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August John Lutz II: “I Miss Too Much of Life with Constant Documentation. I Try and Let the Moment Be.”

September 3, 2015

August John Lutz II, the frontman of Levee Drivers, is celebrating the release of his debut solo EP on Saturday at Bourbon & Branch. Song Dogs, New Sweden and Haint Blue will also perform.

We spoke with the Bucks County native about his latest project and the inspiration behind it.

What’s the story behind the new album?

I’ve been wanting to branch out and record a solo record for some time now. Once these particular songs came about and fell into place with one another, I was confident enough to finally take that step. I also had a lot of people – including the band – who understood why I needed to make this EP.

I’ve had the pleasure of working and surrounding myself with a solid group of musicians/friends who know how healthy it is for me to follow my instinct when it comes to music. Nothing is ever taken too personally, in that sense. Side note: For the most part, this whole EP was recorded in one half session!

How do you know when a song will be an August John Lutz II song and not a Levee Drivers track?

It all depends on how I see the overall picture after the song is completely finished. I never have a project in mind while locked in the writing process because I think that would attach certain rules and I’d wind up following familiar patterns and guidelines which could ultimately destroy and take away from the song itself.

I only begin thinking of where to bring the song and what the song needs musically after the writing is complete and then there are four options. I’ll either bring it to Levee Drivers. I’ll keep it for my solo projects. I’ll give it to another songwriter or I’ll toss in the trash!

“Foolish Heart” sounds like a man dealing with pain. Was writing the song therapeutic?

I believe writing is generally a therapeutic experience for me, whether I’m going through something very personal in my life at that time or not. It’s always felt like a positive release for me and has helped me express and open myself up in ways that I don’t necessary do on a day to day basis.

Do you seek out experiences so that you have things to write about?

I never seek out experiences just so later I can write about them. I feel that if you did that you’d just be setting yourself up for failure one way or another and the naturalism would be affected. I very much try and live and make myself aware of what “being in the moment” means.

I feel that all the advances in technology have given people the feeling that they have to capture and document every single moment through their phones, otherwise they (or someone else) won’t believe it happened. Speaking for only myself here, I miss too much of life with constant documentation. I try and let the moment be and if it means later I might have something to write about…then I can remember it through my eyes and not a device.

You recorded this EP with friends, right?

I did have the pleasure of recording this EP with very close friends. All of the production was backed by Brian Dale Allen Strouse and Josh Friedman, two musicians who play in an amazingly talented band called The Lawsuits. They tracked, engineered, mixed, and mastered this whole project for me. They were also a strong driving force in the early stages of getting this project off the ground.

I was also lucky enough to bring in Chelsea Mitchell from another amazingly talented band called Dirty Dollhouse to lay down all of the backing vocals for this EP. I’ve worked with Brian, Josh and Chelsea before in the past and have never be disappointed with the final outcome.

Can we expect a lot of guests on stage at the release show? 

Yes! Expect a good amount of guests to join me on stage this Saturday night at Bourbon & Branch. In fact, my whole band is made up of some of my favorite musicians from Bucks County and Philadelphia.

The Magnificent Shithawks of The Greater Northern Americas: “Life Can Dismantle Chaos Through Unity But It’s a Long-Game.”

September 2, 2015


Since rising like a shitphoenix from the ashes of a previous band, Breechloader, The Magnificent Shithawks of The Greater Northern Americas have been spreading the Southern-flavored party vibes of what they call “outlaw metal” with such energy that they seem to be plugged into the same raw power about which Iggy Pop sang.

Unrepentantly rock ‘n’ roll, all three members of  the Magnificent Shithawks, a name taken from Trailer Park Boys, agreed to a surprisingly nerdy chat with with our Sean Barrett over tequila shots (the shots being their idea).

You have the best rocking out I’ve ever seen.

Bob Warner (drummer): The shittin’-a-midget face?

Like a cross between a pirate and Popeye. So tell us what you’ve been up to.

Les Schultz (bass/vocals): So far, I think we’ve only, what, we’ve done the demo?

Nick Macklin (guitar/vocals): Yeah, writin’, throwin’ the bones together, tryin’ to tour.

You could’ve fooled me.

