And the winner of Superbowl XLVIII is….

Posted September 9th, 2013 at 9:07 pm (UTC+0)
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By Katherine Cole

They’re not even playing the game for another five months, but it looks like we already know who’s won the Superbowl — it’s Bruno Mars. He’ll be playing the big halftime show during the NFL Football championship game.

Bruno Mars (in denim jacket and sunglasses) confirmed that he will play during the Pepsi Super Bowl XLVIII Halftime Show at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ on Sunday, February 2, 2014. He made the announcement in New York City on the Fox NFL Sunday Program on Sept, 8, 2013. (Russ DeSantis / AP Images for National Football League)

The Grammy-winning singer made the announcement last Sunday,  just before the kickoff of the first weekend game of the National Football League regular season.  Which does a lot to bolster the argument that some people have: it doesn’t matter which teams are playing in the Superbowl championship,  the halftime show is just as important as the game. And in some years, more important. Ratings showed that more people tuned in watch Madonna’s halftime show in 2012 than watched the game itself!

Beyonce did the honors last time and according to an NFL press release, she was seen by “More than 110.5 million viewers in the U.S. ”

The choice of Bruno Mars is a bit of a departure for the NFL. In recent years, they’ve tended to go with more established artists. In addition to Beyonce and Madonna, other halftime performers have included Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, The Who, U2, and Tom Petty…and of course Justin Timberlake & Janet Jackson (which is when she had her infamous “wardrobe malfunction”).

Born in Hawaii, Bruno Mars has been a performer for most of his 27 years. Soon after the news of his Superbowl halftime gig was announced, this new video was posted to his Youtube page—it’s a minute long look at his rise to stardom–including some footage of a tiny Bruno working as an Elvis impersonator!

Super Bowl XLVIII is being held in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, right outside of New York City and I’ve been told the NFL is planning a concert series to go along with the football championship game, too. Which means there will probably be NFL branded gigs in New York City in the days leading up to the big game and perhaps NFL shows in New Jersey, too.
But the big show will belong to Bruno Mars! Not long after it happened, I was allowed into the headquarters of the company that produced Madonna’s Superbowl show. Because I signed a “non disclosure agreement,” I can’t give you any of the details of the preparations for her show–but I can tell you that it took many people months and months (and millions of dollars) to get that 12 minute production ready for television. So it’s safe to say that Bruno Mars is already in production meetings for his big Superbowl halftime show on Sunday, February 2nd, 2014.

Host of VOA's Roots and Branches, and world traveler extraordinaire! When I'm not listening to music, I'm probably talking about it or thinking about the next band I'm going to see. Or my next interview! Join me every week for the best in folk, bluegrass and all other forms of American roots music!

Was it really so bad the first time around?!

Posted August 27th, 2013 at 7:23 pm (UTC+0)
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By Katherine Cole

When Bob Dylan released “Self Portrait” back in 1970, Rolling Stone magazine’s Greil Marcus gave it one of the most savage reviews ever written. I’m not even going to paraphrase it–you’ve got to read this one for yourself. Many of Dylan’s’ fans agreed with the famed critic, but there has also always been those who feel the album, featuring the great-songwriter-not-as-great-a-singer’s cover of country, folk and pop songs wasn’t deserving of the thousands of vitriolic words written about the project. You can put me in that group. I always saw “Self Portrait” as a vanity project, but hey, is it really that much worse than some of the ego laden efforts we’ve seen released by pop stars  and rappers recently? At least Bob Dylan chose to butcher songs by Paul Simon and Gordon Lightfoot.  Oh wait, did I just defeat my own argument? I didn’t mean butcher…

Fast forward 40 years later, and Mr. Dylan has decided to open the vaults and release ” Another Self Portrait” — official title “”The Bootleg Series, Vol.10-Another Self Portrait (1969-1971). And guess what? This time around, some of the same critics who savaged it are hearing things a bit differently (Here’s Mr. Marcus on the new collection). And they’re hearing a lot more of it—the new collection is packed with rarities.

