Wednesday, Jan. 23rd, 2019

Rock Fest Releases 2019 Lineup

Rob Zombie, Rock Fest 2017
Rob Zombie, Rock Fest 2017

Jefferson Starship lyrics might be the least rock n roll way to describe Rock Fest, but “we built this city on rock n roll” is – all things considered – a pretty fair sum-up of what goes down on Cadott’s festival grounds every summer. It is, quite accurately, a city of its own – a place where rock fans of all ages, shapes, and sizes can come together for a heavy-hitting weekend of some of the genre’s greats.

And today, the fest announced its 2019 lineup for its 26th year, happening July 18-20 (with an extra so-called Bonus Bash on July 17). Topping off the list of nearly 70 bands is big names like Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, Five Finger Death Punch, Breaking Benjamin, Mastodon, and Evanescence. 

As always, it’s sure to be a grand time as the grounds get transformed into the biggest rock party the area has ever seen. Plenty of the biggest names in rock will perform, some choice tribute bands, and local band Stare Across is on the lineup as well (shout out to them).

All Lure Lock Top Tier Lounge, VIP, Reserved Lawn, 3-Day and 1-Day GA tickets are on sale right now – plus VIP and GA camping. You can find that and lots more at Go get ‘em.

Here’s the lineup in full ...


Wednesday July 17 (Bonus Bash for three-day ticket holders)


Thursday July 18


Friday July 19


Saturday July 20


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Monday, Jan. 21st, 2019

Crazy for Kroeze: 'Voice' finalist to headline 3 (sold out) Pablo Center shows

Barron native and finalist on The Voice, Chris Kroeze gained tremendous national exposure in 2018. In March, he’ll return to the area for a show at the Pablo Center.
Barron native and finalist on The Voice, Chris Kroeze gained tremendous national exposure in 2018. In March, he’ll return to the area for a show at the Pablo Center.


UPDATE: The Pablo Center has since announced two additional Chris Kroeze shows following the sell-out of the original March 29 performance.  All three shows (March 29 at 7pm, March 30 at 7pm, and March 30 at 9:30pm) have sold out!

The Pablo Center at the Confluence announced Monday that nationally celebrated Barron, Wis. musician Chris Kroeze will headline at the RCU Theatre March 30 at 7pm. The singer-songwriter was the runner-up in NBC’s singing competition program The Voice, where he was coached by country megastar Blake Shelton.

“I remember reading about the Pablo Center when the discussions first started about it being built, the quality of the room, the acoustics … ” Kroeze said. “All I could think was how cool that was going to be to have in this area. My next thought was, ‘What do I have to do to get to play there?’ ”

"I remember reading about the Pablo Center when the discussions first started about it being built, the quality of the room, the acoustics … All I could think was how cool that was going to be to have in this area. My next thought was, ‘What do I have to do to get to play there?’ ” – Singer Chris Kroeze

His performance at The Pablo Center will include a mix of songs that he performed on The Voice, covers, and his own original music. Kroeze said he feels fortunate to be backed by top-notch musicians, and confident that it will be a fun show.

“The support for him has been a lovely thing to watch,” the Pablo’s Director of Artistic Programming, Brenna St. George Jones said.  “It’s not because he’s on TV. It’s because he’s Chris and he’s from Barron and we know him.”

“For me it was the entire culmination of what we built the building for.” Pablo’s Executive Director Jason Jon Anderson said. “The building is sort of meant to highlight the best of national and international talent, but also to elevate local. Chris is the culmination of both of those things into one.” It is Anderson’s hope that musicians such as Kroeze will think of the Pablo Center as their homebase as more locally grown talent finds success.

St. George Jones is excited to see Kroeze, as a local musician, take the same stage as national acts such as The Blind Boys of Alabama and Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

Kroeze is thankful for the support he has received from his hometown and the Chippewa Valley during and after his run on The Voice.

“This is my home, it’s where my grandparents and parents all lived and raised their families,” he said. “I’m proud to be from Northwest Wisconsin and this is where I want to be, and where I’m going to stay.”

