None of the members of The Beagle Brothers has personally witnessed the Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney before — but they have been to Gobbler's Knob.
"We were asked to play a show this past summer in Punxsutawney, called 'Phil Fest,'" explains steel-guitar player Read Connolly. "It's the event where they give the groundhog the elixir of life that has allowed him to live for 120 years."
It was an official Punxsutawney Phil event, replete with members of the inner circle. (Though as Connolly notes, "They weren't wearing their top hats; they just had T-shirts on.") One inner-circle member took a liking to the Pittsburgh band — so much so that he jumped up in the middle of their set to let them know.
That led to the band's invitation this year to play the national anthem at Gobbler's Knob on the morning of Groundhog Day — an event that's broadcast live nationwide on The Weather Channel.
The band worked with producer Dino Destefano on an arrangement of the national anthem that Connolly says is true to form, but also faithful to the Beagles' sound. The members have collaborated with Commonwealth Press on merch for the event, and are readying themselves for the elements.
"Not only are we getting our wardrobe together; we've been practicing outside in the cold," Connolly says. "We pick the coldest nights and go outside to play. The guitars are detuned immediately."
Besides the Beagles, local stalwart Slim Forsythe will be on hand to play his groundhog-themed tune, "The Ballad of Punxsutawney Phil." Nied's Hotel, Forsythe's home base, will be sending a bus up to Punxsutawney, leaving Nied's at 2 a.m. Sunday morning. (That costs $32 and includes snacks and drinks; call Nied's for more information: 412-781-9853.)
Attendance numbers for Groundhog Day at Gobbler's Knob generally run upward of 20,000. Given that Feb. 2 is smack in the middle of the weekend this year, Connolly says organizers are shooting for 30,000 this time.
As for whether Phil will see his shadow?
"I'm reticent to predict what's going to happen," Connolly insists.