The Brotherhood of the Mullet

FAIRHOPE—This upstairs sewing room belongs to John’s wife, Celia. There are ironing boards, quilting looms, sewing machines, and a five-piece bluegrass band crammed into a tight space.

We are recording music tonight. The band, Blue Mullet, is making the music, and I’m singing along like a tone-deaf bloodhound.

The recording equipment is set up on an ironing board. All the musicians gather around an old-fashioned microphone that looks like something from the stage of the “Louisiana Hayride” radio show.

The band warms up and I’m listening through headphones while the “levels” get adjusted.

Levels. That’s a professional recording term. Pros are always talking about levels. When you record, your levels are always getting adjusted, checked, prodded, operated on, stabbed, massacred, resuscitated, and in some cases eulogized.

The fiddle player takes a solo. He plays so beautifully that makes you tear up and completely overlook the Saint Louis Cardinals cap he’s wearing.

My old man always said there were two kinds of people in this world: Those who love the Cardinals, and those who go to Heaven.

That’s just a joke of course. I don’t know what happens to Cardinals fans after they get released from Purgatory.

Anyway, what I’m getting at is: Blue Mullet is a dang good band, Cardinals hats notwithstanding, and they have a great band name.

I’ve visited states where people don’t even know what a mullet is. A lot of people think it’s a style of haircut (shaved on the sides and long in back). But anyone who has ever fished the brackish bay water knows what a true mullet is.

My youth was spent on such a bay. On the shores of the Choctawhatchee, I tried to teach myself to throw a mullet castnet, but I never got the hang of it. I am a simple rod-and-reel man.

Many of my friends were mullet fishermen, though. They could hurl ten-foot nets that unfurled over the water like parachutes. Between casts, they’d reach into coolers and grab cans of Natural Light beer.

Mullet fishermen always drink Natural Light. It’s in the rule book. Whereas big-game fishermen drink fancy wine or Wild Turkey, the humble mullet hunter drinks “Natty” in the can, or whatever he finds on clearance at Al’s Liquor Mart.

Where I live mullet fishing is a big deal. We even have a huge festival called the Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival. Out-of-towners get a kick out of the name because when they hear “mullet” they immediately think of the hairstyle.

Thus, a lot of people assume the festival is filled with millions of men wearing half-shirts and mullet cuts. But the Mullet Festival is so much more than that. There are also millions of women wearing half-shirts and mullet cuts.

We used to go to the festival every year. Mainly because in Okaloosa and Walton County there was never anything to do in October but sit on your thumbs and complain about the weather. Or the Cardinals.

One year, my cousin, Ed Lee, and I went to the Mullet Festival to see Kenny Rogers perform. My cousin was a huge Kenny fan.

No sooner had we gotten inside the park than my cousin and I got separated amidst a sea of dated hairstyles and NASCAR hats. I couldn’t find him anywhere. I screamed his name, but it was too loud to hear.

The opening band was playing. There was hollering, dancing, and children running around shirtless. Many women in the audience were not wearing enough to floss their teeth with.

I decided I should move near the stage so I could get a better view. So I elbowed my way through the dense fog of body odor, barely making it past the security guards who were bigger than GE refrigeration appliances.

I stood on the stage steps overlooking an army of Billy Ray Cyrus hairdos and microscopically small cutoff jean shorts. I saw my cousin on the periphery of the crowd.

I waved my arms. I hollered.

And it was at this exact moment that I was asked to step aside by a man with a white beard. It was Kenny himself. I was so nervous that I uttered words which I will never forget:

“Hi ya, Ken.”

Before he could answer, three security guys became extremely aware of my presence and I ran like hailfire.

When I finally reached my cousin he asked, “What were you doing onstage?”

I played it cool. “Oh, I was hanging out with Ken.”

“With who?”

“Ken, that’s what his friends call him.”

Ed Lee was green with jealousy because he actually believed I’d been with Kenny himself. In fact, for many years he not only believed me, but held it against me. I know this because on the night of his wedding reception he tried to drown me in an outdoor fountain while screaming the lyrics to “The Gambler.”