Ticket sales open to the general public on Thursday, Jan. 31, after a two-day presale for Pablo Center members Jan. 24-25.  For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

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Tuesday, Jan. 15th, 2019

Eau Claire Hadn’t Given Out a 'Key to the City' for Decades ... Until Tuesday

January 15, on stage in the RCU Theater at the Pablo Center on the Confluence: Jamf Software CEO Dean Hager (left), Eau Claire City Manager Dale Peters (center, holding key to city), and Jamf's Jason Wudi (right).
January 15, on stage in the RCU Theater at the Pablo Center on the Confluence: Jamf Software CEO Dean Hager (left) and Eau Claire City Manager Dale Peters.

In Medieval times, receiving a key to city was a great honor, signifying that the recipient could come and go from a walled fortress at will. Eau Claire has no walls – only a couple of rivers and a now-famous confluence – and it hasn’t given out ceremonial keys in decades. That changed Tuesday when City Manager Dale Peters handed an oversized wooden key to Dean Hager, CEO of Jamf Software, the Eau Claire-born firm that is holding its annual SubZero employee conference in town the week.

SubZero has drawn about 800 Jamf employees from 15 countries for a mid-winter confab at the Pablo Center at the Confluence (the arts center built, in part, through the generosity of Jamf’s co-founder, Zach Halmstad, and his business partners, Jason Wudi and Julia Johnson, also early Jamf-ers). The annual gathering has traditionally been held in Minneapolis, site of Jamf’s headquarters and largest office, but the company decided to return to its roots this year, in part because the Pablo Center provides a spacious enough home for the all-employee gathering.

Peters gave key to Hager, the CEO, in a Tuesday morning ceremony in the RCU Theatre. In an interview, Peters said he didn’t recall such a key being given out before during his 30 years with the city. The sign of civic respect was the brainchild of City Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle and Visit Eau Claire, the region’s tourism promotion agency.

“The presenting of the key is a traditional ceremony in many international communities,” Peters said, “and we thought it was appropriate to develop a key that could be used for this very large, very unique, very international event.”

Jamf was honored in a uniquely Eau Claire fashion: Peters said the key was made from reclaimed ash wood from city trees. “The community is very proud of Jamf, and the community is very proud to be part of Jamf’s history,” Peters added.

Can we expect the city to begin giving out more keys? Perhaps, Peters said, although before that happens we can expect the city to develop procedures and guidelines on the who, when, where, and how of such civic honors.

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Fireball Run Season Featuring Eau Claire Debuts

Local Fireball Run team car.
Local Fireball Run team car.

The latest season of the TV series Fireball Run, which was recorded partly in Eau Claire, makes its debut Jan. 15 on Amazon Prime. The series – a combination road rally and life-sized trivia competition – began its 11th season in Eau Claire, and the city and its sights are featured prominently in several episodes. Forty teams – including one from the Chippewa Valley – departed the “green light city” in September 2017 and traveled 2,000 miles across the Midwest to Rapid City, South Dakota. The local team consisted of Luke Hanson (executive director of the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corp.) and Julie Thoney (community service and economic development manager of Xcel), who won first place in the competition’s Alternate Fuel Class. Rather than racing from one town to the next, “Driving teams are tasked with clues which, if solved on time, lead to an array of amazing artifacts, physical challenges, and unusual experiences spanning the Midwest,” a press release stated. Offbeat destinations included the Minnesota birthplace of water skiing and the location of the real “American Gothic” in Iowa. All 30 episodes of the season are available to stream by Amazon Prime members.

The Fireball Run starting line.
The Fireball Run starting line.

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Wednesday, Jan. 9th, 2019

Decadent Cabaret Unleashes 40th Anniversary Show Lineup

It’s truly a landmark year for Decadent Cabaret, one of Eau Claire’s longest running musical institutions. The locally grown music festival – which often finds a multitude of local bands doing elaborate tribute sets – is celebrating its 40th anniversary this spring with a killer lineup of 34 different acts. It all goes down over three full days and nights of music Feb. 28 through March 1 at the fest’s new home The Metro. After four decades of bringing together some of the best bands in the Chippewa Valley music scene, there’s clearly no steam lost. And hey, in addition to all the face-melting music, the Torch Sisters will perform and there will be a full art gallery by Artisan Forge Studios. Nightly tickets are $10, but $25 will cover all three nights.