Time Changes everything. Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan. Self portraits painted for the covers of his new CD “Another Self Portrait (1969-1971)” and the original “Self Portrait” released in 1970.

Adding 35 rarities and previously unreleased recordings to “Self Portrait” gives listeners a whole new perspective into what Bob Dylan was thinking when he went into the studio to record the album. (And believe me, that’s the question on the lips of many of his most ardent fans when they first heard the album—“WHAT was he thinking????)  And these aren’t just your usual run of the mill outtakes.  How about George Harrison playing some tasty rockabilly guitar on “Working On A Guru” or a wonderful demo of  “When I Paint My Masterpiece”—not to mention a cover of the traditional folk song “Pretty Saro.” But those are just the tip of the iceberg—the four-disc deluxe boxed set of “Another Self Portrait,” includes a newly remastered copy of the original album, two books with new liner notes written by Greil Marcus (see above for an explanation of why that’s a big deal), the 35 rare cuts, AND the complete  concert by Bob Dylan and The Band from the Isle of Wight Festival, recorded August 31, 1969.  If you’re more into vinyl, they’ll take care of you, too — a three LP version will include the remastered disc and the 35 rare tracks, plus a 12×12 booklet of notes.


Host of VOA's Roots and Branches, and world traveler extraordinaire! When I'm not listening to music, I'm probably talking about it or thinking about the next band I'm going to see. Or my next interview! Join me every week for the best in folk, bluegrass and all other forms of American roots music!

Philadelphia Folk Festival, Day 2

Posted August 19th, 2013 at 12:54 am (UTC+0)

By Katherine Cole

Hello again from the Old Pool Farm near Schwenksville, Pennsylvania. Day two of the 52nd annual Philadelphia Festival was every bit as glorious as the first. On the weather side, things started out sunny & mild and just got better from there. Musically, the day began with sets from solo singer-songwriters including longtime favorite Ellis Paul from Boston, Massachusetts (his first PFF vist since 2009), and Winnipeg Canada’s Del Barber. The 29-year old told me his festival debut was a double treat: not only was he playing a legendary event, the added bonus was a chance to try his hand at fishing in some of the beautiful rivers and streams nearby the festival site.

Other Saturday highlights included sets by The Decemberists’  spinoff group Black Prairie (Chris Funk, Nate Query & Jenny Connlee with Portland Oregon musicians Jon Neufeld and Annalisa Tornfelt), Todd Rundgren, and local hero Ben Vaughn.  It’s impossible to categorize Vaughn’s style: he’s known for writing movie scores and themes for award winning television programs, a documentary album and film both about and recorded in his much loved 1965 Rambler automobile and several CDs of his own original songs.

Saturday night belonged to Nashville hitmakers The Mavericks, reunited last year after nearly a decade apart.

But not all the excitement was happening on the festival stages. Part of the fun of attending the festival is hanging out in the campground. Organizers estimate that 7000 campers set up temporary homes on the hillside for the weekend. Some are no more than simple tents with sleeping bags inside, but others go for more glamorous lodging.


That multi-family campsite shows how creative some of the set ups can be. Signs, flags, fire pits—homesteaders pull out all the stops to make their weekend homes unique and inviting. While the majority stick with the basics, there are a growing number of campers who prefer a bit of glamor, whether that means bringing a favorite pair of arm chairs and a rug from home, or setting up an full closet and kitchen.

A full closet stretches across the width of this large tent.(photo by Katherine Cole)


This campsite has a complete kitchen: six burners for cooking, cupboard full of spices and cookware, a sink for washing up, blender for frozen drinks and two different coffeemakers. (photo by Katherine Cole)


















But that large kitchen set up was not the most elaborate I saw while wandering the Folk Festival campground. Another I passed was being manned by a couple of guys who’d previously worked in professional kitchens and their experience showed. Their workspace included a double stainless steel sink with a separate propane tank (to make sure the water to the kitchen was hot enough to keep things clean), a grill with burners as hot as the standard US in home gas range, and enough shelves, knives and workspace to make any home chef a happy camper. This campsite also included a custom rigged propane powered water heater to ensure hot showers for all.

