Cowboy Poetry and Western Life

Events and Festivals

Gathering Reports


We invite folks to send in reports about gatherings.

Following are reports about events that 
are linked from event listings on the Events Calendar. 

(Some links may be out of date.)

2008 Reports

January - March

Elko (Nevada) January  separate page

Fort Worth (Texas) January

Lordsburg (New Mexico) February

Pigeon Forge (Tennessee) February

Martin (South Dakota) February

Sierra Vista (Arizona) February  separate page


Page two

Arvada (Colorado) January

Ellensburg (Washington) February

Moab (Utah) February

Lewiston (Idaho) February

On page 3:

Cartersville (Georgia) March

Thatcher (Arizona) January

Mesquite (Nevada) March


See April-May reports here
See June-July reports here
See August-September reports here
See October-December reports here


See reports from 2007 here
See reports from 2006 here
See reports from 2005 here
See reports from 2004 here
See reports from 2003 here
See reports for 2002 here
Reports from 2000- 2001 are here


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February, 2008
1st Annual Cowboy Poetry and Music Show
  Martin, South Dakota

  report by Ken Cook, photos by Tim Huether-Publisher and Owner of Bennett County Booster Newspaper/Huether Publishing, Inc.

Despite an afternoon filled with "snow squalls" and a breeze that would have your bed sheets leavin' the clothesline, folks could not wait, literally, for the doors to open at the Inland Theatre downtown Martin, South Dakota.  

PEO Chapter CV hosted the 1st Annual Cowboy Poetry and Music Show on February 17, 2008 to help sponsor scholarships for graduating female seniors from Bennett County High School. The near-capacity crowd did their part to help make that goal a reality.

Vanessa Heese brought the crowd rapidly to the realization that this evening would be non-stop music and poetry.  Vanessa's talent as a musician and singer thrilled the crowd every minute she was on stage.  Her 10-year-old son, Jesse, joined her for a couple songs and stole the show before the night was over.

Vanessa Heese and Jesse

Local rancher Dan Hines, shared a few poems he had written while guiding hunters in the mountains of Wyoming. This was Dan's first stage appearance reciting his poetry and those in attendance thoroughly enjoyed his work.

Ken Hines

Otto Rosfeld hails from Valentine, Nebraska and had folks in stitches with his poetry and never missed a beat when he sang and played his Prairie Percussion acoustic accompaniments to the delight of everyone. 

Otto Rosfeld

Bill Hines shared the loss of his "one good horse" in story and song.  Ranchers and town folks sat spellbound as they traveled with him on that last day he had spent with his horse. Jeanie Hines sang harmony with Bill and their music truly does reflect their faith, family, and the ranching way of life.

Ken Cook took the stage and performed prior to Vanessa and Jesse's first attempt to close out the evening.  With encouragement from emcee Connie Kaltenbach and the folks not ready to call it an evening, Ken closed out the
show with the one poem his wife Nancy was sure she would not hear again till next Christmas: "Remote Control Wife."

Ken Cook

If small town chatter is a barometer of things to come, everyone is  looking forward to the PEO Chapter CV's 2nd Annual Cowboy Poetry and Music Show. 


February, 2008
8th Annual Saddle Up! Celebration  Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

story, photos and captions by Yvonne Hollenbeck


Saddle Up! Celebration at Pigeon Forge

The last weekend in February found a lot of folks at Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, for the annual Saddle Up! Celebration. This community, in the beautiful Smoky Mountains, literally rolled out the red carpet for the fans and entertainers who came to partake in this fun-filled weekend. Although many programs were held in the famous “American Jukebox Theater,” a number of other venues were held at places such as the Music Road Hotel, Pigeon Forge Middle School, and Stages West.  A Cowboy Symphony with the Sons of the San Joaquin was held at “Country Tonite Theatre” and certainly provided an outstanding evening of entertainment.

Darcy Johnson, Dennis Flynn, JoAnn Stanley, Gary and Jean Prescott (all from Texas) and Glen Hollenbeck,
 from South Dakota at intermission at the American Jukebox Theater

Chuck wagon cooking was an added feature to the weekend activities, with demonstrations and competitions, and included a number of wagons from several states.  Programs were also held in the open air pavilion at Old Mill Square, with entertainment by Sourdough Slim, Kent Rollins, Chris Isaacs, Dennis Flynn and Yvonne Hollenbeck.

