Every year on the second Friday after Labor Day the fair comes to town. More specifically, The Big E comes to town and stays for seventeen days. Seventeen days of greasy food, carnival rides and games, and an astounding array of items to buy from beautiful handcrafted clay and glass tiles to more mundane Made For TV items like the Sham-Wow.
Billed as “New England’s Great State Fair”, the Big E has been a cornerstone of the Western MA tourist industry for generations. And, as somebody who used to live right up the street from the fair grounds, I can attest to the fact that thousands of people pour into the area, clogging up the streets and making daily life quite difficult for nearby residents. And the worst part of the entire thing is that for the entire duration of the fair, the only place to get a White Hut burger is in the fair. Okay, that last part might be a bit of hyperbole, but it doesn’t feel like it when you’re craving one of their cheeseburgers with fried onions.
One of the more interesting aspects of the Big E is the Avenue of States where each individual New England state owns a small parcel of land upon which sit replicas of that particular state’s original Capitol Building. State police from their respective states stand as security in the buildings and lottery tickets from each state can be purchased from the state buildings.
The fair began as an agricultural exposition and those roots live on 95 years later in the many livestock competitions, the dog and pony shows, and each year’s unique sculpture made from 600 pounds of butter donated by a local creamery. The sculpture is a work in progress through-out the show and attendees can watch the sculptor at his work in a small, refrigerated Plexiglas booth.
The food is typical fair food – corn dogs, candy apples, deep-fried everything, fried dough, cotton candy, and a myriad of other specialty food stands ranging from Mexican to Greek to Chinese. The one must-eat item seems to be the cream puffs; they’ve been a Big E staple for decades. I’m going to admit something shameful – I’ve never had one. A few years ago, in order to try and jazz things up, the fair concocted a new “it” food they call the Cra-Z Burger. It’s a bacon cheeseburger between two halves of a glazed donut. I’m honestly not quite sure how anyone can bring themselves to eat such a monstrosity, but it seems to be getting rave reviews. I’ll just stick with the éclairs the size of my head, thanks.
The fair doesn’t change all that much from year to year except for the concert line-up. Years past have seen big name stars like Reba Macintyre, Blake Shelton, Cheap Trick, Darius Rucker, and Miranda Lambert. This year’s guests include Alan Jackson, Jeff Dunham, and Rodney Atkins. On quiet weekend nights when the wind was still I could sit out on my front porch and very faintly hear the music.
And oh the people! That just may be the best part of the whole fair. This year’s winner for the most interesting outfit was a gentleman dressed in a female naval uniform complete with heels. We have no idea whether he was there as an attendee or as a performer, but he was hands down the best part of our trip this year. There was also an older couple we saw on our way to the Avenue of States. He was dressed in a beautiful brown suit in an early 1900’s style with a top hat and beard. His lovely companion was dressed in a stunning brown and gold flapper-style dress with matching headpiece.
Okay, I think I’m done sounding like an advertisement for the fair…
If you’re ever in the area around this time of year, I highly recommend spending a day at the Big E even if it’s only to go watch the baby chicks hatch from their shells.