Les: We went over a hump. We’re in a whole ‘nother zone now. We got out of another area, and every show has been…we’ve hit an area where we have what we wanted. We just keep raising the bar.

[Bob pours shots]

I get the impression that you’re very solar. Is that accurate?

Bob: Mhm. Yeah, definitely.

Nick: Very much so. That’s all I do, I sit around, get drunk, and watch space documentaries. Literally, that’s all I do.

Les: We’re into the UFO stuff. We’re into the conspiracy stuff. Just naturally, we’re into that kind of shit. Then it comes out in the songs. I know, I’ve got two right now where I’m singing space songs.

Nick: I gotta song about Boba Fett.

Bob: He’s a fuckin’ nerd.

Nick: Well, the song “Kill The Rat” that’s on the EP is, on the surface, about Boba Fett,

Boba Fett is a metaphor for…?

Nick: A friend of mine who used to sell a lot of cocaine and somebody ratted him out. It’s what he’d like to do to the guy who ratted him out because he ended up doin’ five years. Boba Fett chased down Han Solo for rattin’ out Jabba the Hutt. That’s the whole story behind, uh, Boba Fett the bounty hunter. So it’s about killin’ the rat. [all laugh].

And then there’s Parallax about seeking out the positions …

It’s like a mirror image, right?

Nick: Well, yeah. Parallax is a technique used by astronomers to find an invisible heavenly body and then figuring out where it is based on where two other heavenly bodies are positioned at different times. That’s called a parallax. But, Parallax is also the name of the main bad guy from Green Lantern before the Sinestro yellow ring saga.

Les: Oh, wow, this is in-depth.

Nick: Yeah. So, “Parallax”, as far as I’m writing it, is about two aspects of the universe – unliving things and living things. Living things organize chaotic particles.

Like entropy and hypertrophy?

Nick: Exactly. Life is the living song of hypertrophy. Entropy doesn’t have to happen.

Les: Yeah! It does!

Nick: No! No! Entropy doesn’t have to happen as long as all life in the universe decides to organize all chaotic particles.

Bob: That’s like me willing you not to be an asshole. It’s still gonna happen [laughter].

I don’t think that can be done. That was the whole point of “Jurassic Park.” Life is this chaos that we can never organize.

Nick: Life can dismantle chaos through unity but it’s a long-game. We’re talking billions and trillions of years. At that point – this gets into Arthur C. Clarke type shit – and that’s what the “Parallax” is about.

Les: I think that explanation’s like three times longer than the song.

Nick: Yeah, that’s why poetry exists. You have to create rhyme and reason from the chaotic thoughts. Parallax, in the Green Lantern, is an agent of entropy and the song is about…YES! Total power!, and that aspect of entropy.

Stars, like dust, are crushed/

The razor cuts the dose/

I’m going down, down, down/

galaxies burn, black holes will eat the dust/

confess a fire that confesses my name

And, then, the second verse is:

Watch me rape the nightmare deep in mother earth’s womb/

Hear her scream “why? why? why?/

It falls on deaf ears/

Her screams might join the chorus/

I’ll listen to the song a while/

It cures the terraphile that brings you to paradise


Les: We got an artist in the band.

Nick: Ask us questions about beers.

Okay. What’s one beer you’ll never drink again?

Nick: I can’t drink IPAs because I have the gout, so it all settles into my feet.

That sounds pretty made up.

Les: Nah, it’s true.

Nick: He’s seen it. I get these weird crazy lumps all over my body

What’s next for y’all?

Nick: We are gonna stop playing shows for a couple of months because I have a lot of work on the weekends. I’m gonna get a new computer and a new camera, so there’s gonna be a lot more videos …

Les:  … of pornography that he needs to watch, so that’s gonna roll into the next couple of months.

[more shots are poured]

WIN FREE TICKETS: Against Me @ The Stone Pony on Friday!

September 1, 2015

Against Me!

We don’t normally suggest anyone go to New Jersey but since half of Philly will be down the shore this weekend, we have a treat for you.

Our friends at Brooklyn Vegan lined up Against Me to perform at the legendary Stone Pony on Friday, with Big Eyes and Cakes da Killa opening. Tickets are only $3 if you RSVP but that RSVP doesn’t guarantee entrance and this show will fill up way too quickly.