Get tickets on »

Check out the full lineup below ...

The Jaggernauts
Drunk Drivers
Chasing Mabel
Orenda Fugue
Den Barstow Ludders
Irie Sol
Pit Wagon
Nancy Olson
Dead Ringers
Stare Across
Riggs Calvero
Nick Anderson & The Skinny Lovers
Beercan Pentagram
Outlaw Renegades
Ghosts Of The Sun
Peter Diedrick
John Buxton Experience
D.I.Y. Daisy
FM Down
Eddie Inc
Paint Dry
Yam Cannon
Squiddy and the Banshees
Dissonant Mind
Giants of Midgard
Barbed Wire Dress

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Tuesday, Jan. 8th, 2019

Chicago Tribune: Eau Claire a "must see destination" for 2019

Check it out – the Chicago Tribune lists Eau Claire on a roster of "9 must-see destinations worth a visit in 2019" – a list that includes mostly larger midwestern cities such as Detroit, St. Paul, Columbus, St. Louis, and more. The short writeup mentions our outdoorsiness, local events, the Pablo Center, The Oxbow Hotel, Eaux Claires, and as you may have guessed, a musician named Justin Vernon. It also manages to mention Brooklyn, Austin, and Portland in the first sentence. But hey, it's always nice to get a little attention, especially when we're placed alongside so many great, well-established communities. 

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Monday, Jan. 7th, 2019

Storylords: Rediscovering a Low-Budget Wisconsin-made Educational Sci-fi Epic

Larry Laird as the evil Storylord Thorzuul, a caped, sunglasses-rocking villain, shown here in anguish. Image:
Actor Larry Laird as the evil Storylord Thorzuul, a caped, sunglasses-rocking villain, shown here in bitter anguish. (Image: Wisconsin Public Television Education)

Last month, Wisconsin Public Radio took a deep dive into a public television show many of you have seen ... but perhaps only vaguely remember. Like all good epic adventures, PBS’s low-budget live-action educational show Storylords has passed into legend. But like Tolkien’s Ring of Power (“ wants to be found...”) the show has emerged from the obscurity of random remembrances to the slightly less obscure realm of YouTube, where it’s been racking up tens of thousands of views, presumably from people who grew up with it. The short-lived show was no Sesame Street or Magic School Bus, but it was still memorable ... in its own quirky way.

Storylords consists of twelve 15-minute programs, produced in 1984 and aired in the ’80s and ’90s. It focuses on building reading comprehension strategies through the use of fantasy storylines where a brother and sister are drafted into a secret magical battle spilling over from a different planet. As is the case in all battles betwixt good and evil, excellent reading skills are required to thwart the bad guys.

What many people who remember the show – even Chippewa Vallians – don’t realize is that it was produced at the University of Wisconsin–Stout.

The WPR piece does a fantastic job resurrecting the Storylords backstory, interviewing the show’s producers and, of course, the actors – such as  Tanya Tiffany who played the hero “Mandy.” And best of all, they talked with Larry Laird who played the show’s caped, sunglasses-rocking villain Thorzuul, who seeks to turn all those who can't understand what they read into stone statues.

Here’s what Storylords director and producer Ed Jakober told WPR about the production:

We had a local WPT production outlet here (in Menomonie). We were assigned most of the educational programming from ECB. That was based on whatever the need was in Wisconsin at the time. ... We spent two years on the program. The first year-and-a-half was spent on research, methodology, reading strategies and the educational process. Then, we hired writer Jed MacKay … He came up with the "Storylords" concept. 

We filmed around town, away from the studio ... Thorzuul's lair? OK let's go inside Mabel Tainter Theater or the library. We filmed at Menomonie East School — it still stands. All the kids would show up. We’d set up a wide shot in the classroom, then they'd go outside and play. After a while, we'd have them do lines. We'd do at least two (episodes) every day in the school.