Blue Mullet plays their last song, and it’s perfect. We finish recording and everyone is out of breath.

John opens a bottle of wine to celebrate our perfect levels. He pairs this fancy wine with Keebler E.L. Fudgewitch Double Stuffed Cookies. The guys in the band are all toasting.

I take a sip. I wince. I’m not a big wine guy, I can’t get past the bitter flavor because no matter how you fight it, in this life, you are who you are.

“What’s the matter?” says John. “Don’t like wine?”

“Not really.”

“Well, what would you like?”

What I’d like is to set fire to that Cardinals hat.

23 comments

  1. Sandi. - February 6, 2020 7:13 am

    Hi Sean, don’t be too tough on the St. Louis Cardinals. I have two good friends from Missouri who spend some time here in south Florida each winter, and they’re dedicated Cardinals’ fans. Plus, they are honest, tax-paying, law-abiding, church going, respectable people. I started to foward this post their way, but then decided against it!

    Reply
  2. Leslie in NC - February 6, 2020 10:03 am

    I too, spent time on the Choctawatchee Bay as a youngster growing up in Okaloosa County/Fort Walton, way before the high rise condos, fast food joints and traffic on the beaches. Fried mullet and cheese grits, oh yes!

    Reply
  3. Elizabeth - February 6, 2020 11:08 am

    Made me smile!

    Reply
  4. Susan Miller - February 6, 2020 12:43 pm

    You haven’t lived until you’ve tried smoked mullet. I used to drive to Cedar Key to buy it from a little old blue-haired lady who was always smiling, and who could barely see through her thick, mullet-stained glasses. When we were living in VA while my husband was assigned to the Pentagon in DC , I visited family in FL and brought smoked mullet back with me. I took it to a party on Capital Hill, full of Washingtonians.I thought the smoked mullet would be a red neck conversation piece, but that no one would touch it, and there would be plenty left over for my husband and me to devour afterwards. No way–they ate every morsel before I knew what happened. They were practically sucking the bones.

    Reply
  5. Patricia A Schmaltz - February 6, 2020 1:02 pm

    Hi Sean. I saw a sign that this year they are trying to name it the ‘Boggy Bayou Festival’…. you are right; too much confusion with the hairstyle!

    Reply
  6. GaryD - February 6, 2020 1:21 pm

    Being from Mobile I know exactly what a mullet is. It’s a fish that people who can’t catch fish buy at the fish market.

    Reply
  7. Shelton A. - February 6, 2020 1:51 pm

    Blue Mullet forever! Great band name and mullet are fine eatin’.

    Reply
  8. Harriet White - Atlanta - February 6, 2020 3:10 pm

    Ok. That was AWESOME. And. HILARIOUS.

    Reply
  9. Sharon Brock - February 6, 2020 3:22 pm

    I haven’t willingly watched an entire baseball game since the strike but I grew up a Cincinnati Reds fan (as I lived in Kentucky). Johnny Bench and the Big Red Machine broke up and like the Braves they haven’t been relative since.

    I served in the USAF and spent two years living on Choctawhatchee Bay in a little place called Cinco Bayou. Hurricane Eloise came roaring up the bay in 1975 and I took my two month old son back to Kentucky.

    Reply
  10. Jo Holker - February 6, 2020 3:42 pm

    Though I’m not from the south (sorry, but my parents lived in Ohio and I wanted to be near them) I really appreciate you low key take on life. I really look forward to your post, it gives me a reason to get out of bed every morning. I’m not sick or anything, just lazy, and I’d stay in my nice comfy bed until 10. But I have to get my newspaper off the driveway by 10 or the neighbors will check to see if I’m dead. Anyway, the first thing I do after fetching the paper is to read your post. What a great way to start the day. Thank you.

