GOODLAND — Beauty, buzzards and beer were the bait that drew mega-crowds to the 25th annual Goodland Stan’s & Sons Mullet Festival this weekend in downtown Goodland. The fabulous, fun and fishy community event started with a Kick-off Party Friday night and began in earnest at noon Saturday and a Fish Cleaning Contest at 3 p.m., followed by the Princess Buzzard Lope Contest at 4 p.m. The Festival’s premier event — the Buzzard Lope Mullet Queen and Best Costume Contest — at 4 p.m. on the entertainment stage was the highlight of the three-day-weekend frenzy that concluded Sunday at Stan’s Idle Hour Seafood Restaurant.
That said, on to Sunday’s 2009 Buzzard Lope Mullet Queen Contest won by Goodland’s own Natalie Strom who edged out 11 other entries and captivated the crowd, receiving a deafening ovation to clinch her title as 2009 Mullet Queen. “This was my first time running — usually I’m working at the Little Bar — but this weekend I decided to compete for 2009 Mullet Queen,” Strom explained. “Well, to be honest I was going for both (Queen and Costume) but I’m much honored to be chosen queen by the really amazing number of people who came to the festival and watched the contest Sunday.
“The previous Queens, Jenni Peters who won in 1999, and Mary Miller the 1994 winner, both helped me put my costume together and I worked with them at the Bar. It was wonderful to receive the trophy and the $100 cash prize. I’m very proud to represent Goodland. There have been many (24 Mullet Queens) from the past and I’m very proud to be part of that tradition.”
In retrospect, Saturday seemed tame with less people attending and parking available as people came and went. Nevertheless, festival-goers found much to occupy their time and deplete their pocketbooks until the Fish Cleaning Contest commenced at 3 p.m. Several booths erected on surrounding streets offered fresh produce, face and body painting as well as souvenirs. Entertainment Saturday was provided the Hot Damn Duo (with drummer) and the Jeff Hilt Stampede played Sunday.
Saturday’s highlights included the Fish Cleaning Contest that began promptly at 3 p.m. with approximately a dozen contestants signed up in to vie for the trophy, a wood plaque shaped like a mullet proclaiming Fish Cleaning Contest Winner 2009, which was awarded to Capt. Dennis Robinson of Fish Monster fishing guide based in Islamorada.
“I’ve known Stan for 35 years and I try to come down every year” Robinson said. “ They said I couldn’t compete because I’ve already won it four times, but then I was told I could try one more time and this makes the fifth. I guess you could say I’ve been retired to the Fish Cleaning Hall of Fame!” Incidentally, Stan’s son, Russ Gober, can also lay claim to that honor having won five times also, which makes him ineligible to compete ever again. Ah, the price of fame and glory!
Speaking of fame, the Princess Buzzard Lope Contest was next in line for honors and prizes with three contestants signed up in advance and joined by three more youngsters just before the event emceed by King Buzzard himself and unadorned, wearing just a T-shirt emblazoned with his company logo. Then, one adorable contestant got cold feet and left the stage in tears, leaving a clear field for the Princess Buzzard Lope (dance) Contest won by seven-year-old Ferran Parker.
The agile contestants initially performed as a group then singly and then one young lady flapped and twirled to gain the loudest accolades from the crown to be awarded the Princess Buzzard Lope trophy. A similar, less energetic, routine determined the Costume Contest winner, Drew Dolwick, 11, who sported a colorful, tropical bird headdress to win the contest and a brand new shiny, purple and white bicycle donated by Marco’s Sunshine Ace Hardware.
That’s not all, public spirited Sysco customer rep Dan Keagan donated $20 cash prize to each contestant and well-known-locally benefactor Charley “Big Bear” Bennett from Canada, also gave $20 to each of the contestants, Stan Gober announced at the conclusion of the contest.
Festival grounds goodies both days featured the Marco Island Fire Department’s annual hot dog stand, serving brats and hot dogs cooked and served by friendly firemen. The guys also dispensed bottled water and various Coke beverages all for a good cause, benefitting local charities and assistance to families losing everything after a house fire, said Marco Island Fire Department Deputy Chief Chris Byrne, who was doing volunteer duty along with Marco Island Fire Department’s Capt. Jim Pope, driver Steve Fickling and firefighter Dan Stoller.
During the Festival King Buzzard Stan Gober (sans Buzzard regalia) held court at his usual table next to the southeast corner of the entertainment stage, greeting at least half of a sizeable crowd filling every table, corner, and barstool on the premises. Many festival goers were observed devouring the delicacy du jour — fried mullet dinners — served with traditional accompaniments of baked beans, cole slaw and hush puppies, all washed down with your choice of bottled water or soda and beer.
Actually, beer seemed to be the beverage of choice and on both days during the afternoon the “Don’t Drink and Drive” ditty was performed by the band and Gober announced that people were welcome to park in the lot across the street but “Don’t put the keys in the ignition,” Stan cautioned, “Because they can bust you for that!
“Sunday is usually our big day, and the great weather today certainly brought even more people to see and vote for the contestants in the two Queen Buzzard Lope contests. Incidentally, that’s the only time I wear my King Buzzard outfit during the festival,” said Gober, adding that Mullet Festival T-shirts, souvenirs, and Stan’s tapes and CD’s were still available for purchase at the Island Woman next door.