All this just for a few days of hot water at the Philadelphia Folk Festival! This set up provides not just (propane heated) hot water for showers at a multi-family campsite, but also for a large kitchen set up. Note the hot and cold taps, just like at home. (photo by Katherine Cole)


No freeze dried, packaged food for these guys. There’s a whole pig in there, slow roasting over coals for a full day. (photo by Katherine Cole)













In my post from Day One at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, I included a photo of a piano that someone had set up in the campground. I received an email, asking if it was a “real” piano, or just an old, broken one. You’ll be pleased to learn that the piano in question is fine and, as you can hear, in tune. Thank you to Lisabeth Weber for testing it out for me!

Host of VOA's Roots and Branches, and world traveler extraordinaire! When I'm not listening to music, I'm probably talking about it or thinking about the next band I'm going to see. Or my next interview! Join me every week for the best in folk, bluegrass and all other forms of American roots music!

Hello from the Philadelphia Folk Festival!

Posted August 17th, 2013 at 9:11 pm (UTC+0)

By Katherine Cole

Greetings from  the Old Pool Farm in Upper Salford Township, PA (near the town of Schwenksville, if you want to find us on the map), where I am attending the 52nd Philadelphia Folk Festival. This is one of the oldest continuously operating music festivals in the United States and, unlike some years, we’ve got nothing but blue skies, mild temps, and no rain in the forecast. Perfect weather for a weekend of music in the great outdoors.

Welcome to the 52nd Philadelphia Folk Festival! In addition to plenty of local acts, headliners include Richard Thompson’s Electric trio, The Mavericks, and Jake Shimabukuro were among the headliners at the weekend event.

The Stray Birds played on the main stage on the first afternoon of the four day event. The three piece acoustic trio of young classically trained musicians soon had the crowd on their feet and dancing —and while the audience at this small club was closer to the band than everyone in Philly, the music sounded just as sweet out in the great outdoors.

I know it’s hard to believe, but there’s only so much sunshine and music some festivalgoers can handle in one day, so organizers worked hard to make sure the schedule includes plenty of other events to keep everyone happy and entertained. There are crafters to learn from, music documentary films to watch, and even quiet spots to just sit and read.

Hammocks line the woods in the Dulcimer Grove at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. (photo by Katherine Cole)

Runa’s Cheryl Prashker, pictured here seconds before the Celtics Roots band took to the stage for their Friday night main stage show, told me the Philadelphia Folk Festival is one the group has been looking forward to playing all year.

Cheryl Prashker of Runa at the 2013 Philadelphia Folk Festival, the Friday night main stage audience behind her. (photo courtesy of Cheryl Prasker)

But not all the fun at the Philadelphia Folk Festival takes place on the stage— spending time with all the folks who’ve set up their weekend homes in the campground can be pretty entertaining, too. More on that tomorrow!

Yes, that really is a piano in the middle of the campground at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. Why? Why not? (photo by Katherine Cole)

Host of VOA's Roots and Branches, and world traveler extraordinaire! When I'm not listening to music, I'm probably talking about it or thinking about the next band I'm going to see. Or my next interview! Join me every week for the best in folk, bluegrass and all other forms of American roots music!

The Gibson Brothers Are Ahead of the Pack For the 2013 IBMA Awards

Posted August 15th, 2013 at 10:54 pm (UTC+0)
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By Katherine Cole

I think I could hear the screaming all the way down here in DC. Maybe not, but there’s no doubt in my mind that there was much celebrating by their hometown fans in upstate New York last night when word came that The Gibson Brothers (individually and as a group)  had received 8 nominations for the 2013 International Bluegrass Music Awards.

