Thousands crowd tiny Goodland for the annual Mullet Festival — Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster WaltonSome 30 years ago, the late Stan Gober, at a friend’s suggestion, decided to throw a benefit for the town’s mullet fishermen at the end of the mullet season in January.
The plan: Organize a mullet-fishing competition and a good-time party to go with it. Gober, you see, was proprietor of the popular, waterfront Stan’s Idle Hour in the quirky, one-of-a-kind village of Goodland on Marco Island near Naples.
“I was thinking, ‘There’s not too much to do while these guys would fish four hours,’” Stan once said in a TV interview. “And I kept thinking about it, and all of a sudden I saw a bunch of buzzards circling around in the sky.
“And I started singing this song about the buzzards and the good Lord sent it to me, and I sang it all right there pretty much. We would get us a Buzzard Queen while they were out fishing – by the one that could do this buzzard dance with the best approval from the audience.”
In case you want to practice – Goodlanders not only dance the Buzzard Lope at the Mullet Festival annually, but also weekly at Stan’s Sunday Bash – here are the steps to Goodland’s answer to the Chicken Dance:
Flap your wings up and down
Take a few steps back
Go ‘round and ‘round
Looks like you’re on dope
You is doing the Buzzard Lope.
Doin' the Buzzard Lope — Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton
Okay, now you're ready to join the thousands from around the country who attend the waterfront festivities the weekend before Super Bowl, January 29-31 in 2016.
Stan, the quintessential entertainer who once sang and told jokes at every festival and Sunday Bash, passed away in June 2012 to the woe of the entire small community. His son, Steve, carries on the tradition that still culminates in the crowning of the Buzzard Queen.
Candidates, and many of the nearly 5,000 festival goers, dress in feathers and outrageous headgear. The dancing kicks off on Friday evening. A costume and fish-cleaning competition are Saturday highlights. At 4 pm on Sunday, after several hours into drinking beer and Buzzard punch and eating smoked mullet and grilled burgers, competition becomes serious for the dubious honor of Buzzard Queen.
Goodland has willfully lagged behind the modern and upscale character of the rest of Marco Island, where fine beach and spa resorts like the Marriott and Hilton set the bar. It has resisted gentrification and takes pride in its old funky Florida temperament.
Yet it has succeeded in becoming an offbeat tourist attraction by virtue of that very authenticity. Folks come by car and boat to dine at its ramshackle waterfront restaurants. Stan’s Sunday Bash presents a mini-version of the Mullet Festival, but everyday (usually closed in September) brings hungry locals and visitors looking for fresh seafood, burgers, and live entertainment.