Chris Isaacs and Jeff Gore

Other entertainers for the Saddle Up! event were Tim Jobe and Riley Tillman of Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch; Jeff Gore and Silver Valley; Gary and Jean Prescott; Wylie & the Wild West; and Sons of the San Joaquin

"In the lobby of a big hotel..."  Jean and Gary Prescott are heading out to do a concert

The committee for this event certainly needs to be commended for providing one of the most enjoyable and well organized gatherings in the country and the many fans from coast to coast in attendance will agree.  If you want a relaxing, entertaining and enjoyable western vacation, plan to attend “Saddle Up!” the last weekend in February in 2009.  You won’t be disappointed.

Isn't it amazing who you can attract when you clean up?  Here's chuck wagon cook and entertainer, Kent Rollins, with a couple committee women, Leigh Aldreidge and Jenean Terry


February, 2008
15th Annual Bootheel Cowboy Poetry Fiesta   Lordsburg, New Mexico

 reports by Steve Conroy and Allen "Hook" Hill, with photos by Allen "Hook" Hill

 By Steve Conroy:

The magic of New Mexico effervesced once again from a little town situated in the boot heel of the state as the townspeople of Lordsburg presented the 15th Annual Bootheel Cowboy Poetry Fiesta. This is a smaller Gathering, but nonetheless popular with the local community as well as many visitors. My wife talked with one couple who said they timed their relocation from the cold country to the southwest just to be at the Bootheel Fiesta. In the small communities, you have to make your own entertainment, and those who come to this festival get in on that special warmth and neighborliness you might not experience elsewhere. Along with over three hours of great entertainment, you are also treated to a wonderful meal of grilled hamburgers with all the trimmings, chips and a drink and whatever else might show up on the table. Saucedo’s Super Market donated all the food and drink and the Lordsburg Fire Department handled the cooking. “Who else would you get to burn your hot dogs and hamburgers? The Fire Department, right?” says Allen “Hook” Hill, coordinator of the Gathering along with his wife June. The benefits from the Festival go to the preservation, restoration and updating of the town’s Museum, which is where the Fiesta is held.

This year, around 200 people attended. The show started at 5:00 (or purt near) for the first session. Intermission was around 6:30 for dinner and the second session started in at 7:00 to 8:30. I have to say, they make one of the best burgers I have had in some time. So, for the price of admission, you got a great show and a super meal and you met some of the nicest folks in town.

Stephen Hill, “Hook” Hill’s son, served as MC and kept things moving along smoothly while interjecting various quips throughout the show, which kept you chuckling (or groaning) in between acts. His final rendition of why you listen to a sports event in Spanish rather than in English has to be a classic. You had to hear it to appreciate it. Well, Steve first introduced Rusty Tolley who, they discovered, had not yet arrived. So, “Hook” Hill, the inveterate performer stepped to the stage and opened the show with a few of his routines.

“Hook” Hill has been a writer and storyteller for over 50 years and has recited cowboy poetry since 1992. Hook has a unique style for both his poetry and his presentations (as some of them are rather elaborate stories that defy description). He enjoys telling his stories and poems as much as each new audience is eager to hear them. I am always amazed by his abilities to draw me into his poem or story and even those I have heard before, it’s like they are brand new. He is the entertainers’ entertainer.

Steve Conroy, from Sierra Vista, and back for his 2nd year at the Bootheel Gathering, used the theme of “saddle tramp” and “drifter” to move from song to poem to song. He started with Marty Robbins, “Saddle Tramp” and had the audience sing along. Then he did one of his own pieces entitled “The Photograph.” He did an S. Omar Barker poem “Big Windies” and finished up with a song by Joyce Woodson called “Cheyenne.” Steve has a mellow, baritone voice, clear and crisp diction, which is greatly appreciated by the audiences, and great delivery. He was well received by the audience.

photo courtesy Allen "Hook" Hill
Steve Conroy

Rusty Tolley did appear, having been delayed by “police work.” Rusty is a reformed cowboy turned State Policeman who enjoyed spending a year learning some of what Cowboys do. He is a humorist and a tale teller, along with being a reciter of poetry. I’ve seen a number of performers and I must say Rusty’s timing is impeccable. He had the audience hanging on every word and waiting for the punch line, which he delivered smoothly and with great panache (good cowboy word). He had been away from the Gathering for a while and I know the audiences enjoyed his presentations!