As for the actors, all the extras we got from the UW-Stout theater department. The kids were just kids.

Listen to or read the story online:

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Thursday, Dec. 27th, 2018

Take the Quiz: Year in Review 2018

Things are moving fast in the Chippewa Valley …

Crazy development projects, notable locals doing amazing things, creatives putting out stunning work, businesses reaching new levels of innovation – we really do live in a special place. But here’s our question for you: Were you paying attention? We do a Year In Review quiz every year around this time, and our editors have written questions designed to stump, befuddle, confuse, confound, and bewilder you. Are you a master of all things western Wisconsin? Take the quiz and see for yourself.

Take the Quiz Here »

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Thursday, Dec. 13th, 2018

Convention Center Would Benefit Eau Claire, Study Says, But Location Still Uncertain

An artist's conception of the proposed Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex, which could be part of an effort to built a city convention center (or not).
An artist's conception of the proposed Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex, which could be part of an effort to built a city convention center (or not).

A just-released feasibility study concludes that building a new convention center in Eau Claire could have a nearly $200 million economic impact over the course of a decade, but the ideal location of such a facility remains unclear.

The study, commissioned by Visit Eau Claire and the City of Eau Claire, recommends that a 117,000-square-foot convention center and an adjacent 200-room hotel be built. Locations should be considered both downtown and on Menomonie Street, where the convention center would be part of UW-Eau Claire’s proposed Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex.

Chicago-based Hunden Strategic Partners estimates a stand-alone convention facility – encompassing a 30,000-square-foot exhibition hall, a 15,000-square-foot grand ballroom, and 8,000 square feet of meeting rooms – would cost $49.4 million to build.

On Wednesday, Visit Eau Claire’s board of directors voted unanimously to continue to explore the possibility of building a convention center and to consider both Menomonie Street and downtown locations. Visit Eau Claire will also explore funding models needed to build and sustain the facility.

“If we can figure out how to build a convention center, the demand is there,” said Linda John, Visit Eau Claire’s executive director

“If we can figure out how to build a convention center, the demand is there,” said Linda John, Visit Eau Claire’s executive director. According to the study, a new facility would host an estimated 144 events – ranging from trade shows to business meetings – in its first year. By year 10, this figure could grow to 257 events annually.

Visit Eau Claire had previously estimated that over a five-year period Eau Claire missed out on $45 million in spending by groups who wanted to hold their conventions in Eau Claire but couldn’t because facilities were inadequate.

In the study, Hunden Strategic Partners estimates that the 10-year total of direct spending generated by a convention center would total $115 million, a figure that would rise to $199 million when indirect and induced spending is considered. In addition, as many as 321 new jobs would be created by the facility by its 10th year of operation, and a total of $5 million in extra room taxes would be collected over the course of a decade, the study estimates.

While meeting planners statewide generally have a positive view of Eau Claire, a shortage of adequate convention facilities hinders the community, the study said. While smaller options such as the Davies Center, the Lismore Hotel, and Florian Gardens exist, no current venue includes an exhibit hall, ballroom, and breakout meeting rooms under a single roof. In addition, the study notes, the loss of the Plaza Hotel & Suites – which was torn down to make way for the new Marshfield Clinic hospital – made the local supply problem even worse.

The study recommends that an event center would be more cost effective if it were built to accommodate 6,500 people rather than the 4,500 in the current Sonnentag Center proposal. 

The study recommends that an event center would be more cost effective if it were built to accommodate 6,500 people rather than the 4,500 in the current Sonnentag Center proposal. According to the study, “While the larger, 6,500-seat scenario is only 44 percent larger and will only host 16 more events, it is projected to generate nearly three times the amount of fiscal impact over the first ten years of operations.”

(The Sonnentag Center has been on the drawing board since 2014, when the UW-Eau Claire Foundation announced a donation of money and land worth $10 million from alumni John and Carolyn Sonnentag. The proposed center would serve as a replacement for Zorn Arena as a home for Blugold sports as well as other musical and community events.)

