Tag Archives: Indiana

5 reasons to watch ‘Stranger Things’

5) The boys. Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky and Mike … er, sorry, that’s Mike, Dustin, Lucas and Will take us 80s children back to Goonies or Stand By Me, in that they have the dumb, goofy kid way of relating to each other. It doesn’t seem scripted or forced, just your average four junior high kids who don’t quite get girls yet and are far more interested in the next weekend’s D&D campaign than the school dance. The teen boys and twin love interests of Mike’s sister Nancy – played by Charlie Heeton and Joe Keery – also each bring something interesting to the proceedings after coming off as the stereotypical outsider and jealous boyfriend in the early going. Terrific casting.

4) The girls. Millie Bobby Brown plays a weird, creepy girl who is more than she appears. She’s had practice: She was also a weird, creepy girl who was more than she appeared in the BBC science fiction drama Intruders from 2014. However, this is a different kind of creepy. Her Stranger Things character, Eleven or “Elle” as the boys take to calling her, is a lost puppy with great powers who doesn’t quite understand how she fits into the world, whereas her Intruders character, Madison, was far more menacing and violent. Either way, Brown kicks ass. Natalia Dyer brings some depth to Mike’s teen sister Nancy, and really brings it when the shit hits the fan. And I’m tossing Winona Ryder in here, too, although calling her a “girl” might seem a little demeaning for someone who is a year older than I am. I don’t think I’d seen Ryder in anything since Black Swan, and she still has an amazing screen presence. Her role as the mom of a lost child could have easily succumbed to silly melodrama in some over-the-top manner by a lesser actress, but Ryder keeps it grounded in a situation where that’s not as easy as it sounds. Hope to see her hauling in a best supporting actress Emmy next year.

3) The music. The soundtrack is great, full of 1980s hits and re-workings – such as a Peter Gabriel’s cover of David Bowie’s Heroes – that really help set the scene. You’ll never listen to The Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go? the same way again. The score by Survive is another thing entirely, frequently reminding me of classic horror of the era, particularly – but not limited to – Halloween. The story and the acting are both great, but the music is like sweet, creamy icing on top of the best cake you’ve ever eaten.

2) The 1980s. No cell phones, no Twitter, no Facebook, no online gaming. It helps build the tension when you can’t reach out to everyone all at once. The over-sized walkie talkies were a great choice, both for believability and the visual, showing just how far tech has come in 30 or so years. The hair and the fashion, as well as the design of the automobiles … it’s like watching news footage from some suburban documentary in 1983 or something. It’s akin to what’s done on FX’s The Americans, the level of detail used to properly set the scene.

1) The end. As we were watching the show come to a close, my daughter asked, “Is this going to be the only season?” I mused that maybe it was going to be more of a single-season anthology show, like American Horror Story. But then two things happen, and suddenly there’s potential for so much more ahead with the same gang from Hawkins, Indiana, that we’re now so invested in. Well played.

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7/22/16: Savages in Indianapolis

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Jehnny Beth, lead singer of Savages, takes a stroll across the Indianapolis crowd

MY SAVAGES CONCERT EXPERIENCE actually started in May, when I wore my Adore Life t-shirt to the RiverRoots music festival in Madison, IN. I was questioned by more than one person about who/what Savages were. Then a few days ago, at the last day of the Forecastle music festival in Louisville, it happened again when I sported my Savages shirt. Not only did I get questions, I was also stopped by one couple who had seen the quartet in Chicago and were raving about the experience.

And I, lover of all things Savages, have done my part to spread the word. I’ve rattled on about my fondness for them here and here, so I won’t say much beyond this: I just keep listening to this album, over and over and over again. It’s like when I was in high school and could barely wait for Side 1 of a cassette to end so I could flip it over and listen to Side 2 … as quickly as possible, of course, because I wanted to hear Side 1 again. It’s probably been more than a decade since I’ve been as into any album as I am Adore Life.

