One of the great things about living in New England is the opportunity to finally see acts I followed for months or years, at a frustrating distance. This year’s Big E was awesome for that, to the point that I wish I could have gone to more than one day of the fair. I chose the day Grayson Ty was performing and lucked into discovering Kat Kennedy, along with copious llamas, so I’d call it a success.
This was my very first Big E — on a gray, rainy day, which is fine by me, since it meant the crowds weren’t body to body. Join me on the adventure, or if you’ve been there and done that, I’ll give you a little Kat Kennedy and Grayson Ty to tempt you into scrolling down for more. Let’s start with Kat Kennedy’s cover of Vance Joy’s “Rip Tide,” which is literally the first song I heard her sing, and it tempted me into sitting right down with my autumn ale to listen.
If you’re here for Grayson Ty, let’s start with his cover of Niall Horan’s “Slow Hands” because it sizzles.
If you’re here for llamas, you just have to be patient. I took the New Haven/Springfield Shuttle because I wanted to enjoy New England’s fine beers without worries other than which one to try next. I swear, this is the only train video, as I forgot to bring a USB/electric plug thingie, thus removing the temptation to take video of the passing landscape.
The mass transit thing works really well — at Union Station, you hustle around to find the bus bay for the Red-14, pay your $1.50, and 20 minutes later are dropped at the gate of the Big E. No traffic, no parking on strangers’ lawns, no wondering if you’ll remember where you left the car.
In the deathless words of David Letterman, the Big E is “just plain big.”
This photo is from the moment I realized that the layout was totally different from any state fair I’d ever attended regularly, and I had no idea where I was, where I wanted to be, or what I wanted to do. Fortunately, there was a nearby kiosk where a nice lady marked all sorts of things on a little map, none of which I understood once I was ten paces away, so I just walked until something happened. Want to find out what?
The Avenue of States happened. I expected it to be like the county displays at the California State Fair, where it’s all very earnest about how pumpkins come from here, and strawberries come from here, and over there, are a lot of sheep.
Oh no no. New England’s been settled so long it has nothing to prove. The six little faux-statehouses are the most divine huckster halls, hawking local foods, local tchotchkes, and local beer. I started with Rhode Island, which meant my trip was an exercise in swimming upstream to spawn, as you’re supposed to start at the other end — and I figured when I ordered my clam cakes (because I was starving), that my $8.50 would get me like six little clam puffs.
Oh no no. I ended up reheating a substantial quantity of clam puffs for breakfast the next day. (450 oven, about 10 minutes — almost as good as new.) For those who doubt that I know what fruits and vegetables are… the Massachusetts raspberries were glorious. I am almost tempted to go to Massachusetts to hunt down more, though there’s this little part of me that says to check around for Connecticut raspberries first. (Living in a state the size of a large placemat is oddly conducive to local pride.)
That chocolate-peanut-butter whoopie pie (Maine!) about broke me. It was much larger and richer than the mingy cakes sold as “genuine” Maine whoopie pies in the west. (Perhaps they shrunk in transit. Or, given the West’s perpetual drought, they lost too much water weight.) Since I was running out of appetite, I got a nice autumn ale at the Connecticut house, which is where I spotted Kat Kennedy entertaining the denizens of a rustic tent.
She’s a pop singer-songwriter (web site) with a new single, “Notice Me,” which you can hear here in an acoustic version. (Also check out the studio track, which has a more synthesized pop sound.) I was thrilled to discover her, as she has an engaging musical point of view, she’s a charming performer with a sweet voice, and she’s obviously from Connecticut.
She also got points with me by covering Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”
Her set ended about the time that I finished my beer, so I went in search of livestock, as well as to scope out the competition in handicrafts categories.
Handicrafts are apparently not a big deal at the Big E, other than quilts and jelly. I’m used to fairs with 870 baking categories, 235 random handicrafts, and (in Minnesota) a highly competitive seed art division. If there were wistful little plates of six cookies, carefully chosen for their uniformity, I managed to miss them completely. Or they were eaten by the Great Pumpkin.
Huckster halls and craft kiosks, there were in plenty, selling everything imaginable, up to and including pianos. Weirdly, I didn’t buy a thing — usually I at least end up bringing home yet another big-headed string doll, but I was so overwhelmed by the variety that my wallet hid at the bottom of my purse, whimpering, and refused to come out, So if you were hoping to hear that I took a piano home on Amtrak, I didn’t.
It turned out to be Llama Day at the Big E, complete with llama showing, where the llamas trotted around a ring on a lead. I was photographing llamas from a respectful distance when this llama decided it was time for a close-up.
I could show you goats or we could move along to Grayson Ty. A goat’s a goat — Grayson Ty is what I was at the fair for (well, other than beer, and I got a nice melon beer to go with his show).
My new hobby may be puzzling regional musicians as to why I seem to be a fan, but they’ve never seen me before. (He was very charming about everything, after the show, and I now own a stylish T-shirt as well as a CD of his debut album. Go thou and do likewise.) It was excessively cool to get to hear originals like “Side by Side” in person, right there, where you can feel the music and the reaction of the crowd (there was a nice little gathering of people who didn’t want to commit to sitting down but couldn’t tear themselves away).
Or you can groove to his steamy, wistful cover of Prince’s “When Doves Cry.”
To hear my favorite of his covers, Paolo Nutini’s “New Shoes” (which I consider so much superior to the original that on the second beer, I forget it isn’t the original), you have to check out this playlist of mostly covers from the show. Also be alert for a new single coming soon!
I’m so used to having “the show” be my last activity at a fair, where it ends as the fair is shutting down, that I realized I’d rushed to see everything beforehand. So I wandered back to the Avenue of States, checked out the Grange Hall and the craft village, and admired marching bands, up close and personal.
It was so relaxing to be whisked away on a bus and then a train, rather than slogging across parking lots in a state of beery exhaustion. Next year, I’ll be able to plan for dividing my time among different things and giving more love to the vendors — this year, all I was hoping for was to get an idea of the experience, and it was wonderful. I strongly recommend checking out the indie talent in the statehouses and on the E Stage, where I was entertained by terrific talent.