We’ll guarantee your spot and waive the $3 if you like us on facebook and email us at (give us your name and put “AGAINST ME” in the subject line). We’ll notify winners Thursday.

You should RSVP here regardless.


Avi Wisnia: “My Jazz and Pop Sensibilities are Constantly Fighting for my Attention.”

September 1, 2015


Avi Wisnia‘s brand new track, “Sky Blue Sky,” will make you want to get in your car and head to the beach. Immediately. He crafted the song while reminiscing about days on the sand in Cape May, hiking around the Amalfi Coast, performing on the beaches of Brazil and hanging out on rooftops in Philadelphia.

We caught up with the talented Philly artist, who created this new track with the assistance of musician friends in South America.

You performed on the beach in Ipanema? How did that come about? What was the reception like?

I spent a month on tour in Brazil in 2011, performing in lots of different venues – jazz clubs, rock clubs, mountain resorts and theaters – but my impromptu performance on the Ipanema beach is one of my most memorable.

I had been sightseeing around Rio one day, walking home along the famous beach as the sun went down, and strolled past these two teenage kids who were just jamming away on guitars. I stopped to listen and they immediately engaged me, asking about where I was from. They seemed pretty excited to talk to the American about Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Police and Guns N Roses. So I played them some of those tunes (“Patience” was one of the first songs I learned on guitar) and they sang along. And then I played them some of my own songs, too.

As a crowd gathered on the sand, everyone was joining in, singing, swaying, dancing. It’s amazing how a good melody and some catchy chord changes can bring people together.  It was really gratifying to be able to make music and immerse myself in a musical culture that had fascinated me for so long, and to be embraced by the people that i met there really meant a lot.

What’s your relationship with the Brazilian musicians who participated in this project?

From its creation, I knew my song “Sky Blue Sky” had deep musical roots in bossa nova and I wanted to give the recording an authentic backbone of Brazilian rhythm. I also wanted to find a way to work with Brazilian musicians again. It had been a few years since I released new material and, not only was I anxious to put out new songs, I also wanted to do something different and exciting with the recording process. I realized that the most efficient way to harness my connections in Brazil was to record the song between Philadelphia and Rio de Janeiro.

While on tour with Brazilian artist Denise Reis in 2011, I got to perform with bass player and producer Bruno Migliari. We kept in touch after making music together in Brazil, corresponding about eventually working together on a recording project. I had already experienced Bruno as a great guy with incredible musicality. He has quite a reputation, having performed and recorded with top-tier Brazilian musicians such as Milton Nascimento, Ana Carolina, and Marcos Valle.

I knew the song would be in good hands with him guiding me through the recording process. He lives in the Cosmo Velho neighborhood of Rio, which is full of professional musicians. I trusted him to find the right players for the song. He enlisted Bruno Migliari on percussion and Bernardo Bosisio on guitar. 

Although our interaction was mostly through FaceTime, it was an honor to get to know and work with these accomplished musicians.

Talk about the recording process for this track.

Recording cross-continent was a big experiment. But through the magic of the Internet, we were able to make it work seamlessly. It started with a few Skype sessions between me and Bruno, discussing the arrangement and approach for the song. I had a spring tour booked in the U.S., so the musicians got to work in Bruno’s 8VB studios in Brazil.

I would check in via FaceTime from the road. So, the musicians would be sitting in the studio in Rio and I would be setting up for a show in Baltimore, or at a truck stop outside of Nashville, or strolling near Niagara Falls. Ithink the Brazilian musicians got to see a lot of the U.S. that way.

When i returned to Philadelphia, I got to work recording my parts. My Philly friend and music whiz Daniel Harris Levine (Sun Hat, 3DCosby) helped me record right in my Bella Vista apartment, finding just the right acoustics, including recording Fender Rhodes in my kitchen and melodica in my bathroom.

It was really cool to play off of what the musicians established in Brazil, even though we were in different countries and different time zones. Once the instruments had been recorded, we were able to send mixes back and forth via email, tweaking levels until we got it just right. It made the process go a little longer than being in the same room … but it also allowed for some unanticipated magic to happen.

Your music has always had a rather mature sound – blending pop and jazz, with hints of lots of other stuff. What are your influences?