Their nominations are spread across a variety of categories—some solo awards, some for the band. Their CD, “They Called It Music” is up for Album of the Year and the title track has been nominated for Song of the Year. Eric Gibson (seen there playing banjo, his brother Leigh is on guitar. Also in that video: Mike Barber on bass, Clayton Campbell playing fiddle and Joe Walsh is on Mandolin in that video. He has since left the band and has been replaced by Jesse Brock.) also received a nomination for writing that song with Joe Newberry. Eric’s other solo nomination is for Bluegrass Songwriter of the Year. The band is also nominated in the Gospel Recorded Event category for their song “Home On The River”(also off “They Called It Music”) and Vocal Group of the Year. Jesse Brock is up for Mandolin Player of the Year, an award he took home in 2009.

The Gibson Brothers are the reigning IBMA Entertainer of the Year and they’re nominated in that category again. As you might expect, it’s a tough one. The other nominees are: Balsam Range, Blue Highway, Dailey & Vincent and The Del McCoury Band.  Of that group,  Balsam Range, a band from Western North Carolina,  is probably the newest band and perhaps the least well known outside of  US. But here, they’re doing quite well– receiving  7 nominations including Album of the Year and two in the Song of the Year category.  One is for “Papertown.”

The 2013 IBMA awards will be handed out September 26th in Raleigh, North Carolina. The awards show will be broadcast on VOA’s Roots and Branches the following week! I’ll be there, so get ready for photos and the scoop on all the excitement.  The complete list of nominations can be found here–if you have any thoughts on them, please leave a comment!

Host of VOA's Roots and Branches, and world traveler extraordinaire! When I'm not listening to music, I'm probably talking about it or thinking about the next band I'm going to see. Or my next interview! Join me every week for the best in folk, bluegrass and all other forms of American roots music!

You Can Call Her Queen Bee

Posted August 9th, 2013 at 10:52 am (UTC+0)

By Ray McDonald


There’s something at once awe-inspiring and chilling about being present at the creation of a new star. Once upon a time, music fans relied on magazines, radio, records,  and possibly the odd TV appearance  to familiarize themselves with new artists. The Internet changed the game:  today you see a video on YouTube, tweet about it to your friends, and look to Google for more information.  The web has also shrunk the globe – anyone anywhere can go viral in an instant.

At this moment, the most hotly-hyped singer in cyberspace is consciously avoiding any whiff of hype. Ella Yelich-O’Connor is letting us do the heavy lifting for her. Adopting the mysterious name Lorde, this 16-year-old New Zealand native has been waiting in the wings for four years. Discovered at a talent show at age 12, she signed with industry giant Universal and began writing music while still attending school. In March of this year, she released her debut EP “The Love Club,” which promptly stormed charts in New Zealand and Australia. Aided by a cool, understated video, her debut single “Royals” topped the New Zealand chart, and is now a Top 40 entry on  the United States Hot 100 pop chart.



Study her output, and you’ll recognize that Lorde is not your typical chirpy teen-popper. Instead of saturating social media with photos and tweets, Lorde and her record label have adopted a different approach. Lorde says she maintains tight control over information and image, letting her own talent carry the day.

Last month, she created a sensation after replacing an injured Frank Ocean at Australia’s Splendour In The Grass festival. Her performance lit a fire which only intensified earlier this week, when she sold out her first-ever United States show. A second Los Angeles show followed on August 8. Lorde’s debut full-length album is due on September 30, and a glimpse at her upcoming United States concert dates reveals the extent of her record label’s hopes: she’s booked in big-name venues.

This girl is moving fast, and that’s where the “chilling” part of the process comes to the fore.  Six years ago, a Canadian teenager named Justin Bieber first showed up on YouTube, singing living room-renditions of other people’s pop hits. He’s now a global superstar, and if you follow the headlines you know the road has been bumpy, to say the least.

That’s not to say that Lorde is headed down the same rocky path. She seems to have her head on straight, and I hope her family and friends will help keep her feet on the ground, even as her career takes flight.


Nashville Says Goodbye To A Legend

Posted August 8th, 2013 at 8:50 pm (UTC+0)

By Katherine Cole

Singer, songwriter, producer and recently elected Country Music Hall of Fame member Cowboy Jack Clement has passed away at the age of 82 after a long battle with liver cancer.

