In Western Massachusetts, no autumn fair dominates the region quite like the Big E, and for good reason. The Big E is essentially the New England State Fair. Tens of thousands of people pass through the gates every day of its seventeen day run. Even rainy days are busy. There’s something for everyone; the carnival midway, amusements, free concerts, livestock exhibitions, hundreds of vendors selling nearly anything you can think of, and some of the best food in all of New England.
But if you are looking for something smaller, or just a change of pace, where can you go? These five fairs are a fraction of the size of the Big E, but they are well worth your time and money. For a glimpse of old time New England with a modern touch, all of these fairs fit the bill. Best of all, each one is on its own weekend, so you don’t have to pick one over another.
Cummington Fair, August 25-28, 2011.
The 143rd Cummington Fair features a demolition derby on Saturday night, and an antique car parade Sunday. The festivities kick off Thursday night with the Giant Pumpkin contest. But the highlight of the fair is the Western Massachusetts Lumberjack Championship, which begins Sunday at 10am.
The fair opens at 4pm on Thursday and Friday, and 7am Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $8 for adults, $4 for kids up to 16, and 10 and under are free. Three and four day passes, for $20 and $25 respectively, are also available. Parking is $3.
3 County Fair: September 2-5, 2011.
The 3 County Fair, in Northampton, is an unofficial warm-up for the Big E. Many of the same farmers and livestock exhibitors go to both. In years past, this fair featured live horse racing, a tradition that has sadly passed into history. The 194th edition features two nights of demolition derby in the former infield of the race track, on Friday and Sunday night. It also features the New England Championship Horse Pull, which culminates Friday night at 7:30 with the Open Division.
The gates open each day at 11am. Tickets are $10, seniors and veterans $8, and kids under 11 are free. Tickets for the demolition derby are $5, or $10 for preferred seating. All day amusement ride bracelets are also available for $20.
Franklin County Fair: September 8-11, 2011.
The 33rd Franklin County Fair will be held in Greenfield at the Franklin County Fairgrounds. The highlight every year is the demolition derby, which takes place on the final night. This year, that falls on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. A special parade and memorial ceremony are planned, beginning in downtown Greenfield and ending at the fairgrounds.
The fair opens at 3pm on Thursday, September 8 at 3pm. It reopens Friday at noon, and at 8am both weekend days. Admission is $9, kids $7, seniors $6 and children under 8 are free. Parking is $3 or $4, depending on how close to the gate you want to be. A free shuttle is available from downtown, where parking is also free. Seniors park free on Fridays. Pre-fair tickets are available for $6 at select locations in Franklin County, for more information, see their website.
Belchertown Fair: September 22-25, 2011.
This year is the 153rd edition of the fair, but more importantly, the town of Belchertown is celebrating its 250th birthday. This fair is one of the larger “small town” fairs you’ll see, and this year should see record crowds. It features a good mix of local craftspeople and typical fair entertainment, including a midway and amusements. The opening night of the fair always has fireworks, this year starting at 7:30pm. The fair also features a parade, beginning at 10am on Saturday.
The fair is held right in the center of town, on the green. There is no admission fee. Parking is always at a premium, so get there early if you want a good spot. The fair opens Friday night at 7pm, and at noon Saturday and Sunday.
Ashfield Fall Festival: October 8-9, 2011.
This festival, held on Columbus Day weekend, takes over Ashfield’s Main Street for two days of autumn fun. The Ashfield Agricultural Commission gives out two awards during the weekend, for largest pumpkin and tallest sunflower. This festival features a larger number of local vendors and craftsmen than the others presented here, so if you’re looking for a more personal fair, this is the one for you.
Admission is free, and free parking is available not far from the festival grounds. Hours are 10am to 5pm, rain or shine.