A Duke boy steered toward music: Tom Wopat set for local Wounded Warriors benefit concert

Former “Dukes of Hazzard” TV star Tom Wopat knows how to accelerate nostalgic excitement.

Come Saturday, Wopat, now a nationally touring singer of everything from country to pop-folk to jazz, will hearken back to his days as the irascible Luke Duke when he makes an entrance at the Columbus Elks Lodge No. 521 for Saturday’s KORN Country Presents: Indiana Gives Back concert, a benefit for the Wounded Warrior Project.

The 69-year-old entertainer, also still acting, will be driving a replica of General Lee, the screaming orange, souped-up 1969 Dodge Charger that he and fellow actor John Schneider regularly steered toward trouble and mischief on the CBS show from 1979 to 1985.

Matt Lee, organizer of the show for the opening Night Owl Country band locally, hatched the blast-from-the-past idea for one of the so-called “good ole boys.”

“We came up with that on a whim,” Lee said.

Wopat acknowledged that this show will be one of only a few he has been able to do since entertainment venues have reopened in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. He originally was scheduled to perform in Columbus just before the disease caused a worldwide shutdown last year.

So, granted, he’s feeling a lot better now than then.

“How am I?” he repeats loudly into the phone, speaking from his home in New York City. “Ten feet tall and bulletproof.”

You’d expect that of ol’ Luke, and also Wopat, who has an impressive list of music and acting credentials linked to everything from Carnegie Hall to Broadway and its top names.

Wopat plans to perform a concert of covers and originals in a set list not yet finalized at the time of the conversation. But he knows he cannot possibly leave out one particular tune: Waylon Jennings’ classic “Good Ol’ Boys,” the theme from the “Dukes” show that still has him signing autographs. He frequently has performed the song as a duet with current pal Schneider, who performed at a sold-out local Wounded Warrior show in 2019 at The Commons.

“We’ll do the theme song for sure,” he said. “You can’t not do that. That’s illegal.”

Wopat will have a Christmas album available for purchase — one in which he duets with Schneider on in order to ring in the holidays.

He understands that much of his music or movie audience will always see him as Luke Duke. He has no problem with that. In fact, because of that, he mentioned that he often does more meet-and-greet appearances than concerts.

“As long as people are willing to hand over a shekel or two at a show, I’m totally OK with it,” Wopat said, laughing. “But, actually, all this isn’t purely about making money, of course. All those fans of the show? They’re really good people. And that is a show that became iconic.

“And today, I see kids 8 and 9 years old now who will see me and say, ‘Hey — he’s a Duke boy!’ I look at them and respond, ‘Hey — I’m a Duke grandpa, dude.’”

And proudly so. He and wife Kirsten S. Larvick, a filmmaker and audiovisual archivist, currently gush over three grandsons — with a fourth scheduled to arrive any day now.

He just completed a pair of films for the Inspiration Network, including a sequel to the movie “County Line” that he did four years ago.

“I was badass in that,” he said with a laugh of the character of former sheriff Alden Rockwell. “It was kind of like ‘Walking Tall.’”

The sequel is “County Line: All In.” And the next will be “County Line: No Fear” with Wopat reprising his role as the no-nonsense Marine vet.

Lee and his bandmates in the Night Owl Country Band will back Wopat during the concert, with the headliner bringing in only a guitarist friend from Nashville for the performance.

“He’s definitely still a major (audience) draw,” Lee said.

So, too, he mentioned, is Scott Haggard, the late Merle Haggard’s son who is also part of the triple bill.

This marks the fourth rescheduling of the concert-fundraiser because of the pandemic, but Wopat made a promise as firm as the brakes on General Lee.

“This time,” he said, “it’s going to happen.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”About the concert” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Who: Local group Night Owl Country Band, country artist Scott Haggard and Tom Wopat at KORN Country Presents Indiana Gives Back: A Benefit for the Wounded Warrior Project.

When: 5 p.m. meet and greet and 7 p.m. concert.

Where: Columbus Elks Lodge No. 521.

Tickets: $30 general admission and $75 for concert and meet-and-greet, available at nightowlcb.com