My influences are pretty wide-ranging and eclectic. My jazz and pop sensibilities in particular are constantly fighting for my attention. There’s the side that wants to improvise and go free form and let the moment take control, and the side that wants to hook you with something structured, catchy, accessible and relatable.

My style is informed by the classic bossa nova of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto, the west-coast jazz of Chet Baker and Stan Getz, the piano rock of Billy Joel and Ben Folds, the subtle song-craft of John Mayer and Norah Jones, and timeless songwriters like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, John Legend and Stevie Wonder.

Does being the son of a rabbi impact your music at all?

I grew up watching my father at the rabbi’s pulpit. He was always at ease standing in front of hundreds of people and leading them in a communal experience. I think a lot of that made an impression on me, though I didn’t realize it at the time. But I think that my comfort on stage has a lot to do with that.

Every audience represents a new community of people, and they are looking to you for guidance for this experience they are about to have. So you lead them – sometimes sermonizing, sometimes in call-and-response, sometimes all together – and it becomes something transcendent because you are all together in that moment.

I think watching my father has made me a better communicator and a better performer.

Where’s the next trip for you?

I will be performing shows in the PA/NJ/NY area coming up to celebrate the release of “Sky Blue Sky.”

My next big travel plans will be to Poland in October. I’ll be traveling to Warsaw with my grandfather, who grew up around the capital city before being imprisoned by the Nazis during WWII. He survived nearly three years in the Auschwitz concentration camp by singing to entertain the guards. He has always had this amazing, deep, resonant voice that just carries so much emotion and tradition. We will be visiting Auschwitz together, and also performing together in Warsaw. I am really looking forward to accompanying him, learning about the family that i never knew and connecting to a whole history of people, through music.

Every Time I Die @ The TLA with Real Friends, Counterparts, Brigades and Gatherers.

August 31, 2015

Every Time I DieText by Vince Bellino. Images by Erin Marhefka.

Every Time I Die (above) returned to the TLA on August 21 for the penultimate date of the Common Vision tour. The Buffalo hardcore band brought Real Friends, Counterparts, Brigades and Gatherers along to play to an enthusiastic crowd.

New Jersey post-hardcore outfit Gatherers kicked the night off in support of their new record, Quiet World, as the room slowly filled up.

They were followed by Brigades, who performed an aggressive pop-punk set, also in support of a new record, Indefinite.

The room quickly filled as Canadian hardcore heavyweights Counterparts took the stage and brought the mosh pit, playing a mix old fan-favorites and songs off their new record, Tragedy Will Find Us.

Counterparts reminisced with the crowd about the last time they played Philadelphia, when their scheduled show fell through and they played a basement show instead.

The crowd was moving throughout Counterparts’ set, the first full mosh pit of the night.

Real Friends took the stage and was met with a sea of crowdsurfers all anxious for a chance to grab the microphone and sing along. Vocalist Dan Lambton was liberal with his microphone sharing, encouraging anyone who knew the words to sing along.

The crowd could often be heard singing along and at times Lambton stopped singing to let the crowd hear itself.

Lambton called Philadelphia his second-favorite city, next to Real Friends’ home city of Chicago, and shared his appreciation for South Street and the food there, making a joke about now being a vegetarian.

Near the end of Real Friends’ set, Lambton took a moment to share his belief on the importance of keeping music safe. He told the crowd to stop worrying about insignificant things about people because hatred like homophobia, racism, transphobia, sexism and sexual assault still exist in the music community.

“For some people, this is their last safe space. Why should we take that away from them?” Lambton asked, met with huge cheers of support.

Every Time I Die headlined the night, playing a loaded 17-song set that did not slow down for a moment. From the second the band’s first song, “We’rewolf,” kicked in to the final note of closer “Ebolorama,” the entire floor was moving.

Vocalist Keith Buckley remembered the night Every Time I Die played at the Kung Fu Necktie and talked about how previous crowds had been so enthusiastic, including one night in which a fan dove off of the balcony, to which a fan replied it was he who did it.

Buckley told the fan he didn’t believe him, but assured security and the fans he was not daring the fan to prove it to him.

Once photographers left the photo pit, Buckley encouraged crowdsurfing because he “could see it in their eyes” that security wanted to catch the crowdsurfers. He thanked them before continuing the set.

