The very first “Ground Hog Opry” was called the “17th Annual.” The second one was called the “19th Annual,” and someone in the audience was overheard saying, “They’ve really been doing this for 19 years?” Someone else turned around and replied, “I’ve seen every one of ‘em.”
In that way the show has a life of its own, and the “2nd Last Annual Ground Hog Opry” will return for a burst of five Vermont shows beginning at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 18, at the Hardwick Town House.
“The reason I’m calling it the ‘2nd Last Annual’ is because we did the ‘Last Annual’ 10 years ago,” show creator George Woodard joked, “so this is the second last annual.”
“The Ground Hog Opry” is Vermont’s own version of Nashville’s Grand Ol’ Opry, and it’s the perfect remedy for the late-winter blues.
Infused with the humor of Woodard and his co-creator Al Boright, the show is a feelgood throwback to a time when live music played on the radio, barn dances took place, and the general store had everything you needed, including a post office at the back of the store.
It features a handful of talented musicians corralled by its two “co-anchors.” It’s been compared to Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” but Woodard and Boright describe it as a mix of Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” satirical news segment, and “Hee Haw,” with the feel of an oldtime radio show. An evening of “ridiculousness with really good music,” Woodard says. “Al has a deep knowledge of politics and
writes political satire, and I’m familiar with cows,” Woodard said. “So I come up with some cow stuff. The whole thing is just a fun time.”
“There are skits, characters and music,” Boright said, “and we’ve got three pro musicians playing with us — it’s such a treat.” “The Ground Hog Opry” first toured back in 1995. Woodard came up with the concept, and then he met Boright, a lyricist, singer, and news junkie inspired by the Harvard-based humorist Tom Lehrer. At a variety show in Hyde Park they clicked.
“We had such fun working together that he invited me to do ‘Ground Hog Opry,’ and we’ve done them ever since,” Boright said.
They begin working on scripts for the “Opry” around the holidays. Boright will end up with pages of options for fodder between musical acts, and picks from them just before each show.
“I worked at the Legislative Council for 31 years and would take current political issues and redo the lyrics of songs with them,” Boright said, which he continues to do in this show.
It can take up to two months to put the show together, and Woodard’s busy dairy farm can limit his availability. Putting the show on every year is not something he can always fit in, but it’s been performed nearly every other year. When asked if this could be the last show, both Woodard and Boright reply, “Who knows?”
“It’s a lot of work but it’s an awful lot of fun,” Woodard said. Boright agreed, saying “It’s hard not to do it again.”