The Eastern States Exposition or “The Big E, kicks off its 95th year this weekend in West Springfield, Massachusetts. This year’s fair also marks the start of a new era with a native ‘West-Sider’ at the helm of New England’s largest fair and the eighth largest nationwide.
For Gene Cassidy, the connection to the Big E could not get any more personal. He was born and raised less than 2 1/2 miles from the fairground, and like many from the town, considered it part of his backyard. Cassidy became President and C-E-O of the Eastern States Exposition this past June, succeeding Wayne McCary, who retired after 36 years with the Big E, including 21 as its top executive. Cassidy, who’s been with the fair since 1993, says under his predecessors, the Big E has grown into a major economic driver in Hampden County, generating a quarter of a billion dollars a year. He says his top priority will be to continue and strengthen what he calls the roots of the event, agriculture, especially now with the family farm in decline.
“It’s a classic bait and switch. People come to the fair for the glitz, the highlights, the excitement and the bright lights, the sounds. They come to be entertained by world class entertainers like Alan Jackson and Billy Currington and Jeff Dunham this year, or Hot Chelle Rae for the younger crowd. They come to eat the food, they come to ride the rides. But really what they’re doing is they’re supporting agriculture.”
Over 1, 200,000 people attended the Big E last year. Cassidy says he hopes to top that number this year, with cooperation from the weather. The fair, which begins Friday, runs through the end of this month.