The Gila Valley Wranglers consist of Ralph Smith, Darell James, Frank Fox and Ron Green, the first three on guitar and Ron on bass. Each is a long time musician and has been performing in the Gila Valley festivals for years. They rotated among themselves singing their own renditions of various pieces with the others supporting them on their respective instruments. It was an interesting twist to a group performance and made for a lively presentation.

Following intermission, Steve Hill introduced Bill Cavaliere. Bill is presently a member of the Playas Police Department and brings years of experience as a law officer, cowboy poet and historic tour guide, history consultant, rancher and cowboy to his poetry. He has participated in the Bootheel Gathering often since its inception 15 years ago. He is a good story teller and his tales come from the heart. As he says, “Most of ‘em are true.”

Jon Messenger is a songwriter, singer and poet. Jon was relaxed and poised and gave one of the best performances I have seen in quite a while. He opened with a Tom Russell piece called "Hallie Lonnigan" that is lively and haunting. He finished up with a new piece written by Les Buffham and Jon Messenger called "Jornada del Muerto” and left the audience mesmerized. You could tell from Jon’s presentation that he was just enjoying his music and his delivery was flawless.

Bud Strom is well-known poet throughout the southwest and has performed at many other Gatherings. He is a rancher in Hereford, AZ where he and his wife Joan raise Angus cattle. He has written two book of poetry, but also likes to do some of the classics. He talked of working with the school children in the Sierra Vista Poetry Program and some of the interesting – and humorous -- experiences he’s had with them. He shared a poem by Royce Hodge called “My Friend” and finished up in style with Will Ogilvie’s “The Pearl Of Them All.” That touched every heartstring in the house.

photo courtesy Allen "Hook" Hill
Bud Strom

Roughstring was shy a few members, but Ken Moore and Jess Barry still delivered some superb music. Jon Messenger joined them and added another guitar dimension to their presentations. Mostly they just had fun, which meant the audience had a great time too. Jess Barry did a fiddle solo called “Cotton Patches” and “wowed” everyone with his talent. Ken Moore did a piece called “Cowboy’s Life” that had everyone swaying to the music. They wrapped up the evening with Ian Tyson’s “Navajo Rug.” What a show! It doesn’t get much better than that!

My hat is off once again to “Hook” and June Hill, who continue to make this one of those “gems of a Gathering.” And to the wonderful audience who came from near and far to support the Lordsburg Museum renovation, thank you for sharing your time and laughter and applause. If you were unable to join us this year in Lordsburg, I would highly encourage you to put this little button of New Mexico Magic on your calendar of events for the second week in February of 2009. See you at the next great Gathering!

 By Allen "Hook" Hill:

Talk about starting the 15th annual Bootheel Cowboy Poetry Fiesta off with a bang!  The Lordsburg-Hidalgo County Museum fundraiser audience, after cracking up at some of master of ceremonies Steve Hill's antics and stories, sat in near silence as Steve introduced the first performer, Rusty Tolley, who, lo and behold, was not there.

The crowd began to laugh at the apparent dilemma, but Hook Hill rushed up to the microphone like an old woman late for a hog calling and kept the laughter on track with tales and stories that he pulled out of the blue.  The definitely unplanned opening lead to a devil-may-care attitude that lasted throughout the evening.

Singer/poet Steve Conroy from Sierra Vista, Ariz., was first up after some semblance of order was restored.  Steve, a fine performer who understands what audiences enjoy, since he is co-chairman of the Cochise Cowboy Poet and Music Gathering, kept the crowd in the mood with some strummin', singin' and recitin'.

During Steve's performance, Rusty Tolley, the New Mexico State Policeman who is stationed in Animas, N. Mex., showed up.  Rusty, who was running late because of duty, assured the audience that as far as he knew he didn't break the speed limit on the way in.  Of course, he had disconnected the speedometer…

Rusty quickly picked up the disposition of the audience and immediately got everyone in his pocket and kept them there with a string of comical tales and poems.  He swore, of course, they were the gospel truth.

