Ken Maiuri’s Clubland: What’s happening at The Big E

  • Above, Ambrosia; at top left, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr.; above right, Brynn Cartelli. Holger Max HoetzelH3 Photography

  • Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. Submitted photo

  • Brynn Cartelli

Published: 9/11/2019 4:00:49 PM

Whatever my age, whenever I think of September, I’m a kid again, feeling existentially sad — bye bye summer, hello school year and inevitable oncoming winter.

For me, the very last zap of joy before breaking out the sweaters and coats was always The Big E — The Eastern States Exposition. French fries, the Giant Slide, midway rides, the Avenue of States and fun live music performances around the grounds.

You can still enjoy all of the above at The Big E in West Springfield, and the popular New England fair — which stretches from September 13 to 29 — is again doing its best to cover all the musical bases, with artists old and new in rock, pop, soul, country, hip hop, reggae and more.

There are three main areas for live performances — The E Stage, showcasing more than 50 local and emerging acts; the Big E Arena, with 6300 seats and big national artists; and the Court of Honor Stage, my personal favorite, the can’t-miss first thing you see and hear when you walk through the main gates. The performers there usually have a happy-go-lucky vibe, seemingly at ease while working hard to please an often random crowd that might include polite seated seniors, boisterous kids running up and down the aisles, families chowing down on a big bag of kettle corn, superfans singing along with every word (and eagerly lining up after the show for a signed photo), and folks stopping for a few seconds before disinterestedly moving on.

I’ve been a Big E regular since 1976 and have seen countless highlights on that front and center stage where the shows are free (with fair admission), from The Jack D’Johns to Destiny’s Child (plus “Weird Al” Yankovic, Sheila E, Charo, Yvonne Elliman, Anita Ward and others).

This year, the Court of Honor Stage welcomes more than 20 acts, some playing just once, some doing multiple sets on multiple days. The Big E’s website has all the specifics, but here’s a sampling of who’ll be entertaining the crowds over the next two weeks.

Hometown hero Brynn Cartelli (September 13 - 15, 3 p.m.) is the Longmeadow singer who was triumphant at the end of season 14 of The Voice; she was the youngest winner in the show’s history (age 15 at the time).

Blue Oyster Cult (September 15, 8 p.m.) are the enigmatic rockers who ruled ‘70s and early-‘80s radio (“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” “Godzilla,” “Burnin’ for You”) before getting a second blast of fame thanks to the legendary Saturday Night Live “cowbell” skit in 2000. Longtime members Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom still lead the group.

Yacht rock, soft rock, lite FM, AOR, whatever you want to call it, the smooth sound of Ambrosia (September 18 and 19, 3 p.m.) was everywhere in the late-‘70s/early-‘80s, with hits like “You’re the Only Woman (You and I),” “Biggest Part of Me,” and “How Much I Feel.” They’ll surely play them all, and possibly throw in some other choice ‘70s tunes, too.

“Up, Up and Away” Starring Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. (September 20 - 22, 3 p.m.) is, as advertised, two of the original members of The 5th Dimension (they’ve been married since 1969) singing some of their old group’s greatest songs (and hopefully they’ll also perform that effervescent chart hit of their solo years, 1976’s “You Don’t Have to Be a Star”).

New Jersey hip hop trio Naughty By Nature (September 21, 8 p.m.) were ’90s hip hop stars with MTV smashes “O.P.P.,” “Hip Hop Hooray,” “Feel Me Flow” and others, and their live sets include their own hits and sometimes some old-school rap classics just for fun.

John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band (September 23 - 25, 8 p.m.) started in Rhode Island and went from New England beach town success to the silver screen when their music was used in the 1983 film Eddie and the Cruisers — most memorably the epic “On the Dark Side.” They’ll dig deep in their catalog (and maybe do a soul cover or two).

Also performing on the Court of Honor Stage are Mariachi Mexico Antiguo, Bowling for Soup, Rave On (a tribute to ‘50s rock-and-roll legends Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Richie Valens), Georgia Satellites, Lettuce, local legends FAT, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Saraphina Violin, The Original Wailers, Los Lonely Boys, The Artimus Pyle Band, young country sensation Mason Ramsey and more.

At the Big E Arena, this season’s lineup includes Loverboy (September 14, 7:30 p.m., free with fair admission), Sugar Ray (September 21, 7:30 p.m.), Carly Rae Jepsen (September 28, 7:30 p.m.) and others.

Ken Maiuri can be reached at clublandcolumn@gazettenet.com.




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