A fight that escalated to involve a pile of fans occurred over behavior in the mosh pit and ended in a bloody nose, but Every Time I Die played right through it.

The band’s set including a cover of Nirvana’s “Tourette’s.”

The crowd chanted for an encore but the band did not give one.

The Byers Brothers: “It’s Not an Industry Town. It’s a Talent Town.”

August 27, 2015

ByersBrothersOnline01Text by Eric Fitzsimmons. Images by Mina Lee.

“Y’all don’t go too far,” Marc Byers calls to his mother and some guests passing through the dining room.

He’s wearing a black track jacket, familiar to anyone who has come across his cultural ambassador profile on Philly 360°.

It is no surprise to see family around. Marc and his older brother Sherman have built a livelihood on maintaining good, family-type relationships with artists, producers and companies.

The brothers started their first company, Black Friday Entertainment, when they discovered and managed rap artists such as Beanie Sigel and Eve.

In 2000, they started Rockstar Entertainment, which opened them up to working with different genres and allowed them to move away from the management role and into a business that connects companies and people.

“We’re a conduit,” Sherman says of Rockstar Entertainment in 2015. “We don’t want all the responsibility on the left hand side or the right hand side. But we do want to fuse it together.”

Marc mentions how people they started off with in the music business have spread across industries and become leaders with companies such as Samsung, Pepsi and even the Obama administration. Often when those people are looking to make connections, they come to Rockstar.

“We have a conversation about what someone is trying to actually accomplish,” Marc says. “Then we’ll go into our Rolodex and figure out what opportunities can help support where they are trying to go.”

They helped Raven Simone put together a new management team when she was ready for a new phase in her career. They helped secure artists for the Philly 360° campaign for Visit Philadelphia when it was just getting started. And they helped bring Idris Elba to direct a short film for Pepsi’s “Beats of the Beautiful Game” series for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

ByersBrothersOnline03Even while talking about their days in management, Marc’s interest in fostering relationships is evident. When Eve was not getting what she needed at Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Records, Marc and Sherman helped her get a deal with Ruff Ryders. But they acted in a way that kept Dr. Dre happy and as someone they could work with in the future.

Sherman says they learned from their father, who ran a car wholesaling business, the importance of separating what is personal from what is strictly business, especially when you partner with a brother who lives around the corner.

“To be honest with you, it’s easy, believe it or not,” Sherman says about working with Marc. “We’ve always worked from a standpoint of never overlapping one another’s space and understanding what somebody’s strengths and weaknesses are.”

The brothers are originally from North Carolina but grew up in Mount Airy, where Marc says their uncle, a musician, connected them to the music scene.

“Pieces of a Dream [a rhythm and blues group from Philadelphia] grew up across the driveway from us,” says Marc. “We had so much music around. I don’t think we knew that it was natural then. But when it came around the corner, it was kind of organic. We figured it out.”

In the community, Marc and Sherman work with Philly’s tourism department and their alma mater, Martin Luther King High School.

“They are helping to connect us with more innovative ways to reach our young people,” says William Wade, the principal at MLK High.

He says the brothers have helped bring programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and a partnership with Ciright Systems to teach students computer coding to the school, in addition to serving as mentors for students.

“They are very popular alumni members of Martin Luther King,” Wade says. “They keep us connected with folks who can help us to guide our young folks in a positive direction.”

Marc feels that musically, Philadelphia has a lot of talent and a wealth of venues that give them the chance to showcase their skills alongside of some of the biggest names in music.

“It’s not an industry town,” Marc says. “That’s why sometimes we get stuck. It’s a talent town. It’s loaded with talent. We have some of the most robust talent moving some heavy things around the world.”


On The Water: “We’re Never Gonna Do The Same Thing Twice.”

August 25, 2015

With a sound as old and beautiful as the Appalachian mountains, yet as twisted and oddball as the nightmares of Tom Waits and Reverend Glasseye, West Philadelphia’s freaky folk collective On The Water have been spreading their particular brand of magic throughout the land and have recently returned to work on their sixth album, Mirror Master. Our Sean Barrett caught up with frontman Fletcher Van Vliet, a multi-instrumentalist whose vocals range from inhuman to all-too-human, who kindly took the time to play the interview game with us.