Hook Hill then took up the beat and kept the laughter going with some honest-to-goodness "true" tales, and poems that also had to be true.  They were too far out to have been concocted.

photo courtesy Allen "Hook" Hill
Allen "Hook" Hill

The "swingin' and stompin' portion of the first session was ushered in by the Gila Valley Wranglers, a Western music group composed of Ralph Smith, Ron Green, Frank Fox, and Darell James, all from the Safford, Ariz., area.  Individually the members of this group have been Western musicians all their lives.  Recently, however, they have come together and jelled as a band.  Their music raised many memories in the minds of the listeners, and had many a toe tapping and a head swaying.  

At intermission the Lordsburg Fire Department cooked up a batch of hamburgers on the Western Bank grill and served them to nearly 200 fans and entertainers.  The hamburgers and trimmings were furnished by Saucedo's Supermarket.

The second session began with continued excitement as poet Bill Cavaliere took the spotlight.  He immediately captured the audience with some of the most outlandish lies any audience has ever heard.  Being a lawman, one would expect a little more honesty out of Bill.  But you know what?  The audience believed every word of it as if he'd had his hand on the Bible all the way through it.  They not only believed it, they laughed at it.  If you missed it, it's a good thing you weren't there or we'd have had to check you out with the rest of that laughing bunch. 

Jon Messenger, the "standup composin', song writin', guitar playin', singin'" entertainer from Sierra Vista, Ariz., next took the stage to delight the audience with some of his own songs and other Western ballads.  John's commanding appearance--he is tall, muscular, gray-bearded, and poised--at once got the audience's attention and kept it during his performance.

Bud Strom, the ranching poet and storyteller from Hereford, Ariz., instantly appealed to the crowd with his true-to-life experience in instructing school kids ages 9 through 18 as to how to write cowboy poetry.  Bud is a well-traveled performer who is in demand all through the year for numerous events.  His poetry touched base with the audience as he recited with the enthusiasm and appeal of the veteran he is.  As he began to recite a particular poem, he hesitated a moment and his attention was drawn to a woman in the crowd who suggested that he try another poem.  Before taking her advice, he spoke to her directly: "Lady, I don't know who you are, but…"   It turns out that Bud couldn't remember the first line of the poem he'd often recited--and the lady was his wife of many years.   

All through the stage show Steve Hill kept the audience perking and in anticipation of just what might be next.  At one point in the evening, he had to abandon his emcee duties to perform at the request of audience members wanting to hear his hysterical Dallas Cowboys story.  The actual events of this story unfolded more than 20 years ago while Steve was riding with Rita Hill on the Shakespeare Ranch near Lordsburg.

The final performance of the evening was presented by Roughstring Western Music Band.  The band was unavoidable short two members, but John Messenger deftly filled in on guitar and all went well.  Ken Moore, guitarist and vocalist, Jess Barry, super fiddler and vocalist, and the above-mentioned John Messenger turned out some swinging music that had the audience yelling for more and marked the end of a near perfect evening.

photo courtesy Allen "Hook" Hill
Jon Messenger with Jess Barry and Ken Moore of Roughstring

 The museum board members have expressed their thanks and gratitude to all the many individuals, groups, businesses and entities, who helped in any way toward the presentation of the 2008 Bootheel Cowboy Poetry Fiesta, which was held in Lordsburg, N. Mex., on Feb. 9.  Don't miss this next community project on the second Sat. of Feb. 2009. 


January, 2008
Fort Worth Stock Show  Fort Worth, Texas
"Campfire Tales" presented by Texas Cowboy Poets Association


  report by Charles Williams with photos by Waynetta Ausmus



The temperatures outside were cold, but inside the West Arena at the Fort Worth Stock Show, performances by the singers, poets, storytellers and musicians kept the temperature red hot at the Eleventh Annual Campfire Tales. This was the first time the show went three days, from January 21st through the 23rd, and the great talent kept large and enthusiastic audiences entertained all three days.  From the opening act iPokes (Lanny Joe Burnett and Royce Smithey) Monday noon to the closing ensemble of Texas Trailhands joined by the rest of the performers Wednesday night, highlight after highlight after highlight kept the Arena hopping as new favorites and old friends put on a memorable show.

