36th Annual Mullet Festival: Buzzard Lope contest is bigger than ever

Lance Shearer

The Mullet Festival is bigger than ever. For the first time in memory, the line of cars parked along Goodland Drive Sunday afternoon stretched all the way to State Road 92, with more piling in, and additional Marco Islanders arriving by boat.

A field of 18 contestants signed up to vie to become the next Buzzard Lope Queen in the one-of-a-kind danceathon that is the festival’s signature event, although three apparently dropped out before taking their turn gyrating on the stage.

More:Goodland’s BIG weekend: Mullet Fest, arts fair and more

Hundreds of fans crammed into the area in front of the stage at Stan’s Idle Hour and the second-floor balcony above, whooping it up for their preferred candidate, with the queen determined by the volume of audience acclaim. The weight of all the cars, people, and additional cases of beer was probably enough to sink the already low-lying Goodland area another inch or two.

It’s been eight years since the last Mullet Festival hosted by founder and namesake Stan Gober, who died at 86 in 2013, but clearly the event has become an iconic Southwest Florida celebration.

Sunday was a beautiful spring day, even if it arrived in the middle of winter, which may have helped boost turnout, compared to last year’s Mullet Festival that was held in the teeth of a winter storm.

 “Flap your wings up and down, take a few steps back, go ‘round and round. Looks like you’re on dope, you is doin’ the Buzzard Lope. She is doin’ the Buzzard Lope,” sang emcee Jeff Hilt over and over, as the contestants showed off their costumes and their steps.

More:Photos: Mullet Fest, 2019

The stage area became strewn with black feathers, and successive rounds of competition narrowed the field, until the title of Buzzard Lope Queen was awarded to Lisa Foster of Michigan, who in addition to a tiara and a “cheesy trophy,” in Hilt’s words, took home two “recently printed” hundred dollar bills. Foster had a raucous cheering section, and even signage as one approached the restaurant urging votes for her. The Best Costume award and $100 went to Sandy Eiden of Wisconsin.

Saturday, the Buzzard Lope Princess contest gave recognition to aspiring buzzard girls. The winner, 12-year-old Marco Island resident Rizzie Reed, donated back the bicycle she won to be auctioned.

The Ben Allen Band played all afternoon Sunday, and backed up the dance contestants. The Mullet Festival and the Spammy Jammy blowout held at the Little Bar in June provide bookends for the winter season, giving normally respectable Marco Islanders the chance to channel their inner rebel.