BUT HOW WAS THE SHOW, you ask? Dearest reader, would I have gone on and on about it if it were anything but awesome? It took a few songs for the crowd to get warmed up, but as you can see from my photo above, singer Jehnny Beth, guitarist Gemma Thompson, bassist Ayse Hassan and drummer Fay Milton soon owned the room, roaring and raging, crooning and crashing, taking everyone prisoner. Savages rocked it like they were playing in front of thousands in a festival crowd, not like they were performing for a few hundred in the smallest room in the house. From T.I.W.Y.G. and Adore off of the new album to the more obscure Fuckers, Savages played every song like it was their last.

I already can’t wait to see them again.

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RiverRoots 2016 lineup delivers

RiverRoots 2016 is the fourth straight year I’ve attended the festival, and I expect to be back next year. The music lineup is always solid, and there’s nothing like listening to bluegrass, country, soul, folk and more while drinking Indiana craft beer on the beautiful banks of the Ohio River.

Saturday’s lineup was solid. Asleep at the Wheel and Donna the Buffalo rocked like the vets that they are, and acts such as Parker Millsap, Jake Book, Blair Crimmins and the Hookers and Bridge 19 all put on good shows. Billy Strings stole the show, bringing heavy metal-like intensity and speed to their rootsy set.

But for me, it was a quartet of acts on Friday that brought down the house. Battling wet weather and playing to smaller crowds, these four elevated their games and made a fan out of me.

Darlingside – This quartet out of Boston was moved from the main stage to the second stage because of the rain. It turned out fortune was smiling upon them, because the River Stage gave the set an intimacy that wouldn’t have happened on the main stage. The above performance doesn’t quite do them justice, but it’s a pretty good example of what they have to offer. Think if Simon and Garfunkel fronted the Punch Brothers covering Avett Brothers songs.

Sarah Jarosz – In four years, I’ve never seen the River Stage so crowded. It wasn’t just standing room only; there really wasn’t even room left to stand. Her voice is as amazing live as it is on wax.

Lindi Ortega – Ortega’s old-school country sound, her band’s tight groove and her effortless stage presence are a unique combination. I’d like to see her at a smaller, indoor venue, because I think a crowded room might provide more energy for the band to feed off of, elevating the intensity a bit.

Brothers Comatose – I didn’t know they made bluegrass music in San Francisco, at least not after Jerry Garcia died. These fellas blazed out of the gate and never looked back, effortlessly mixing traditional music with moments like their Cake cover. I will see these West Coasters again, hopefully soon.

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Let Lucy Dacus light up your life

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Lucy Dacus (in hat) and her band at The Brass Rail in Fort Wayne, IN, on March 28, 2016.

As a member of Generation X, I remember all of the bullshit my fellow Gen Xer’s and I put up with, largely from asshole Boomers, about how we were a bunch of slackers, apathetic, etc. I see this same thing happening with Millenials, and I’m not inclined to believe it much this time around, either.

Particularly when I see a 20-year-old like Lucy Dacus, as well as her young band, put on a helluva show after a rough day. I saw Dacus on March 28 at The Brass Rail in Fort Wayne. They showed up late, and the crowd was wondering what was up. Turns out, Dacus & Co spent the night before in Chicago, where their van had been broken into. Fortunately, no band equipment was stolen. However, plenty was taken, from the very personal (all of Dacus’s hand-written journals) to the vitally important (their Canadian videographer’s passport).

After Dacus told the story, the band proceeded to crank out more than an hour of solid, engaging indie rock. No excuses, no soundcheck, no tuning up. They got down to business and didn’t let it affect them, coolly burning through a flawless set that lasted for more than an hour. Totally professional. And more than enough to impress a cynical Gen Xer like me.

Dacus’ first album, No Burden, is out now.

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“The Nice Guy”

“Can you help me with my bike?”

He was white, balding underneath his Cincinnati Reds cap. Tall, taller than me, and pretty big. Doughy, but under that muscular, strong, the build and mannerisms of someone who worked for a living. His smile, glasses, the bib overalls, his easy manner all made me think I could be shaking hands with someone who was asked to play Santa every year at a church party or the local volunteer fire department Christmas celebration.

“Sure. Give me a minute.”

“No rush.”

