Fest Stops: Cheeseburger in Caseville

While You're There

The Garfield Inn, a National Historic Site named for, and a favorite of, the 20th U.S. president, is a casually elegant French Second Empire bed and breakfast and restaurant in Port Austin, 19 miles northeast of Caseville.

The Pointe aux Barques Lighthouse and Keeper’s Museum, situated 30 miles from Caseville on Lake Huron, is a Michigan Historic Site and a must-see for Upper Thumb visitors.

Sleeper State Park (5 miles northeast) and Port Crescent State Park (14 miles northeast) are two of the best places to enjoy the outdoors. Both offer sandy beaches and dunes, sunsets over Saginaw Bay, hiking trails, rental cabins and modern campgrounds with sites that will be festively decorated and fill up fast for Cheeseburger. Reservations strongly advised.
michigan.gov/sleeper, michigan.gov/portcrescent

Unless you are trying to amend your carnivorous habits, have an allergy to plush pink flamingos or happen to be a cow, there’s a lot to like about Cheeseburger in Caseville. Especially if, like me, you don’t mind making a fool of yourself.

When I stuffed my Rubenesque figure into a grass skirt and ill-fitting coconut bra last summer and rode in Cheeseburger’s marquee event, the Parade of Tropical Fools, I learned what it’s like to be whistled at, ogled and objectified.

I have to admit I rather enjoyed it.

How could I not? Breezy Jimmy Buffett tunes and the enticing aroma of the festival’s signature treat wafted over an estimated 60,000 cheering, cheeseburger-capped Parrotheads as my trailer and more than 100 outrageous, wildly-colored floats eased down sun-kissed Main Street.

The 10-day festival transforms the spirited little Lake Huron town (year-round population: 888) into a delightfully twisted Key North with more than 100 events, such as the Caribbean Street Dance and the Row Row Row Your Cardboard Boat Race.

Cheeseburger was conceived in 1998 by summer resident Lyn Bezemek, who was inspired by her affinity for gooey beef patties, the laid-back appeal of her seaside town and the fact that Buffett combined those elements in his song, “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”

Wacky, tacky Cheeseburger opens on a reverential note with a tribute to the U.S. Armed Forces at the County Park Amphitheater, where revelers can purchase the best vacation value I’ve seen in the three decades I’ve been traveling Michigan: $7 buttons good for 10 days worth of music, including Buffett tribute bands like fest fave Air Margaritaville and Dayton-based Parrots of the Caribbean.

The six major evening concerts turn into rare parties where children aren’t embarrassed to be seen with their parents and are so moved by the vibe that they actually dance with them in front of the stage. Of course, it’s hard to be embarrassed when you’re surrounded by people with pink flamingos in their hair and giant cheeseburgers around their waists.

You can’t throw a bottle of Heinz 57 downtown without hitting a streetside grill master or restaurant serving those tempting artery-cloggers.

Key North Surf Shop owner Rob Pillsworth told me that more than 250,000 cheeseburgers were sold last year and that he went through “two tons of cow” himself. I initially didn’t take the last statement seriously because my journalistic training makes me skeptical of grand statements made by a 61-year-old man in a Rasta man cap, glittery palm tree shades and a Hawaiian shirt louder than the trop rock he blasts for customers.

I consider Key North’s Sizzling Burgers the best bargain in this cheeseburger-mad resort and consumed a significant chunk of that tonnage myself, so I should warn of the potential for overindulgence.

But by all means, prepare to put your diets on hold, freeze your watches at 5 o’clock and hang on to your silly hats. Because if you miss this wild ride in this particular harbor, you won’t be able to claim there’s a mythological Margaritaville woman — and certainly not a peculiar-looking guy in tropical lingerie — to blame.

It’ll be your own damn fault.

For more information, call 800-606-1347 or visit casevillechamber.com. Buttons are available at the Chamber of Commerce office (6632 Main St.) and many other businesses and venues in town.

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