West Springfield -- When the calendar says it’s September, it means it’s time for the annual Eastern States Exposition, better known as The Big E. 2006 was no different, as the New England states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut celebrated the 90th edition of this storied event from September 15th to October 1st. Started in 1916 as an alternate location for the annual Chicago-based National Dairy Show, the Exposition has continued to grow and expand on its original site to a 17 day celebration of agriculture and life in New England. Operated independent of subsidies from the member state governments, the Exposition is headed by President and CEO Wayne McCary, who reports to a 165 member Board of Directors representing the member states. 2006 brought several changes to the Exposition, including the first ticketed concert in almost 40 years featuring Brad Paisley, a new Big E Chocolate Chip Cookie, the Big E MartinE Bar, and playing host to the Miss Latina US National Pageant. The Brad Paisley concert on September 17th offered 7000 seats in the Comcast Arena at $42.50 and $34.50, which included admission to the Big E. Other free musical entertainment included Foreigner, Lee Ann Womack, Lonestar, Carrie Underwood, Dierks Bentley, and Miranda Lambert. Along with the Big E Super Circus and numerous other acts, over $1.7 million in free entertainment was offered this year. Visitors arriving by tour bus were greeted by a new Visitors Center featuring restroom facilities and a large waiting area. Returning from 2005 was North American Midway’s “Marriage on the Midway”, a promotion whereby a couple chosen through voting on the internet get the opportunity to exchange vows on the midway, followed by a reception with rides and wedding cake. Also returning were the Giant Slide, Commerford’s Petting Zoo, a Character Breakfast with the Big E’s mascot, BiggiE, and the Big E Daily Parade, which included the Mardi Gras Parade on weekends. On the midway, North American Midway Entertainment provided several new thrills this year, adding the Crazy Mouse coaster, Scorpion, Twister, Rainbow, Pharaoh’s Fury, Video Fun House, Toon Town, and Monster House funhouse to a number of returning favorites. Other rides included the Giant Wheel, Tilt A Whirl, Orbiter, Wave Swinger, 2 Scooters, KMG Fireball, Alpine Bobs, Larson Fireball, Cliffhanger, Wacky Worm, Polar Express, Starship 4000, Niagara Falls, Haunted Mansion dark ride, Mardi Gras funhouse, Cuckoo Haus funhouse, Rainbow Rock, Century Wheel, Speedway, Rockin Tug, Crazy Sub, Dizzy Dragons, Super Slide, Bumble Bees, Merry Go Round with Band Organ, Kite Flyer, Hillbilly Village funhouse, Hampton Cars, Hampton Motorcycles, Lolli Swings, and Helicopters. Equipment booked in from Doolan Amusements were the Surf City funhouse, Raiders of the Lost Mine dark ride, Safari Jeeps, Rio Grande Train, Kiddie Swings, and Football inflatable. Games of every variety lined the midway, many under colorful canvas. Returning for 2006 was the Magic Midway Pass, where riders purchase a bar-coded card that is loaded with credits to use on the rides, completely eliminating all paper ride tickets. Ride operators scan the card, and the appropriate number of credits are deducted from the card. North American Midway has held the midway contract since 1979 when their predecessor company, Conklin Shows, was awarded the contract for the midway. On the independent concession side, 141 vendors selling all varieties of food were on hand, including Netterfield’s, F&W Concessions (Butcher Boys), J&R Concessions, JAAM Concessions, and Poppie’s Concessions. Over 250 exhibitors offered their products, ranging from spas, to plows, to cookware, and over 90 crafters were represented in the Craft Common area of the Exposition. Historical Storrowtown Village provided a glimpse into the way things used to be, with interpretive demonstrations in its collection of 8 historical buildings that were relocated to the grounds in 1930. Additionally, each New England state was represented on the Avenue of the States in replicas of their original capitol buildings, offering government displays, food vendors, craft vendors, and other exhibitions reflecting their unique offerings. In the Mallary Complex, animals of all varieties competed for blue ribbons over the duration of the fair. Cows, sheep, goats, pigs, llamas, and even dogs were featured at various times. In the Coliseum, the Eastern States Exposition Horse Show held competitions for hunters, jumpers, saddlebreds, hackneys, morgans, fresians, and even draft horses, with the top six horse hitches competing for $10,000 in cash prizes. An agricultural highlight was the giant pumpkin display, with the largest weighing 1,001 pounds. Ticket prices for adults sold for $15 on weekends and $12 on weekdays; children ages 6-12 were admitted for $10 on weekends and $8 on weekdays, with reduced price advance sale tickets available prior to the start of the event. A 17 day pass was also available for $34.95 for adults and $22.95 for children. When the gates closed on the evening of October 1st, the final attendance totaled 1,116,353, up from 2005's total of 1,053,238, but falling short of 1998's record 1,254,423 attendees. A new single day attendance record of 157,841 was set on the final Saturday of the Exposition, as well as a record Monday and Tuesday on September 25th & 26th. Exposition President Wayne McCary credited the increased attendance to several factors, including great weather, falling fuel prices, a new $5 after 5 PM admission special on weekdays, and the star studded entertainment lineup. The 2007 edition of the Big E Eastern States Exposition is set for September 14th to 30th, 2007.