After finishing the post-breakfast, camping rituals, I ambled over to his site. He was alone, sleeping in small, white-sided camper pulled by a half-ton, red Chevy truck. The Kawasaki was strapped down in the bed of the pickup. Everything was immaculate, no stains, no grease, no accumulated dust. With little trouble, we unloaded the cycle. He smiled again.

The smile doesn’t reach his eyes.

“Thanks.”

It’s like when you’re talking to someone, and there’s a … tic, a tell, something that exposes him as a liar. He’s not right.

“No problem.”

Or not. Whatever.

Later in the day, I saw our neighbor leaving. I was digging through the car for a towel when he rode off on his motorcycle. The bib overalls had been replaced with a deep blue jumpsuit, like you might see on an industrial worker or the pest control guy. He also wore his helmet, big brown boots, a backpack and black motorcycle gloves.

He looks like a serial killer.

I laughed to myself and returned to the search. I didn’t think again about my little joke until evening when our neighbor returned, looking just as spotless as when he left. As he cut the engine and parked, he gave me a wave. I waved back.

Maybe he really is a serial killer.

I waited, knowing sanity would soon overtake me. Yet …

He’s got a trusting face. Not that all serial killers have that. I mean, Gacey, Bundy, they had personality, that trustworthy vibe.

He took off his helmet, hanging it from one of the grips. Then he disappeared into the camper.

Everything’s so clean. Too clean. It’s weird. It’s a dirtbike with no dirt on it. A camper that doesn’t look like it’s been camping. A truck that’s six, seven years old, and it looks like it’s showroom quality. No dirt, no tar, no grass stains … no DNA, no fingerprints, no evidence.

A light flashes on in the camper.

The jumpsuit pretty much covers him head to toe. I wonder what was in the backpack? Lunch? First aid kit? Ropes and duct tape? I guess it’s not unusual to wear gloves to drive, especially on a cycle. But he had them on when we unloaded …

A campground light glints off one of the Kawasaki’s mirrors.

My prints are the only ones on the bike! Oh my God! I’ll be the suspect once the police find the body …

Crickets. The campfire pops and crackles a few feet away.

Ridiculous. It’s just a dude camping. You’re drunk. Go to bed.

In the morning, he approached me again, asking for help to get the bike into the truck. I agreed, and walked together to the pickup.

He’s wearing gloves. Going to accuse him of being Ed Gein?

We pushed the bike quietly and gently up the homemade ramp into the bed of the truck. I held it still as he strapped it down. He carefully stepped off the bed on to the blacktop of the short driveway, and reached out a hand, smiling.

“Thanks.”

Really? This is the guy you’re obsessing over.

“Yeah. You’re welcome.”

I reached out and shook his hand. He gripped it firmly, matching my gaze. I saw something, something that really did scare me. The look of the triumphant predator, a deep, burning hunger sated, a clean getaway.

My next visit was to the bathroom, to wash my hands.

Because only because you can’t really scrub your soul.

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Indianapolis, 12/04/15: Sleater-Kinney and Waxahatchee

Five things about Sleater-Kinney’s first appearance in Indianapolis:

  1. While I’ve enjoyed Waxahatchee’s albums – Ivy Tripp and Cerulean Salt – they’ve never really blown me away in recordings. Live, there’s an energy and centeredness to what they do that adds some real depth. You never really know a band until you see them live.
  2. This was my first time seeing Sleater-Kinney live, as well. The thing that really struck me about them live was how incredibly powerful the vocals of Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein sound live. Vocals, like any other sound, can be manipulated in the studio to be made to sound stronger, more on-key – hello, Britney Spears – and more. But live, pretenders tend to be exposed. Tucker’s one-of-a-kind, staccato high-end and Brownstein’s more grounded low end make for a unique combination on all of Sleater-Kinney’s albums, and live it gives them a power that few other bands have.
  3. Carrie Brownstein is a guitar fucking god(dess). I cannot overstate this. I’ve seen guitarists like Josh Homme, Buddy Guy, Jack White, Dave Navarro, Tom Morello, etc., perform live, and Brownstein lives in that rarefied air. What really came off as odd during the show was that Brownstein was wearing a dark, short dress, and there were times she looked like Angus Young up there, between the licks and the rock star moves.
  4. A little less riot in these grrrls? Back in the day, I saw bands like Seven Year Bitch and L7 live, and I’ve been to my share of shows that involve unknown punk rockers playing in places like basements and veterans halls. In other words, punk rock is not a scene I’m unfamiliar with. But this show … I’m assuming the pre-concert, get-fired-up speech for Sleater-Kinney went something like, “Let’s do our hair and makeup, put on our pretty dresses and then go rock the fuck out of this place!” It was both unexpected and pretty frigging awesome.
  5. One of my top ten shows. And if I sat down and sorted it out, which I will eventually do for this blog, it might be top five. Sleater-Kinney was tight, pulsing with energy and loud enough to shake the building. I can’t wait to see them again.
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RiverRoots 2015 festival delivers, again

