This weekend brings the 29th Annual Mullet Festival in Goodland, but in a way, it will also, in a way, be the first – the first without Stan.
Stan Gober, the namesake of the waterfront joint he built into a local institution, died in June at age 86, but he will be present in spirit and in song at the signature blowout held each January at Stan's Idle Hour Restaurant. Along with "The Buzzard Lope," the dance number played as contestants vie to win the coveted title of Buzzard Lope Queen, musical entertainment will include more of Stan's original compositions, including "Yankee Dollar," "How Did that Crab Get Stoned?" and the classic "What Kind of Fish is That?"
Music for the three-day event will be provided by a succession of bands, many well-known to regulars at Stan's popular Sunday afternoon parties, but with just enough variation to keep it interesting, said Steve Gober, Stan's youngest son, now in the position of owner and manager.
"We're doing a full moon party Saturday night – that's new this year," said Steve. "For that evening, we're having reggae music, Pappa Rasta and Rasta Roni, instead of the same old stuff."
There will be plenty of the same old stuff, the audience favorites, though, all weekend, from the kickoff party Friday evening, with the Hot Damn Duo, through Saturday afternoon, with the Princess Buzzard Lope contest for the younger generation, and a return appearance, plus the traditional mullet cleaning contest.
Sunday, the festival culminates with the big girls competing, beginning with the Queen Buzzard Lope contest at 4 p.m., followed by the best costume competition and crowning of the 2013 Buzzard Lope Queen. Her Majesty will join a long line of queens stretching back to 1985, and have her name emblazoned on the signboard on the balcony at Stan's.
Steve Gober will emcee, but for the vocals on his dad's iconic songs, he has enlisted professional assistance, he said.
"No, I won't be singing – I've got Jeff Hilt doing that," he said, making it sound as though that is a good thing for all concerned. But the spirit of Stan, and the atmosphere he created, will continue to guide his family business, said Steve Gober.
"We're not going to replace him – we can't. But we are not changing this place. That would be the biggest mistake I ever made," he said. All four of Steve's sons work helping out at Stan's, and Steve's significant other, Trish Oehler, serves as assistant manager.
Stan's own Buzzard Lope outfit, a feather-bedecked getup with a Carnaval mask that would look right at home in a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade, will be displayed onstage during the festival, and afterward given a pemanent home inside the restaurant, said Steve Gober.
Mullet, the namesake fish of the Mullet Festival, a bottom-feeding whitefish netted in the millions by local fishermen, will be on the menu all three days, both smoked and fried, and smoked mullet will be available to take home. "Queen Mary" Martin, a fixture at Stan's for many years, will be there, although as a permanent "Queen of the Decade" she is no longer eligible to compete in the Buzzard Lope contest, she said. Saturday and Sunday, the Marco Island Fire-Rescue Dept. will be on hand selling hotdogs, for another culinary option.
Thousands of visitors are expected, said Steve Gober, and they've been placing orders with vendors, booking bands, and getting everything ready. People will show up by boat, by Harley-Davidson, and by a fleet of expensive cars with Midwest license plates and MICA stickers, and if past performance is any guarantee of future results, a good time will be had by all.
IF YOU GO
When: 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25; 1 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26 and 1 to 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27
Where: Stan’s Idle Hour Restaurant, 221 W. Goodland Drive, Goodland
Cost: Free admission