So, tell us how this all got started.

On The Water started … just kind of born of the D.I.Y. scene in West Philly. We were doing a lot of punk shows and we saw some bands that were all acoustic, and started writing some songs like that about, I dunno, 7 or 8 years ago. We opened it up to a lot of my friends at the time. It grows and recedes, people come in and out, and we’ve kind of settled into more of a band over the last couple of years of whoever could be committed long-term and make shit happen.

The line-up has seemed to vary from show to show. Is that still the case?

Well, that kinda depends. Taylor, bass player, and Robin, electric guitar, they’ve been doing it for almost the whole time. Evan and Aubrey – cello and vocals – they just joined the group recently. We’re getting ready to make a new record and wanted a lot more sound on it than the last few things we’ve done, which were pretty stripped down. Lucas, our drummer, he’s been playing with us for maybe three or four years now. He’s Robin’s brother, so there’s that family element.

They’re all solidly in the band?

Yeah, that’s our new full line-up.

You’re able to tour with that many people?

Evan, our cellist, she only played like five of the shows. She has the most serious job of us all, so she flew to Arizona to play a few shows with us. But otherwise, yeah, that was the whole line-up. That’s our official line-up these days.

Any plans to bring anyone else in?

Jesse Sparhawk, who’s been on two of our records so far, plays classical harp. He’s wonderful. He’ll probably be on the next one too. I think he might play banjo on it too, just a couple tracks. He’s our frequent collaborator but he doesn’t play any shows or anything.

OnTheWaterDo your tour dates usually take place in D.I.Y. venues?

As long as it’s a good D.I.Y. show, that’s what I prefer. As long as somebody’s organized and taking care of things. We end up doing about half and half because not everybody feels the way I do about D.I.Y. shows. They can be a little wild and outta control, and trying to survive on the road can be pretty tough. It’s hard sometimes at D.I.Y. shows to fill the van and fill your tummies, you know, to survive. But that’s what I prefer. I feel like it’s a more straight up connection with people. That’s why I’ve been involved in that scene for a long time.

Between you guys and Hoots and Hellmouth, it seems that West Philly’s better suited for folk music.

Philadelphia could produce any kind of band at any moment from any part of the city. Although each part of the town is different, and people have different attitudes [breaks to hug bandmate goodnight]. But it’s a very creative city all around, a lot of bands, a lot of ideas. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a freaky experimental folk band to come out of anywhere in the city.

On The Water performing in a small space creates a really charged atmosphere. How does that translate in bigger venues?

Sometimes easily, sometimes not at all. I think that just depends on the town and the crowd that night. Sometimes it’s like no one’s listening, and I think that’s inevitable in this time period. There’s so much music and people have so many interests. Sometimes it’s easy to not be noticed. That does happen to us, but there are plenty of culled shows where we are able to create that atmosphere, but it’s not every one. Then again, it’s not every D.I.Y. show that feels magical. Just most of them.

Your last album, Cordelia, was more stripped down than is usual for On The Water. Is that the new direction, or something of a sidestep.

Yeah, less instruments and more amps. We just kind of follow our instincts and that’s just what happened. As far as trying to rehearse for that album, the big band fell apart a little bit and we were interested to see what kind of dynamic we could make with a louder set-up, mainly wanting to have more dynamic drums, you know, the drums are pretty fuckin’ loud, so trying to catch up with the drummer. With the cello and other sounds coming back in, I feel like we went as far as we were gonna go away from folk music, or whatever you wanna call it. Now we’re making our way back to some kind of style in-between the heaviness and the folkiness.

Heaviness is the word. Parts of your set feel like doom.

Yeah, we really like metal. Lucas and I are in a metal band also and one our big passions is metal music. Metal is the lord! A lot of us have been into metal since we were kids, so we like the heaviness and the theater of metal, and kind of bringing those ideas to this is really fun. When the next record comes out – Mirror Master is the record – when that’s out and done, it’s gonna be the heaviest thing we’ve done, for sure, like…heavy. But, you know, with some folk instruments back in. There’s gonna be accordion. I’m gonna be playing accordion and mandolin and a little toy piano and there’s a cello and all that stuff. We’re never gonna do the same thing twice. That’s our nature, mine specifically. I get bored easily.


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