The Gibson harp guitar. I had the privilige of seeing someone play one of these bad boys at River Roots.

The Gibson harp guitar. I had the privilege of seeing someone play one of these bad boys at River Roots.

* This is my third RiverRoots Festival. Despite the near constant rain Saturday through the early evening hours, me and mine enjoyed the experience again. Saw a lot of good performances from the likes of The Wood Brothers, The Duhks, Haunted Wind Chimes, The Tillers, SHEL, Scythian, Michael Kelsey and Michael Cleveland and the Flamekeeper (more on those last two in a second). And, of course, I enjoyed more than my fair share of Indiana craft beer.

* Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper could have played another set as far as I’m concerned. Seamless, tight bluegrass is going to draw me in every time. Cleveland closed the show by himself, playing a quick fiddle solo. His bow work was flawless, and the song sounded pristine. I’ll be looking to see them again. And since they’re Hoosiers, I’m hoping they’ll be easy to find.

* Imagine Pink Floyd fronted by Ben Folds covering Prince. Kind of sounds like a disaster, right? But when it’s Michael Kelsey on vocals and guitar and his cellist, Tom (never caught the last name; he also played one of the harp guitars shown above), it’s freakin’ magic. Kelsey did all kinds of tricks and nimble fretwork, putting on a guitar clinic, but never got lost in the showiness, making it enjoyable for the audience while integrating his manic skills fully with whatever song he was playing. His cover of When the Doves Cry was both surprising – in that it was really damn good – and bold – that’s not a song you want to do poorly or assholes like me will call you on it. Like I said, this is my third visit to RiverRoots. This is the first time I’ve seen A) a crowd that big both in and around the smaller River Stage tent, and B) actually watched people leave to go grab their friends and drag them back to the tent to bear witness to an electrifying performance. Next time around, we need to see Mr. Kelsey on the big stage, please.

* My lone criticism … the RiverRoots website takes a humorous tone about the weather, noting that it’s always sunny and dry but it never hurts to be prepared for rain. And yet festival organizers somehow doesn’t think this preparation applies to the main stage. This is the second time in three years the main stage has had to stop because there’s nothing covering the performers in case of rain. This year, I was looking forward most to seeing folk singer Willie Watson, who was supposed to play on the main stage. When the rain came, the main stage was shut down, and Watson was moved to the second stage … which I found out about an hour after he finished. I never heard any announcement from the RiverRoots organizers – whether over the PA or via Twitter, which I monitored – instead being informed second-hand from someone else who had also missed Watson. However, if you just put up an awning or something, this interruption and confusion doesn’t have to happen. As my friend John noted, there’s probably 50 good old boys in the crowd who had the equipment with them to rig something up in half an hour and keep the show going. Hell, I’m not a good old boy or very handy, but I had a green plastic tarp with me that we could have added to the front of the stage to keep the music flowing. Time to take your own advice, RiverRoots: Hope for sun, and be ready for the rain.

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The Avett Brothers: 04/17/15 at Elliott Music Hall

Thou shalt not doubt the Avett Brothers. And yet I did.

