|By the News Staff|
Next year we're drinking beers on the company's time
WEST SPRINGFIELD Some people complain that the Big E doesn't change enough every year, but I view the re-occurring features of the fair as comfortable traditions that you look forward to year after year.
Just ask the people who line up for the baked potatoes in the Maine Building or the clam fritters from the Rhode Island Building.
The Reminder Publications staff once again took the better part of day to walk through the Big E as a research project for our readers. It's a difficult assignment fraught with decisions: corn dog or London broil grinder? A bag of mini-donuts or a Big E cream puff? A salsa maker or the grill you put on top of your stove?
As far as food goes, the news staff voted that the Vermont Building wins in the "Best Food of the Fair" category. I had to buy a chunk of the sharpest cheese available, while Paula Canning and Michelle Symington practically ran over to the American Flatbread Pizza booth. It was conveniently located next to the Otter Creek Brewery folks and Paula and Michelle resisted the temptation of washing down their slice with an outstanding microbrew.
Sarah Corigliano declared that the apple crisp being served made an excellent breakfast. She declared it, "the breakfast of champions." We all need a couple of justifications to make it through the day!
Speaking of Sarah, the Connecticut Building held a surprise for her. The folks who make Pez had a booth for the first time, and Sarah, a veteran collector of the candy dispenser, was impressed.
Shawn Peterson was behind the counter and he is the author of the definitive book on collecting Pez. He said that when he wrote the first edition of the book he thought there were just a few "hardcore" collectors out there, but it sold 12,000 copies and is in a second edition.
On sale at the booth are a variety of collectible Pez toys, including a group of Star Wars Pez and all of the company's new products.
Western Massachusetts was well represented in the Massachusetts building this year. Blue Seal kielbasa and hot dogs were being sold, as well apples from Atkins Farms in Amherst.
A new booth featured Rollie's Soft Drinks from Holyoke. Lisa Charette from the company, explained that the two-year-old soft drink firm is an off-shoot of Paper City Brewery and makes root beer, diet root beer, cream, honey lime and orange cream flavors.
Charette gave me a sample of root beer to try and it was magnificent. It had a smooth sweet taste, which she credited to the combination of sugar cane, honey and maple sugar as the sweetener.
A few feet down in the Massachusetts Building, a display form the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service was attracting much attention. Hope Douglas from the Connecticut-based sanctuary, Wind Over Wings, had a turkey vulture on display. One person thought it was an eagle and she was quickly and politely corrected.
Learning is also part of the Big E. In the New England Building dozens of organizations are represented from ham radio operators to the Civil Air Patrol. Among the local organizations was the Westover Job Corps. Two carpentry students, Michelle Vanesse and Nick Andrews, were demonstrating skills for the passersby.
Also in the same building are the winning items of the annual Craft Adventure competition. My wife is a cross-stitcher and we always admire the outstanding needlecraft that is on display.
Although it might be a sign of the end of the world, I managed to resist having a Big E cream puff, which are on sale in the New England Building. I am going back, though.
Amazingly enough, I only found one new gadget to buy at the Better Living Center and that's only because I've bought all of the other gadgets! I picked up a nifty cable organizer that should make the back of my entertainment center neat and tidy.
Here's my best tip for the fair: Every Monday through Thursday, admission to the Big E is just $5 after 5 p.m. The normal admission price for those days is $12 for adults and children (ages six through 12) are $8. My wife and I like going over in the cool of the evening, eating something we're not supposed to and walking around.
G. Michael Dobbs
I have to say that one of the best things about Western Massachusetts is the Big E, the nation's ninth largest fair.
Walking through the crowded fairgrounds on a cool night in New England, suited up in a sweatsuit and equipped with a cup of hot chocolate has been a great way to welcome fall for as long as I can remember.
Bursting with fare and entertainment, the young and mature can both appreciate the Big E, do to the large variety of options it offers.
Arts, crafts, animals, food, rides, live musical entertainment the list is endless.
While walking the midway at nighttime is my favorite way to spend time at the fair, the only thing that comes close are the talented guests the Big E manages to bring each year. Still to come are The 5 Browns, Sept. 30; Hip Hop's Frankie J & Baby Bash, Oct. 1; and Grammy winners, Los Lonely Boys, Oct. 2.
According to thebige.com, the stage where the entertainment takes place now provides "seating for 6,000 with additional standing room. Three video screens, two inside the arena and one at the entrance on West Road will broadcast each weekend concert."
Even The Food Network's Tyler Florence is scheduled to appear at the Big E on Sept. 30.
This year the Big E is also celebrating its 25th birthday. A special addition this year, for the little ones, is Breakfast with BiggiE, the fair's mascot. While the first character breakfast took place on Sept. 24, breakfast with BiggiE is available upon request.
So drop by the Big E before Oct. 2 to have some big fun.
The Big E, a limerick
Handy tools and tasty treats,
machines that massage your feet,
crafts to last for days,
in the fall, it's the place to be.
Sarah M. Corigliano