Saturday, September 3, 2016

A Preview of Springfield's The Big E - Celebrating 100 Years of New England Farming, Food, And Fun!

In advance of The Big E's Centennial Season, New England Fall Events treats you to a taste of what this classic New England festival has in store for you and your family. Each of our posts leading up to their 100th year will feature a different section of the The Big E experience but if you want the whole enchilada at once, click to read our article "New England Fall Events' Complete Guide to The Big E."

An Overview of Springfield's The Big E
There’s a familiar response when you tell people you are headed to “The Big E”: a wave of nostalgia and bemusement washes over their face as they invariably reply “wow, it’s just impossible to see it all in a single day.”

New England Fall Events is always up for a challenge so last year we ventured to Springfield, MA with the ambition to see as much as we possibly could. Our aim was to offer our dear readers our take on how you can get the most from attending this jumbo-sized fall destination. 
Confession: we didn’t see it “all” but we managed to fit in a whole heck of a lot in a single day and we’re here to tell you it’s possible! 

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Storrowton Village
A leisurely stroll along the Avenue
of the States and Storrowton Village.
The Eastern States Exposition, commonly referred to as “The Big E”, has history on its side. With 100 years under their belt, their Centennial season is slated for Sept 16th – Oct 2nd, 2016 and their particular formula of agriculture, entertainment, food, amusement rides, education, history, and endless vendors, has huge appeal to folks of all stripes and varied interests. Though most US states put on their own State Fair, The Big E is the only regional fair in the country—essentially representing the six New England states in a single, wicked big expo.

People are liable to describe The Big E as “huge” and make no mistake, it absolutely is. The fairgrounds and entertainment options do seem to go on and on and, as many also would agree, it can be a little overwhelming. In addition to the free entertainment and activities included in fair admission, there are endless ways to expand your experience with midway games, amusement rides, rock concerts, country music shows—for an extra fee. This is an annual fall festival on steroids plus a whole lot more.

Planning Ahead
New England Fall Events_The Big E_Clydesdales on Parade
Clydesdales at the afternoon parade.
We can’t stress enough that attending this event with some preparation and eyes wide open can go a long way towards making the most from the time you have there. In short, come with a strategy. Thankfully, The Big E’s free app for your phone will make it infinitely easier to both plan ahead and to draw up an agenda for how you’d like to spend a day or weekend. The app is invaluable—download it from iTunes or GooglePlay, familiarize yourself with it in advance, select your events you’d like to see from their daily schedule, and let the app work its magic. The notifications will keep you on track and the maps will help you find your way. We used the app ourselves by adding multiple events to our to-do list (often adding repeats of events as a back-up plan) and it was handy to know that if we missed the 11:00am sheep shearing demo because we were on the other side of the fairgrounds buried in a food vendor line, we would still have an option to catch the 3:00pm demo later.

Entertainment planning is one thing. Planning your movement is an entirely different story. Because the fairgrounds are, indeed, super-sized, you’ll need to give yourself more time than you ever imagined to navigate both the crowds of fair-goers and to physically trek across to the building where your event/activity is to be held. To top it off, you’ll probably want to arrive early to get a seat to the event before it fills up.

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Food Midway
The start of the day at The Big E.
Even with advance research and the trusty app, it is a plain fact that The Big E must be experienced to be understood. We were prepared for the crowds and for a full day of walking but it still took a bit of time for us to get our bearings. The gates open at 8:00am but the majority of the buildings and exhibits open at 10:00am so we started our day right at 9:30 to give us a chance to park and get inside. We planned to attend The Big E on a Friday figuring the crowds might be lighter on a weekday during school hours and they were. Even with school in session, there were still thousands of people on the grounds by the times the gates opened that morning.

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Agriculture_Sheep and Goats
Happy sheep waiting for their showing.
As we often do, we engaged festival attendees to get a feel for who seeks out events like The Big E and to learn what kinds of things they love. We knew many people who had previously attended The Big E and we took note of their “must-sees”. While at The Big E, we spoke with dozens of people of every age and, to a person, everyone we met had been coming to The Big E since they were kids.  We chatted up folks from every corner of New England and a significant number from New York and Pennsylvania. Some had been coming to The Big E for forty or fifty years and it was a fall tradition for their family. Each person had their own beloved exhibits, demos, or foods they looked forward to and all were wise enough to come to The Big E prepared.

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Midway
Giant rides and thrills at Midway.
For starters, you wouldn’t dare attend The Big E without your comfiest walking shoes. If you have little ones, you’ll be grateful to have your stroller in tow because little legs simply can’t endure all the walking. Those who may find walking long distances a challenge (or need frequent rest breaks) would be wise rent a wheelchair or a scooter to make their fair experience more manageable.

The Big E even offers strollers ($10), wagons ($15), double strollers ($15), wheelchairs ($15), and motorized scooters ($50) to rent for the day on a first come-first served availability; no reservations accepted.

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Avenue of the States_Maple Cream Cone
Just a taste of the maple cream cone.
Admission to The Big E is quite affordable, particularly if you are making a full day (and night) of your time. The standard adult price is $12 in advance and $15 at the gate for adults but you’ll also want to factor in the car parking ($10, cash only). 

There are plentiful free activities to discover but there also is the constant magnetic pull of vendors, amusement rides, and food stalls which will have you tapping back into your wallet again and again. Most vendors accept plastic for payment but you’ll need cash on hand for the unexpected cash-only situations like parking your car in the adjacent lot which seems ripe for catching people unprepared.

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Big Yellow Slide
The Big Yellow Slide accommodated
a wedding ceremony that afternoon.
Everyone’s advice for seeing a show or demo is to “get there early” but as rookies to The Big E, we found it nearly impossible to get anywhere early enough. Fifteen minutes early just won’t guarantee that you’ll snag a seat (sheep shearing), a view (racing pigs) or in some cases, admission (Circus Spectacular). 
Occasionally, there may be a special circumstance which closes your favorite ride temporarily (a wedding ceremony halted public admission to the very popular Big Yellow Slide for a good while) which all goes to say, “get there really early” and “just roll with it” are two helpful mantras to have. We were there on a Friday from morning through evening and we can only imagine that everything we experienced crowd-wise and line-wise must increase exponentially on a Saturday or Sunday. Even with the very helpful Big E app to keep us on track with our wish-list of events, we still hadn’t mastered how long it would take to walk from one end of the fairground to the opposite end (maybe 15 minutes) and to get there early enough to secure a spot for the popular entertainment, most of which is included in the fair admission.
Ready for more? Read our Complete Guide to New England's The Big E!

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