Cowboy Jack Clement (center), Bobby Bare (left), and Kenny Rogers (right), posed for photographers in April 2013 after it was announced that they were going into the Country Music Hall of Fame. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

I met Cowboy Jack twice, both times in Nashville. The first time was a social occasion, the second was a formal interview. Or as formal as interview as you could get him to sit for — in other words, not very.  I think we were supposed to be talking about Cowboy Jack’s then new CD “Guess Things Happen That Way.” But keeping him on subject was a lost cause. For one thing, he picked the place: a downtown Nashville bar at 4 in the afternoon.  And another—I couldn’t get a word in. I asked one question, and when he finished answering it, two hours had passed, my recorder was out of batteries.  But it didn’t matter that I never got to ask Cowboy Jack (never just Jack, always Cowboy Jack) a second question, he’d told me enough stories to fill up five programs and then some.
He was the guy who made Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” into the song we know and love today. Cash wanted something different on that track—horns. So he called in Cowboy Jack to arrange and produced what turned into a huge hit—and the first with mariachi horns in country music. Can you imagine this song without them?

Cowboy Jack was full of stories—most of them true.

When Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II first came to Washington D.C. as Princess Elizabeth in 1951 with his Royal Highness, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, Cowboy Jack Clement was one of the US Marines saluting her on the steps of the US Capitol.


He loved talking about the time he spent living in Washington, DC while he was serving in the US Marine Corps. He had enlisted after graduating from high school and served as a member of the prestigious Marine Corps Drill Team, which allowed him to take part in many official U. S. Government ceremonies, including the ones surrounding the visit to Washington by Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) in 1951. When I seemed interested in that part of his military life, Cowboy Jack said he’d send some photos of him with the Queen. Never expecting him to actually follow through,  you can imagine my surprise when I received this photo in the mail a few weeks later!


It was here in Washington that Cowboy Jack first started writing songs. He told me that the long hours spent sitting at the guard station in front of his barracks or while marching in parades  were perfect for letting thoughts drift (!) and letting lyrics form.  He spent his off duty hours in the clubs around DC, soaking up the local sounds and once out of the service started touring with Buzz Busby in one of DC’s early bluegrass bands. Soon, he was on the road as a touring musician and pitching his songs to anyone who’d listen to them.



His next stop was Memphis, where he hooked up with Sam Phillips and Sun Records, producing hit after hit with Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and others.  He and Phillips had a falling out, which led Clement to take a job as a songwriter and producer with Chet Atkins in Nashville. Hopping around the country, he continued to write & produce hit songs  and also discover new talent, including country legend Charley Pride.  Now a Hall of Fame member, Pride (and Clement, who wrote and produced some of his hits) broke the color barrier in Nashville.

But there was more to Cowboy Jack Clement than country music—he also produced tracks on U2 and Louis Armstrong discs.  Along with the “usual suspects,” his songs have been recorded by Cliff Richard, Ray Charles, Tom Jones, and Foghat. He was one of the first to pioneer the idea of the “home studio,”  produced a low-budget horror film, and served as a mentor to a generation of singers and songwriters.



In the few hours since his passing, there have already been a number of fine appreciations of Cowboy Jack Clement online. Peter Cooper’s  in the Nashville Tennessean is a fine place to start if you want to learn more about the legendary producer, songwriter and character.   And here’s Cowboy Jack performing “It’ll Be Me” on Music City Roots in Nashville in 2010.

Host of VOA's Roots and Branches, and world traveler extraordinaire! When I'm not listening to music, I'm probably talking about it or thinking about the next band I'm going to see. Or my next interview! Join me every week for the best in folk, bluegrass and all other forms of American roots music!


Posted July 25th, 2013 at 8:29 pm (UTC+0)
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By Ray McDonald

I want to tell you a little story. It’s about a band from Aberdeen, Washington called Nirvana. Active for only seven years, the trio released three studio albums. Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, and Krist Novoselic revolutionized rock with their album Nevermind and sold tens of millions of records before breaking up in the most painful way imaginable. Kurt Cobain committed suicide on April 5, 1994 at age 27, instantly ending the band.

