GOODLAND — Long before arriving at Stan's on Sunday for the 29th Annual Mullet Festival, you could tell the place was packed. The line of cars parked along the road separating Goodland from the real world extended .75 of a mile, and once in Goodland, every available square foot of space had been converted into $10 parking lots.
As the nine hopefuls for the title of 2013 Buzzard Lope Queen launched into their dances, the crowd was packed around the stage like the mosh pit at a Phish concert. Emcees "Billy O" Oliver and Jeff Hilt led the contestants through multiple choruses of "The Buzzard Lope," Stan Gober's original composition that is the theme song for the event.
"Looks like she's on dope – she is doin' the Buzzard Lope," repeated over and over, as the would-be queens gyrated and flapped their wings. As the contest built to its climax, the crowd, which packed the outside bar, the balcony where the names of former queens are painted, and out into the parking lot, cheered louder and louder. An early surge of support for "Jane Doe," aka Rebekah Riggs of Naples, faded at the end, and Jingles Gronotte, from northern Kentucky, was crowned queen.
The costumes were all about flash and trash, heavy on feather boas, sequins and Carnaval masks – you can see why a society lady might have entered under a pseudonym. The Buzzard Lope Queen contest, and the entire Mullet Festival, is not about decorum and decency, rather a little escape from it for a little while.
But the crowd loved the show, and the lucky winner received $100, a trophy, and, said Hilt, "the chance to spend a year touring all around…Goodland." "Jane Doe" took second place, and won first prize for costume, netting her $150 in winnings.
The announcers also mentioned that on Saturday during the Buzzard Princess contest for the younger generation, scores of buzzards had been soaring overhead, and, they figured, one of them must have been Stan Gober, the legendary founder of Stan's and originator of the Mullet Festival.
If he was still there Sunday, he would have liked what he saw, a full-throated festival with all the traditions upheld, and a capacity crowd there to enjoy it. After the contests, the dance floor filled again, with dancers this time, as the band Stampede laid down the country and rock favorites, including "Pink Cadillac," "Gimme Some Loving," "Roadhouse Blues" and "Dixie Chicken." A lot of Dixie chickens were giving it their best shot, leaving it all on the dance floor.
In addition to the regular menu, plus plenty of smoked and fried mullet, the Marco Fire-Rescue Dept. sold hotdogs and bratwurst as a benefit, making enough smoke to get their on-duty brethren called out. The Island Woman sold beach attire, and there was even a produce stand operating.
If you went with the firefighters' brats, or one of the other menu items, you could still get the namesake fish of the Mullet Festival right across the street from Stan's, where young Bradley Wilkins and his crew sold smoked mullet, creamy with a spicy tang, for $3 a filet, along with a steaming cauldron of fresh-cooked blue crabs.
Judging from the dozens of bikes parked out front, there is a local ordinance banning any motorcycle other than a Harley-Davidson from Stan's. One bicyclist provided an illustration of a deathwish afterward, riding the skinny ribbon of shoulder north along CR 92 as all the customers headed home from Stan's.
The staff was kept hopping, busy but happy, and yet, they will probably be relieved when, next weekend, it's back to just the normal weekend craziness at Stan's.
"This was a great turnout – one of the best, "said Jay Gober, Stan's son, who works at the restaurant. "We're still rockin.'"