Buck Helton checking to see if that guy emoting (Charles Williams) was on the program.

The combination of Lanny Joe and Royce, who call themselves "iPokes", started things off on a high note, with a blend of songs and poems. Who knew LJ could sing?  And well?  They were followed by such outstanding poets as Gail Burton (the creator of Randy Jones and Booger Red); the pride of Oklahoma "Straw" Berry; Alan and Diane Thompson (Ridin' Side by Side, which also happens to be the title of their excellent book of cowboy poetry); the Sweetheart (NOT Queen) of the Rodeo Teresa Burleson, and Monty Teel. On the musical side, Monday was one of the best and most diverse days of music ever presented at Campfire Tales.  The Terry Family (Bob, Johnie (NOT Gwen) and Chance) kicked off with their special
brand of powerful Western and Gospel music—and we do mean powerful. (Their singing caused a bright light to shine upon the stage.  Coincidence?  Maybe— but I believe!)  They were followed by long time Stock Show favorites Stan Mahler and Judy James. Stan and Judy are favorites because they both present Cowboy music at its finest - crisp, professionally
delivered, enticingly listenable old and new standards.  It was, however, the groups of musicians on stage that gave the day it's special flavor. Devon Dawson (guitar and vocal), Katie Howell (fiddle), Buck Helton (guitar and vocal), Jess Meador (fiddle), Brooke Wallace (fiddle), "Outlaw" Jessie Del Robertson (vocal, saxophone and whistling) and Al "Cornbread" Connor (vocals, percussion and tub bass—and several other amazing effects) in various combinations backed other musicians and poets, formed the basis for two on-stage jams, and in general kept both the stage and hallway on top buzzing and filled with musical energy.  Devon and Buck presented their usual: highly enjoyable takes on Cowboy, Western and Swing music.  The first on-stage jam was The Cowtown Opry Saddle Pals Show, when "Gentleman" Jack Walton (vocal and lead guitar), Tree Walton (acoustic bass and vocals) and Ashley "Texas Red" Gilbreath (vocals) joined the above mentioned for a memorable set.  They also formed the basis for the FWSSR Phil R. Monic Orchestra and Chorus. On Monday, the role of Phil (the musical director)  was filled by welcome newcomer (to the Stock Show, but certainly not to the Ft. Worth Music scene) Buck Reames.  Monday has to rate as one of the Phil R. Monic's best shows.

Gail T. Burton

The musical bill for Monday had more, however.  Between the CTO Saddle Pals and the Phil R. Monic, The amazing Bremer family (Johnny, Charlie, Jessica, Ryan and Joseph) took center stage.  If you close your eyes, you would believe they are a group of professionals who have been playing for many years instead of the group of very talented youngsters they are.

There is only one person who has enough talent, likeability, stage presence and musical experience to follow the Phil R. Monic by himself—the incomparable Dan Roberts.  As the enthusiastic audience response proved, Dan was more than equal to the task.

Tuesday was more of the same, only different.  Instead of music, Tuesday's emphasis was on Tales and Stories. Charles Williams started things off with a wild tale about the Tabasco War, David Williams,Teresa Burleson and Monty Teel added poetry, and Waynetta Ausmus added another story.  That, however, was far from the end. In response to audience demands for more Tales at Campfire Tales, The Pecos Bill Memorial Seminar and Lecture Series was presented by several PHDs - and they sure Piled it Higher and Deeper. "Roads Scholar" Gail Burton spoke on cold weather energy strategies, "Perfessor" David Williams spoke on creative uses of toilet paper, "Principaled" Waynetta Ausmus spoke the meeting between Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull, and "Full-not-so-bright Scholar" Charles Williams spoke on the proper method of managing railroads.  That'll teach 'em to ask.