Many of you know Nirvana well, but many don’t – and here’s where my story actually begins. This week, a mascot for Virginia Tech university sent this letter to Nirvana’s record label, Sub Pop Records, requesting a shout-out from the band.  How you react depends upon several factors – including whether you’re able to maintain a sense of humor about the inexorable passage of time. This young person has likely never used a typewriter, never loaded film in a camera, or for that matter, may not have used a camera at all – you can do it all with a mobile phone. (Of course, the student could also have used that smartphone to Google “Nirvana”…) 1994 may just as well be the Dark Ages for today’s college students – although for me, the memory of Kurt’s death is painfully fresh.

How did Sub Pop respond? Pretty well, if you ask me. The response was nicely sardonic without being scornful – and it was nice to see Mark Arm, a fellow rock “fossil” from the long-ago era of grunge. The student’s ecstatic response was icing on the cake.

George Benson’s “Inspiration”

Posted July 19th, 2013 at 1:48 pm (UTC+0)
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By Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC

George Benson

Guitar legend George Benson has released a new tribute to the great jazz singer and pianist Nat King Cole. The disc — Inspiration — opens with one of Cole’s signature songs, “Mona Lisa,” a track recorded by Benson in 1951, when he was eight years old. Benson had won a singing contest that year: “The reward was they want to take you to a recording studio. To a little kid, that was the biggest thing that could happen to me.”


The 13-track album showcases renditions of some of Cole’s greatest songs, including “When I fall In Love,”  “Route 66,” and “Unforgettable.” The album has arrangements by Nelson Riddle and the 42-piece Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra.

The album brings together a wide range of performers, including Broadway star Idina Menzel, pop singer Judith Hill, and  jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

Listen to more music and interviews here on Jazz Beat

Here’s my 1999 profile of George Benson on VOA’s Jazz Club USA show in Arabic.

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site,

The BEST story you’ll see today. Really…

Posted July 15th, 2013 at 7:43 pm (UTC+0)

By Katherine Cole

It’s no secret that Dave Matthews is a good musician.  7 Grammy wins and over 31 million albums sold in the US alone attest to that. But now we know that he’s a good guy, too.  And now there’s proof that his fans are just as nice.

It was a fan to the rescue when Dave Matthews was stranded after his tire popped during a recent pre-show bike ride! ( Photo by Dan Harr/Invision/AP)


The short version of the story is that the musician had gone out for a pre-concert bike ride, just as he’s done countless times before. But Dave forgot the second most important rule of the road: always have a tire patch kit when you take your bike out (the first is to always wear a helmet)! He also forgot rule number 3: bring your cell phone.  So, there he was —stranded on the side of the road, miles from the concert venue.

Luckily for Dave (and everyone who had tickets that night), Emily Kraus and her boyfriend were running a little late that night. They saw the familiar looking guy standing on the side of the road, stopped, strapped  his bike to the rack on the back of of her little red car, and Emily wound up giving  her favorite musician a lift to his own show. Nice guy that he is, Dave Matthews treated the pair to dinner, backstage passes, and upgraded their tickets to the very front row.

Later, a still elated Emily told a television interviewer that her big adventure was so wonderful it almost seemed like a dream. But she did have proof it was real: a sweet autograph on her ticket stubs. Dave Matthews hadn’t just signed his name, he wrote “Thanks for the ride.”

If you come across a better story today, I want to see it! Share the links in a comment.

Host of VOA's Roots and Branches, and world traveler extraordinaire! When I'm not listening to music, I'm probably talking about it or thinking about the next band I'm going to see. Or my next interview! Join me every week for the best in folk, bluegrass and all other forms of American roots music!



VOA’s music bloggers bring you info about all kinds of music. Katherine Cole will keep you up-to-date on the world of Bluegrass and Americana music while Ray McDonald rocks the Pop charts and artists. Diaa Bekheet  jams with you on Jazz.  Visit us often. Your comments are welcome.



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