    Reply
  11. Linda Enfinger Massengill - February 6, 2020 4:00 pm

    Having grown up in the Panhandle of Florida, I’ve eaten mullet my whole. Imagine my surprise when visiting the Old City of Jerusalem this past fall I spotted a restaurant sign advertising that they had “mullet fish.” Holy Mullets!

    Reply
  12. Jess - February 6, 2020 4:24 pm

    Sean, at first I thought you were maybe writing about that silver-colored fish that I love to eat, but the word “Brotherhood” let me know differently. Oh, well, can’t win them all. Write about the fish sometime, okay? Thanks, you’re a true friend.

    Reply
  13. Steve Scott - February 6, 2020 5:23 pm

    Casting for mullet off the big pier (it was rickety and wooden then). Fairhope is my hometown. Fairhope High School Class of 1961. We are now dropping like flies.

    Reply
  14. Paula - February 6, 2020 5:27 pm

    Awesome article. One point of clarification, since you are an amazing writer and musician, but obviously not a quilter. Those were quilting frames you saw. They hold the layers of fabric tight while they are stitched together, also known as quilted. Lions hold individual threads while they are woven into cloth. Blessing over, feel free to go start a bonfire with a Cardinals cap.

    Reply
  15. J Nall - February 6, 2020 5:42 pm

    Don’t be too hard on the fiddler player’s hat. Growing up in rural Tennessee in the 60’s/70’s, the only radio station where he could listen to his beloved baseball at night was a station carrying the Cardinals. He grew to love them. He was raised by(his dad) a very solid Braves/Reds fan. I should know….I’m his sister. Thanks for the great insight into life and the simple pleasures.

    Reply
  16. Linda Moon - February 6, 2020 5:44 pm

    I think I’ve heard Blue Mullet on one of your previous podcasts. “Louisiana Hayride” – what a great old radio show! I’ve heard “The Punch Brothers” – all five of ’em – sing around one old-time mic at the Ryman Auditorium. What music! And I also reminisced just now while reading about Mullet haircuts – picturing my son’s Mullet he sported for a very BRIEF time, thank goodness. If you ever see someone you know and love who might still be sporting a mullet, do them a favor– cut off a lock or two then set them on fire with that Cardinal hat!!

    Reply
  17. Joe Patterson - February 6, 2020 10:44 pm

    Love it I am a Braves fan been mad as hell ever since we gave them Wainwright for one year of Drew almost as bad as us stealing Smoltz for Doyle Alexander

    Reply
  18. Dan - February 6, 2020 11:30 pm

    Over here in the Mississippi sound, mullet is still often referred to as Biloxi Bacon!

    Reply
  19. Dan Wise - February 6, 2020 11:36 pm

    Just over in the Mississippi Sound, Mullet is still known as ‘Biloxi Bacon’!

    Reply
  20. Nancy M - February 7, 2020 5:18 am

    You ever hear of the Flora-Bama Mullet Toss?
    http://www.florabama.com/mullet-toss

    Reply
  21. Estelle - February 7, 2020 5:58 am

    I like most any seafood but I can’t do mullet. My daughter-in-law loves mullet fingers. To each their own. I’ll take bass,crappie and catfish. I’m not to fond of trout either. My arthritis is bothering me so it makes me feel better if I complain a little. 😒
    I don’t want to complain to my friends as they don’t want to hear it cause we being 78-84 years old we all have just about the same aches and pains. LOL🤣

    Reply
  22. Barbara Dove - February 7, 2020 12:43 pm

    Now, Sean, on behalf of the Cardinal Nation, BLESS YOUR HEART!

    Reply
  23. Scott McCown - February 11, 2020 5:15 pm

    Lived for 10 years in the hometown of the Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival – still have family there. I recall with Billy Ray Cyrus himself played the festival – just as Achy Breaky Heart hit the charts. As for the fish – Growing up in P-cola and living my early married years in Niceville – yes a real town (A Nice Town, with Nice folk, have a Nice day) – I am now craving some fired mullet, cheese grits, and fries from Joe Patties’.

    Reply

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