As the study notes, co-locating with the Sonnentag Center would offer advantages for a convention center. Combining an event center, a convention center, a new YMCA, and a hotel, Eau Claire may be able to compete for more and larger events than it could if these facilities were scattered, the study says. However, it adds, the Menomonie Street site has drawbacks. For example, it isn’t close to restaurants, hotels, and other downtown amenities that visitors would appreciate. “It would be more of a suburban-type setting,” John said.

As the study states, “Meeting planners and attendees do not want to feel isolated in their hotel or convention center during their stay. A location downtown would offer this upside, although (it) would be mitigated by not being adjacent to the event center, which could share events. While there is no perfect scenario for Eau Claire, the pros and cons of the location should be considered.”

Visit Eau Claire and the city also need to evaluate business models for how a convention center would operate. While John said it’s rare to see city-owned convention centers succeed, a completely private facility is unlikely as well: If a privately built, owned, and operated convention center were viable, she noted, the private sector would have already created one. It’s more likely that a convention facility would be the product of a public-private partnership, much like the one that led to the construction of the Pablo Center at the Confluence (which is now, incidentally, home to Visit Eau Claire).

“It’s clear that the demand is there, and that’s what people need to focus on.”
–Andrew Werthmann, Eau Claire City Council acting president

Andrew Werthmann, acting president of the Eau Claire City Council, said the study makes a strong case for a 6,500-seat convention center. While a larger facility would be more costly, it would also draw many more events and visitors, Werthmann noted. “It’s clear that the demand is there, and that’s what people need to focus on,” he said.

Werthmann added that it’s premature to say how the project would be paid for and whether a downtown site or the Menomonie Street location is preferable. “I think there's positives to both (sites), and we’re going to have to take more time to study the options,” he said.

John expects further conversations about a convention center to begin in the new year, with possible specific recommendations reached by the end of 2019. “A year from now, I think we’ll have a better idea for a path,” she said.

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Monday, Dec. 10th, 2018

Eaux Claires: Organizers Set Sights on 2020 Reboot Right in the Heart of the City

OUT OF THE WOODS. Attendees check out art installations at the 2018 Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival. Organizers are set to bring the next fest right into downtown Eau Claire.
OUT OF THE WOODS. Left: Phoebe Bridgers performs at the 2018 Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival. Right: Attendees check out art installations. Organizers are set to bring the next Eaux Claires fest right into downtown Eau Claire.

In recent weeks the founders of the Eaux Claires Music and Arts Festival have met in Eau Claire and New York City to plan the next phase of the internationally attended event, which has been curated by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner of The National, along with creative director Michael Brown. Held over the last four years at Foster Farms just outside of Eau Claire, the two-day festival has gone a long way toward putting our small city on the world’s cultural map with unique collaborative performances, ambitious art installations, and thoughtful integration of its wooded surroundings – earning press and recognition around the globe.

Usually by this time of the year, dates would have been set for next year's event and early ticket offerings would have been up for grabs, so the delay has caused speculation on what the future may hold. Well, the answers are now coming into focus.

According to Vernon, Dessner, Brown and others involved with the festival, 2019 will serve like something of a “gap year” – a planning and reset year, really. Early discussions have begun with the City of Eau Claire on an entirely new iteration of the event, one that would relaunch in the summer of 2020 right downtown. This new incarnation would utilize new and existing downtown spaces, such as the Pablo Center at the Confluence, Haymarket Plaza, Phoenix Park, private venues, and some of the community’s other nooks and crannies. Scroll down for a statement from the organizers.

But why the change? According to Brown, the festival – or really any art-focused event like it – must be relieved of the financial pressure to be commercially viable in order to grow, which unfortunately is counter to what the previous location demanded. “The harsh reality is that a large outdoor music festival either needs very large attendance – 20,000 or more – or exorbitant ticket prices to be financially sustainable, neither of which fits our vision and goal for the purpose of this festival in Eau Claire, WI.”

Moving the event into the heart of the city is an effort to create something with longevity and creative purpose. It’s to plant deeper roots in the community, increase the impact on the local economy, and make the festival more accessible to the public overall. This new model would likely make passes for the festival considerably more affordable, while adding more á la carte-style options (adding on specific shows in some of the larger venues), allowing attendees to craft their own experience.  

