouse.com.
“I’m trying to keep things fresh so there is something new for people to do when they come each year,” said Woodstock Opera House Managing Director Daniel Campbell. “The show incorporates people involved with the events and shows out-of-towners what Woodstock is like. It promotes the town and puts something new and different on the stage. They come into your hometown and pick local hometown guests. They’ll do some comedy, show video clips, they might do a top 10 list, he'll interview guests. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The festivities culminate on Groundhog Day on Sunday beginning with the prognostication around the bandstand at the Park in the Square, where attendees can gather, or huddle, depending on weather conditions, to hear Woodstock Willie’s big prediction.
“Really the best part of all of this, for me, is looking at all the smiling faces in the crowd at the prognostication,” Bellairs said. “It's the middle of winter and we’re often in the cold, and maybe freezing, but despite the cold, we’re all so happy and having fun.”
Post-reveal, prognosticators can gather at the Woodstock Public House restaurant on the ground floor of the Old Courthouse and ‘drink to world peace’ or enjoy the Groundhog Day Breakfast at the Woodstock Moose Lodge starting at 7:30 a.m. Walking tours of the film sites, Groundhog Woodcarving, an additional free film screening at Classic Cinemas Woodstock, a Groundhog-themed Family Fun Fair at Mixin Mingle, and stories from the filming of the movie from Location Director Bob Hudgins at the Opera House round out the final day of festivities.
“Bob Hudgins helped Harold Ramos find Woodstock and this is going to be great for all the movie groupies,” Bellairs said. It will be a great afternoon of fun stories and he's bringing a couple of guests this year. It’s going to be a really great four-day event!”
For a list of Groundhog Days events, pricing, time and locations, visit woodstockgroundhog.org.