Relive movie memories at Woodstock Groundhog Days festival
The big question this week is: Will Woodstock Willie see his shadow?
One of the highlights of the long-running Woodstock Groundhog Days festival is the customary prognostication event, where the town's groundhog will let folks know whether we're in for six more weeks of winter or an early spring.
Woodstock Groundhog Days FestivalWhen: Thursday through Sunday, Feb. 1 to 4
Where: In and around the Woodstock Square, Van Buren Street, Woodstock.
Details: Annual festival in honor of 1993 film "Groundhog Day" which was filmed in Woodstock. Includes chili cook-off, breakfast, dances, storytelling, showings of the movie and a tour of filming sites. "Woodstock Willie's" prognostication set for 7:07 a.m. Friday, Feb. 2 on the square.
Admission: Free; fee for some activities. Visit woodstockgroundhog.org for complete list of events.
"Willie's handler, the Woodstock Wrangler, was on (the television program) 'Windy City Live' last year and claimed a 60 percent accuracy," Woodstock Groundhog Days committee chair Ron Bellairs.
"A 60 percent accuracy probably is as good as Tom Skilling (famed WGN-TV meteorologist) or any other weatherman can get."
Bellairs said the odds of visitors having a good time at this year's Groundhog Days -- which runs Thursday through Sunday, Feb. 1-4, at locations throughout Woodstock -- are much closer to 100 percent.
"It's grown in popularity, sort of like the movie did," said Bellairs of the still-popular "Groundhog Day" comedy starring Bill Murray that was filmed in Woodstock in 1992.
"The movie has become a classic in its own right," Bellairs said. "This is a fun thing to do in the middle of winter. We have so many events packed into a couple days. Christmas is behind us now and spring is still ahead. We have a lot of fun, lighthearted events here. Most of the events are free or benefit a local civic organization."
Bellairs, who was an extra in one of the crowd scenes of the movie, said the festival, which is a nonprofit organization run by a small group of volunteers, was started on kind of a whim.
"It was started a year or two after the movie was made here," he said. "After it was filmed, it was like, 'Hey, they made a movie here, we should celebrate.' The first year it was a handful of people acknowledging the day, and then we grew it to an official breakfast, and now it's to the point we have a mascot and a live polka band warming up the crowd. It keeps growing year after year."
And this year is no exception. Groundhog Days, to put it mildly, has a jam-packed lineup of activities planned.
Thursday, Feb. 1, highlights include Groundhog Day Storytime at 5 p.m. at Stage Left Cafe, 125 W. Van Buren. Woodstock Willie will make an appearance amid pyrotechnics at 6 p.m. on the balcony of the Opera House during the Awakening of the Groundhog celebration. For those into trivia, a trivia contest centered around the movie "Groundhog Day" and the Broadway musical takes place afterward at Stage Left Café.
Friday's main event centers on the Groundhog Day Prognostication ceremony, where Willie will tell attendees if spring is on the horizon. That takes place on Woodstock Square at 7:07 a.m.
Bellairs warns to plan accordingly for the prognostication event.
"It's a must-do event," he said. "It's before school and before work, and it does draw a crowd. Dress warm."
Other Friday activities include a walking tour of the movie filming sites, plus the first of three free showings of the movie at 10 a.m. at the Harold Ramis Auditorium at Classic Cinemas Woodstock Theatre.
The movie also will be shown there Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. The Woodstock Moose Lodge also will host a dinner dance with a buffet from 6-7:30 p.m. and live music from 8 p.m. to midnight.
Saturday is just as action-packed, with a groundhog bowling event from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Wayne's Lanes on Church Street in Woodstock, one of the movie's filming sites.
"That's the scene where Bill Murray sits with locals and debates whether the glass is half-full or half-empty," Bellairs said. The bowling event benefits the Woodstock High School bowling teams.
A bags tournament, a chili cook-off, Groundhog Day bingo and a Groundhog Day pub crawl also are on the Saturday docket. The bags tournament is held outdoors at Ortmann's Red Iron Tavern; the chili cook-off at the Moose lodge.
Sunday is highlighted by Woodstock Willie's Family Fun Day at Mixin' Mingle, 124 Cass St., where kids can purchase tickets to play games for prizes, make crafts, color, take their picture with photo-booth props and do face-painting. A balloon artist from RC Juggles also will be on hand.
Bellairs said movie buffs will be interested in the open house from noon to 4 p.m. Friday at the Woodstock Public Library, 414 W. Judd St.
"When filming finished in 1992, Columbia Pictures donated a lot of things from the movie," he explained. "You will see some of the set sketches and newspaper clippings."
Bellairs recalls answering the casting call for extras in the movie at Woodstock High School.
"I'm in the background in one of the scenes," he said. "If you blink, you miss me. I can pick myself out of the crowd.
Most of the people in those crowd scenes were local residents. With Groundhog Days, it's fun when we do the free showing of the movie. You can hear people call out when they get their glimpse of fame on the big screen."
For a complete schedule of events, visit www.woodstockgroundhog.org.