NEW VIDEO! Look Back: Eaux Claires IV (2018)

Clearly a lot of logistical exploration will be needed before a move to downtown could be approved by City staff and council, but minds are open. Eau Claire City Manager Dale Peters is supportive of the concept, noting that, though at a different scale, the “52nd Street” aspect of the annual Jazz Festival, which incorporates multiple indoor venues and closes traffic on Barstow St. in April of each year for outdoor fun, has been considered a success. “This concept for Eaux Claires promises to build on that success and grow it, just in a different season and with a different focus of music,” said Peters. “We’re excited to work with the organizers to make it a successful event for the community, the participants, and the musicians.”

While a move downtown may seem unusual when most of our large-scale local music festivals take place in nearby farm fields, a downtown-based event was actually founder Justin Vernon’s original concept for the festival before it launched on the Country Jam grounds in 2015. Now, four years later, with new venues to work with downtown – such as those inside and around the Pablo Center – that concept is actually possible. In fact, on some level it’s been happening through the community-based “Prex Claires” aspect of the event – where multiple venues have hosted gigs the Thursday night before the festival over the last two years. A move to downtown would be a return to the original inspiration, getting closer to the organizers’ overarching mission of fostering a creative community, pushing for challenging programming, and finding growth through those aims.

Thankfully, the coming gap year won’t be devoid of activity from the Eaux Claires crew. Organizers will host a week-long residence program in the fall to help design and plan the downtown version of the festival. The week will end with a presentation of the plans and a day of music in the Pablo Center and around downtown. Throughout the year, an Eaux Claires-based music series will be presented at the Pablo as well. The festival is also working to hire a full-time director and additional full-time staff that can focus on the event year round.

Notably since last year’s festival, Pablo Properties – an organization quickly becoming a household name in Eau Claire – took on partial ownership of Eaux Claires, which has helped allow some flexibility and creativity in the model for the event moving forward. As the lead donor to the Pablo Center (thus the name), Pablo Properties is also the creator of the Lismore Hotel and a partner in the Oxbow Hotel, among other projects. In November they were selected to work with the City of Eau Claire on redevelopment of a block-and-a-half of prime downtown space with a community-focused shipping container park, as well as office and retail space and a new Eau Claire Children’s Museum. Much of that project is scheduled to open in 2020, perhaps some in time for a new Eaux Claires event.

It’s clear that interesting things are on the horizon for not only Eaux Claires, but for downtown Eau Claire overall. Brown summed it up well: “The real reason this thing is living on is because individuals want to see it be used to build up a community and a region. It’s a doubling-down on the mission to help build up Eau Claire.”

Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival: A Statement From the Organizers

As winter deepens here in Eau Claire, WI, we at Eaux Claires wanted to reach out before it gets too cold and update you to the many conversations that we have had over the past couple of months.

In the last four years we have grown together as patrons and organizers; these experiences are perfectly focused within our own collected memories, and feel something like going through four years of high school - the growth, the mistakes, the energy, but most of all the searing, stumbling beauty of becoming one’s self.

After our Senior year, we find ourselves wanting to move out, change things, and take stock of who we've become. In order to manage this transition, we are going to take a year off.  While it will be hard for us to break the chain of momentum and the positive impact the festival has had on our community, we have fresh, clear ideas of how to make it even better. But we aren’t just changing locations, we're bolstering our philosophies. We want to celebrate EVEN MORE about this REAL TOWN we call home by extolling and imagining things we haven't seen or experienced to date.

Ultimately, we want a better experience - not just for us, but for everyone. Is that too vague? We’re not trying to do that anymore, so here...

No Eaux Claires V in 2019. It will happen in 2020, and it will be more focused, fun, and internal. We will have a couple of public events in the coming months hosted at Pablo Center at the Confluence. These events will incorporate performance and dialogue about the direction we plan on taking the festival throughout the coming decade.  Looking forward to seeing you there.

-EXC Founders and Organizers, 12-10-18

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