The Big E, New England’s communal state fair, begins its two-week run featuring food, entertainment, music, crafts, curiosities, rides, slides and more in West Springfield Friday.
The many parking lots at the Big E host cars with marker plates from as far away as Maine, New Hampshire and even Quebec, so northern Connecticut residents have only a short trip up I-91 (or other routes that can save travel time on busy fair days – for more on those shortcuts, see the end of this story) into the Bay State for a day of fun on the Eastern States Exposition’s 175 acres.
A major attraction each year at the Big E is the wide variety of food, from extremely indulgent items like deep-fried candy bars and pot roast sundaes to more sensible sandwiches — the Big E features 250 different sandwiches this year — and salads.
Granby resident Oliver Davis, a frequent attendee of the Big E, agreed that edibles are what draw him to West Springfield each fall.
“My favorite part of the Big E is the food, by far,” Davis said. “The more unhealthy, the better.”
Fair officials have focused on the event’s food tradition in recent years with the introduction of signature foods like the Big E cream puff, the Craz-E Burger (a bacon cheeseburger served on a grilled, glazed doughnut) and deep-fried butter, which resembles a fresh dinner roll.
A new offering this year that has acquired a lot of buzz, according to Big E communications manager Catharine Pappas, is the deep-fried lasagna.
“It’s really good,” Pappas said, noting that Big E staffers participating in preview taste tests raved about the new item.
Other foods making their first appearances this year include chocolate-dipped bacon, deep-fried Samoas (a variation on the classic Girl Scout cookie), corn sausage, deep-fried bratwurst and the very cherry chocolate apple.
Deep-fried versions of the following foods, among many others, are available: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cookie dough, jellybeans and Kool-Aid.
Also make sure to keep an eye out for J. Foster’s Ice Cream, which is expanding its operations in Avon and Simsbury by also serving its high-quality frozen treats at the Big E for the next two weeks.
If the food isn’t enough to draw you in or your diet doesn’t allow deep-fried brownie bits, the entertainment will. The Comcast arena stage, the main event area for Big E performers, will host acts including country musicians Alan Jackson, Billy Currington and Rodney Atkins as well as comedian Jeff Dunham. A doo-wop series, the U.S. Freestyle Motocross National Championship Series (which takes place this Friday, Saturday and Sunday) and Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers will also appear.
The midway, packed full of games and rides for all ages, will be in full force this year, and Pappas said the circus acts, which perform three times a day, are brand new. Also be on the lookout for the Mardi Gras parades on Mondays, Fridays and weekends, as well as the daily parade at 5 p.m.
Pappas said one of the Big E’s iconic rides, the giant slide, is being sponsored by McDonalds this year. Attendees can visit their local McDonalds to get a 2-for-1 giant slide ride coupon with their order.
Look for a wide variety of animals and petting zoos, along with the dressage competitions and horse and livestock shows.
Simsbury resident Megan Ryan said she hasn’t been to the Big E since her parents took her as a child, but she’s looking forward to attending this year, making the trip from UConn where she is a student. Ryan is especially enthused for the chance to visit with the animals at the fair.
“I would be most excited to see the animals,” Ryan said, while also noting that the fried food is big draw for her as well.
The six state houses on the Avenue of States, which are replicas of New England’s original state houses, sit on land belonging to the respective states. They feature food, crafts, information and more specific to each state.
Because each is technically controlled by the respective state they represent, both lottery tickets and state police presence from each of New England’s six members are present.
This year, Connecticut’s state house features the Noah Webster House and West Hartford Historical Society on Sept. 28.
“We’ll be promoting the museum, selling items from our shop, sharing colonial games, and making a fun ball and cup toy with kids,” said Sarah M. St. Germain, coordinator of public programs for the organization. “I think this is the seventh year that we’ve gone, and we always have a great time!”
There’s even more to the Big E, from butter sculptures to the Budweiser Clydesdales, from ox pulling to the 19th-century replica (complete with period actors) Storrowtown Village, from shopping to the sea lion splash.
“Everything is big at the Big E,” Pappas said.
The best way to experience the Big E is to take the trip to West Springfield yourself, or better yet, with friends and family. And, in case you’re wondering, Sept. 19 is Connecticut day.
There are plenty of ways to get to the Big E from the Farmington Valley, with the most direct but busiest being I-91 north. If you want to dodge the serious traffic jams that occasionally occur, especially on weekends, use the Big E’s helpful secondary directions, listed under the “Alternate Routes from Connecticut and Points South” heading, on this page.
The Big E runs from Friday, Sept. 14, through Monday, Sept. 30. It operates from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., with some areas opening on slightly different schedules.
Admission usually costs $15, with food, rides and some other attractions having separate fees. Admission on opening day costs $10 and military personnel, their dependants and veterans get in free with valid ID on Friday as well. Seniors pay $12 to get in Monday through Thursday. Nighttime visitors can pay just $6 for admittance Monday through Thursday if they arrive at or after 5 p.m.