This was the fifth time my wife and I had seen the Avetts live. Last time we saw them, summer of 2014 at the Lawn at White River State Park in Indianapolis, was the first time I wasn’t absolutely blown away by them. It was the first time we’d seen them with a full band, and it didn’t seem as if they were as tight as usual. Plus, one of my favorite things about these guys is when it’s just Seth, Scott and “the third Avett brother,” bassist Bob Crawford. The trio did some stuff by itself, but the new, full band was clearly the focus of the performance. Also, the crowd was easily 500 people or more larger than the previous two times we’d seen them at the same venue. The place was elbow-to-elbow, and, in an odd turn, a lot of people were there with very young children. The energy we were accustomed to was sucked out of the venue, added to that an element of claustrophobia. It wasn’t as much fun as out previous Avett experiences, and I was left with doubts.

Doubts effectively shattered and discarded. The Avetts I saw at Purdue University were tight, having fun, belting it out for the cheap seats. The new band members are now much more effectively part of the show. When Scott, Bob and cellist Joe Kwon jammed, it was more classical trio than bluegrass stomp. Violinist Tania Elizabeth soloed and sang, a standout performance on the night. The full band allowed the Avetts to take on some blues and more straight-ahead rock, something absent from previous outings. And the original three spent more time alone on stage, including a soul-stirring rendition of one of my favorite hymns, Alone in the Garden. Had they ended the show with their cover of the Grateful Dead’s The Race Is On, it would have been the perfect Avett performance.

But if I can’t have it all, that was more than good enough. Can’t wait to see the Avetts again, where ever my wife and I may find them.

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03/25/14: Delta Spirit at The Vogue

I’ve been attending concerts since I was old enough to drive a car, and something happened at the Delta Spirit’s show at The Vogue in Indianapolis that I’d never seen before.

The final song involved crowd participation, clapping on the beat and singing “woo hoo” or some sort of simple call-response. The Delta Spirit ended the song and walked off, but the “whoo hoos” kept going, and the hand-clapping evolved into foot stomping, a thundering sound that filled the room. And it just kept going. The Delta Spirit crew, revved up by the crowd and on only the second date of their tour, returned in under two minutes and – rather than launch into the first song of their encore – went straight into a reprise of the song the crowd just wouldn’t let go of.

It was a terrific moment that capped one helluva rock show. Throughout the set, the Delta Spirit’s energy ruled all, and the crowd responded. I kept thinking of other great rock shows I’d seen, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers kept coming to mind, both because the Delta Spirit play straight forward rock and roll and the way lead singer Matthew Vasquez played to those in attendance. The friend I attended with kept mentioning Kings of Leon, and I could see that, too. Delta Spirit may not have been playing to the kind of crowds those bands routinely perform before, but DS played like there were thousands watching.

I went in only knowing a little bit about the band. At the end, there was one thing I knew about the Delta Spirit for certain: I will be seeing them again live.

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“The End and The Beginning”

Writer’s note: My parents brought this to me a few weeks ago, a story I wrote as a 17-year-old high school senior that earned me an “Excellent story 98” from my senior composition teacher. I submit this to you with no edits. Another note at the end will address a few other things.

“The End and the Beginning”

Darkness. The sun rises in the early morning mist. A shadow approaches. Shades of gray. The shadow forms a man. Breath appears in the chilly air. Thudding of feet on the tarmac. The man is close. Details can be seen. Dark hair and dark eyes show a face that has grown old before its time. A young man who has seen more than many men two times his age. Dressed in blue denim and black hightops, the clothes are dusty and worn from much walking. Many road and many days make a man hard and old.

Isaiah. The name given to him years ago. A last name he cannot remember, and does not want to. In the real world, names do not matter. Only faces. Deeds. The deeds he has performed are known to many, and feared by more. Relationships are a casualty in this line of work. Besides, who will trust him if they know his craft?

On an Arizona road to another job. Usual payoff, usual risk. He carries his equipment on his back, the equipment of a man who knows death. Up ahead is a sign. “Calhalda-1300” it reads. He has arrived.

A small town. Here to fill the gas tanks for passing travelers in the desert. Small mines outside of town. The bread and butter of a western community. There, the place he was looking for.