Teresa Burleson

Music was not neglected.  The Ackermans, a popular and talented musical duo from Dallas and around the world, gave a sample of their hugely varied repertoire.  Bob plays guitar and Sally plays bass—and spurs. You had to be there to see (and hear) it. The Terrys made a repeat performance, as did Devon and Jess, Stan Mahler, and Buck Helton. Janet McBride made her 2008 debut, along with John Ingram.  It was good to see both of them, and they entertained a highly appreciative audience with a great set.  Bob Campbell took time out of a hectic schedule of moving to weave his magic, to everyone's
delight.  Billy Joe Rogers, one of the few perennial performers, sang a highly entertaining set featuring old Country and Western favorites.  The Phil R. Monic featured Devon as music director, making it, one supposes, the Phyllis R. Monic.  The second part of the Phil R. Monic featured Valerie O'Brien and Her School of Fiddle students.  Valerie was joined on stage by Katie Crawford, Kyle Russell, Cierra Moore, Noellel Nugent, Hailey Lamb, Katlyn Boone, Karissa Nugent, Emily Richey, Jessica Sell, Maleika Nugent, Cheyenne Craig and Schaylyn Kelly. Backup was provided by Rich O'Brien, who also  introduced one of his new songs.  Valerie has done a super job with these kids, who range in age from preteen to mid-teen. They sounded good.

The evening was topped off with the first appearance in a few years from the Wallace Family.  Paul and his wonderfully gifted crew play an engaging brand of Western Swing, and as they grow older (which they are—Brooke is in college now!!!!), their sound matures with them.  It's still fresh and energetic, but it's become tighter and smoother.  Brooke, Sally Ann,
Bethany, Caleb and Maddie Belle (with Paul on rhythm guitar) just sound  better and better.  Christy is getting Josh and Seth (who are a handful) ready as well.  The really neat thing about them is that besides being so musically talented, they are the same friendly, down-to-earth folks they started out being.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, along came Wednesday. Right off the bat, it was time for The Phunky Phiddlers, otherwise know as Katie's Kool Kids, to show the progress they've made.  This year's edition featured Miranda Coopman, Elizabeth Cardona, Summer Flores, Jackie Trujillo and Chelsea Willette. They played well.

(North Texas is very fortunate to have two of the finest fiddle teachers in the US here—Valerie O'Brien and Kate Howell.  There are both very talented performers in their own right, and they both perform miracles teaching youngsters how to play a very difficult instrument.  While the kids they get differ greatly—Katie teaches in a public school to middle schoolers and
Valerie works with a wider variety, mostly younger private students, the result is the same—a new generation exposed to, and playing, Western Swing.)

The rest of the day was a mixture of poetry songs emphasizing the Cowboy. Repeat performers included Janet McBride and John Ingram, Gail Burton, Stan Mahler, Devon Dawson and Buck Helton.  New poet John Pelham was a crowd pleaser, as was storyteller BJ Giles. Joe Wells (poet) and Frank Roberts (guitar and vocals) presented a very nicely done balance of song and story. Poets and singers working together like Joe and Frank do always provide an  interesting and fascinating show for an audience.  Jimmy Pate joined BJ Giles and added a nice musical touch to his time on stage as well. "Soughdough" Meyers is a singer, musician, historian, storyteller, strange instrument player—in short, an entertainer. Jack Blease made a returnvisit  and once again showed his mastery of song and story honoring the American Cowboy.  The music director of the Phil R. Monic on Wednesday was Buck Helton, and it tended to be more cowboy than Western Swing, but a good time was had by all, especially the very appreciative audience.

The best way to wrap up a sublime three days is with a rousing, foot-stomping, high energy, musically exciting act - in short, the Texas Trailhands.  Miss. Devon, "Chuckwagon" Chuck, "Rodeo" Kate, "Hoot" Al and "Red River" Rick provided the perfect note, sending the audience home tapping their feet.  All the remaining performers joined the Trail Hands for a fitting close, and a promise of next year.

Teresa Burleson, Lanny Joe Burnett, Sandra Herl, Steven Herl, Diane Thompson, Alam Thompson and Stan Mahler

The Eleventh Annual Campfire Tales could have not been the success it was without the efforts of all involved.  Besides the performers, John Buttram performed MC duties with his usual style and humor. Liz Campbell of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram gave us excellent press coverage, as always.  Matt Brockman and all the members of the Stock Show staff once again provided us with support, encouragement and, most important, a place to play. Lanny Joe Burnett helped with arrangements and carpentry. A special thanks needs to be extended to Devon Dawson.  There are only a handful of people who have been
associated with all eleven shows, and Devon is one of them.  Her energy, enthusiasm and élan are truly the spark that lights the Campfire.



We invite you to send in reports about gatherings and other events.



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