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Groundhog Days to celebrate 25th anniversary of film release

I t’s a funny thing about Groundhog Days in Woodstock...

It keeps happening over and over again.

It’s no secret that in 1992, the comedic classic “Groundhog Day” – in which weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) relives Feb. 2 repeatedly – was filmed in Woodstock. The movie was released the following year, and it didn’t take long for those involved with the film to decide Groundhog Day was a day that should be celebrated, says Rick Bellairs, a member of the Woodstock Groundhog Days Committee. He also was extra in the film.

Thus, Woodstock’s Groundhog Days was born. The activities surrounding the event have increased and its popularity has grown, resulting in the winter festival becoming a five-day event. This year, it will run from Wednesday, Feb. 1, through Sunday, Feb. 5, mostly within the Woodstock Square.

“Nobody had any clue that the movie would have such legs, that it would become such a cult classic, and it would be so memorable,” Bellairs says.

Similarly, no one expected Groundhog Days to draw such large crowds each year, but it does. Visitors have traveled from Canada, Germany and Australia to attend the festival, and depending on the weather, up to 1,000 people attend certain events, Bellairs says.

“Whether you’ve seen the movie or not, liked the movie or not, we have turned Groundhog Day into our little mid-winter festival,” Bellairs says. “We try to make it a bright spot in the middle of winter.”

New this year

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the release of the movie, and it will be a memorable one, with several new activities planned throughout the festival.

Bob Hudgins, the location manager for Columbia Pictures, who worked with director Harold Ramis to select Woodstock as the filming site, has returned almost yearly to lead walking tours through several areas that housed favorite movie scenes, such as the Public House of Woodstock where Murray and Andie MacDowell drink to world peace.

Hudgins will lead tours again this year, but he’ll also host “The Making of ‘Groundhog Day’ with Bob Hudgins” at 3 p.m. Feb. 4.

“Rather than following him around the Square on a cold Saturday afternoon on a walking tour, people can come inside in the warm [Woodstock] Opera House and hear his tales of the making of the movie,” Bellairs says.

That might be a must-see presentation, as this will be Hudgins’ last year at the festival, says John Scharres, managing director of the Woodstock Opera House, who worked as a liaison between the city and the production company during filming. 

“He’s a really nice fellow,” says Scharres. “We had a really good working relationship when he was on the movie [site]. He’s very graciously come back year after year … . You probably could make a movie about making the movie, [like how] the groundhog bit Bill Murray twice and tried to escape. [Bob] has shared those [stories] and taken people on walking tours [for years].”

Also new to the festival lineup will be the Woodstock Willie Beer Tasting Party from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday in the Waverly Room. Proceeds will benefit the Child Advocacy Center of McHenry County.

Other new events will include Groundhog Day Bingo from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday at the Blue Lotus Temple; a Woodstock Groundhog Day Pub Crawl from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, featuring Groundhog Day drink specials at bars around town; and a Groundhog Day Movie Memorabilia display featuring sketches of some of the sets left behind from Columbia Pictures. The event is meant to spark open conversation about the movie, says Bellairs, and it will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday at the Woodstock Public Library.

Traditions continue

It wouldn’t be Groundhog Days without the classic events that have repeated themselves almost as many times as Bill Murray stepped into that large puddle in the film.

That includes the awakening of Woodstock Willie, a relative of the groundhog featured in the movie, which will kick off the festival at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Woodstock Opera House, and the prognostication, which is a re-enactment of the movie’s Groundhog Day ceremony. The prognostication has drawn 1,000 people in good weather and will take place at 7 a.m. Thursday on Woodstock Square. If Woodstock Willie sees his shadow, six more weeks of winter are supposedly ahead. If not, spring should arrive early. 

Another favorite festival is the opportunity to watch a free showing of the movie at the Woodstock Theater. “Groundhog Day” will run at 10 a.m. Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

The annual Groundhog Day Dinner/Dance will take place from 6 p.m. to midnight Friday at the Woodstock Moose Lodge. At noon Saturday, the lodge will host the Groundhog Day Chili Cook-Off, which typically draws 200 to 300 people, who vote for the People’s Choice chili, Bellairs says.

Finally, free walking tours of filming sites with Hudgins will take place at 9 a.m. Thursday and 1:30 p.m. Saturday

“I think it’s just been fun for [Bob],” Bellairs says. “He has talked about how the City of Woodstock embraced this movie so long ago and keeps the celebration going. I think he’s just enjoyed being part of it.”

For a complete list of events and to learn more, visit www.woodstockgroundhog.org.

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