He entered the store. Musty. Dark. The community gossip center, also known as the general store. From condiments to condoms. Isaiah smiled grimly.

“Can I help you stranger?” There was an unfriendliness and suspicion in the voice that only years in an isolated community can foster.

“I’m looking for a Mr. Jonathan Roberts,” replied Isaiah. “Would you know his place of residence?”

“Well, I would probably know because I am Johnny. Who are you?” replied the proprietor.

“I am Isaiah. You sent for me,” he answered.

Johnny’s face went white. “I didn’t expect you quite so soon. I guess it’s for the better. She needs you. Come with me.”

Johnny led Isaiah through the back of the store. Isaiah noticed the large array of goods. With only a sixty watt bulb to light the way, he had to be careful of the supplies in the aisle.

They reached the back and began to ascend some stairs. As they reached the top, Isaiah noticed how dark the apartment appeared to be, not only in terms of lighting, but also in terms of decoration. The walls were all painted a dark blue, possibly black. There were also many crucifiction scenes adorning the loft. Those were not the typical christian (writer’s note: I didn’t capitalize Christian, thus the 98 instead of a 100 from Ms. Spencer) scenes, but seemingly more graphic.

At the top of the stairs, the turned right and entered a small bedroom. In the bedroom, darkness again. The smell of death. And there, on the bed, lie the woman.

She was probably in her early sixties. Not that it mattered. Cancer had eaten away at her body and soul. Now she was just an empty shell of a formerly vibrant woman. Now she wanted to die. That’s why Isaiah was here.

“Hello, my dear, ” a week voices asked from the bed. “Who did you bring with you?”

“It is him, love,” squeaked Johnny.

“Then let us get it over with so that I may meet my maker,” she said. “I have been waiting many days, you know.”

“I’m sure you have, ma’am,” replied Isaiah. “Shall I begin?”

The woman nodded. Isaiah set his pack on the floor and opened it. The sound of the zipper penetrated the room, bringing a grimace to Isaiah’s face. He withdrew a small pack and opened it. He took out a syringe and inserted the small dose of cyanide.

Isaiah then walked to the bedside. “My dear woman, if you have anything to say, you should say it now.”

“Johnny, come here,” the frail woman commanded. As Johnny knelt by her side, she said, “You know this is for the best, don’t you.” Johnny nodded as she continued, “We will see each other again on the other side, my love. Now kiss me and leave.”

Johnny gently kissed her cheek as tears streamed down his face. He gripped her hand for the last time, stood up, and head bowed, left the room.

“Don’t worry, ma’am, there won’t be any pain,” Isaiah said as he inserted the needle.

“Son, after the pain I’ve been through, it wouldn’t matter anyway,” replied the old woman.

Isaiah injected the poison, and sat for five minutes as her breathing slowed and finally stopped altogether. He then threw his pack over his should and went down stairs.

*****************

Euthanasia. Mercy killing. Whatever the name, not matter how grim the job, he would be there. The silhouette of the stranger began to disappear in the distance. No one liked the job, but it relieved the pain of many a person and brought peace to a soul which had not known peace in a long, long time. The shadow of the man was now gone, but the man himself would never, ever be forgotten.

Writer’s note: I re-wrote this piece a year later for my freshman composition class in college. The stranger then rode a motorcycle, went a to a private home and not a store, and I think I spent more time describing the condition of the home and the old woman. And yes, I I’m reasonably certain received an A on it as well, but I don’t have a copy of that revised piece.

As for what was going on with my 17-year-old self that prompted this dark short story, I have no idea. Probably the two issues I felt strongest about at the time were freedom of speech (I did my senior composition research paper on Broward County’s (Fla.) attempt to censor the 2 Live Crew) and homosexuality, when I was a much more Christian, much less enlightened, gay-hating individual (grew up and got over it). So I’m not at all sure where this statement on euthanasia came from.

All in all, I think, for 17, not bad. I cringe at some of the dialogue choices, now I would have added a bit more suspense to the stranger and his purpose, and I don’t think I would have added that last paragraph, but that’s a much older, somewhat wiser writer’s opinion.

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