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Best All Ages Venue/Hangout

1st Place: Phoenix Park
2nd Place: Acoustic Café (Eau Claire)
3rd Place: Action City

The way parks are used and being re-imagined in Eau Claire is amazing. A simple look at the mid-sized park that could – Phoenix Park – reveals a place suitable for events, commerce, and living. With that openness in mind, it is no surprise that the Phark leads the way in best all-ages venue. It is followed by a titan of this category, Acoustic Café, and one last “no duh” choice for all-ages awesomeness: Action City. –Scott Morfitt

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Best Annual Event

1st Place: Chalkfest
2nd Place: Sounds Like Summer Concerts
3rd Place: Country Jam

As far as things that happen every year, it’s no contest for Chalkfest, with dozens of gorgeous chalk masterpieces created by artists from all over the area who gather in Wilson Park in Downtown Eau Claire. The weather held out this year, allowing hundreds (if not thousands) more people to take in the creations in the days following the festival. In second, the Sounds Like Summer Concert Series in Phoenix Park is a favorite, with different bands every week and local vendors selling their wares. New additions to the concert series, such as bike parking courtesy of the Wisconsin Bike Federation, probably also helped. In third comes Country Jam, a favorite for those of you who like to camp out and boogie down. –Briana Bryant

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Best Art Gallery

1st Place: The Volume One Gallery
2nd Place: L.E. Phillips Memorial Library
3rd Place: Tangled Up in Hue

The thing about this category is people tend to vote for the places where they happen to see art the most, and those tend to be public spaces that have other purposes as well. Our own (and relatively new) Volume One Gallery topped this year’s list, narrowly beating out the LEPMPL. While ours is a dedicated gallery, it’s inside The Local Store and hosts numerous events like readings, concerts, film screenings, and more – which gives it a bit of an unfair advantage. The same is true for the library – thousands of people visit for other reasons and while there get exposed to great art. And then you have the downtown favorite, Tangled Up In Hue – a retail store that sells all sorts of artsy things but which also happens to have art hanging in it. These are all good galleries (LEPML in particular), but in our opinion, some of the best galleries are the places that mostly do art and only art – UWEC’s Foster Gallery, UW-Stout’s Furlong Gallery, and the Janet Carson Gallery at the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center. If you want the real deal, check out those too. –Nick Meyer

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Best Band Name

1st Place: Sassy Magoo
2nd Place: Cats Ass
3rd Place: The Shouting Matches

They don’t name bands like they used to. Gone are the glorious days of one-word rawk monikers like Queen, Rush, Yes, Scorpions, Journey, and Hanson. Today it’s all “Florence and the Machine” and “Mumford and Sons” and “Jay Z featuring Justin Timberlake.” But that doesn’t mean creativity is dead, and the musicians of the Chippewa Valley are doing their part to spice things up. Your top choice for best local band name is last year’s second-place winner, Sassy Magoo – a name just begging to be used in a rhyming couplet. Sassy played a farewell show last spring, so we’re not sure if you’ll see the name on a local marquee anytime soon, if ever again. In second place, you loved the assonance of local variety band Cats Ass, and in third, the raucous-sounding label for Justin Vernon project The Shouting Matches. –Mike Paulus

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Best Bluegrass Band

1st Place: Evergreen Grass Band
2nd Place: East Hill Bluegrass Band
3rd Place: Kalispell

Pickin’ and a grinnin’ their way to the top of our list of best bluegrass bands is the Evergreen Grass Band. Formed in 2008 over the course of many beer-fueled and whiskey-slugging open mics at The Mousetrap, the band’s distinct form of bluegrass combines elements of punk, rock ’n’ roll, and country. Live shows bring their genre to new levels with a fast and fun energy that’ll leave you tapping your toes and asking the barkeep for another. The East Hill Bluegrass Band took second on our list. While they were a staple of the Eau Claire music scene for years, they strummed their last at a farewell show in March. Appalachian-influenced songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Shane Leonard and his Kalispell project finish out the list at No. 3. –Graham Barnes

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Best Blues Band

1st Place: Mojo Lemon
2nd Place: The Sue Orfield Band
3rd Place: Howard “Guitar” Luedtke

Like tectonic plates applying tremendous pressure upon each other yet hardly moving at all, the Chippewa Valley’s top blues juggernauts rarely move from their fixed spots on the podium. Consistent with our poll for the last six years, local voters have selected Mojo Lemon as their top blues dog. Sax savant Sue Orfield and her band emerged as new contenders in this category this year hot on the heels of SOB’s new album Fight the Good Fight. Chippewa Falls’ blues legend Howard and Blue Max place third after placing second for the last two years and third in 2010’s poll. –Tyler Griggs

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Best Cover Band

1st Place: Phoenix
2nd Place: Brass Monkey
3rd Place: Big Back Yard

Whether its hair metal, country, or Top 40, the Chippewa Valley’s cover band scene has had its own “battle of the bands” with local readers to get to the top of our charts. After placing the last two years (third place in 2012 and second place in 2011), Phoenix, featuring former members of local “porch rock” band EasyChair Phil Juodis and Tony Basley, win a complementary football helmet filled with cottage cheese for their next show’s rider. Local dance rock and pop cover band Brass Monkey score second following number one spots in 2012 and 2010, and subsequently win a 24”x36” poster of Bea Arthur. Folk and country rock cover band Big Backyard place third this year. They produce a great stripped-down acoustic set too, and for that they win our last oversized novelty baby bottle. –Tyler Griggs

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Best Electronic Musician(s)

1st Place: Yohuna
2nd Place: North House
3rd Place: Sloslylove

There’s a nice feeling about adding a category to the Best Of poll – in a lot of ways, it means that we’re growing as a community. Here’s a prime example of that growth. Over the past year or so we’ve written a number of articles on the Valley’s expanding electronic music scene, and frankly these performers just didn’t fit into any of the other music categories. So, we present the inaugural winners of the Best Electronic Musician category: Yohuna – the electronic project that features Johanne Swanson’s soaring melodies over minimalist production – barely edged out North House, a Minneapolis transplant who makes a varied mix of cinematic soundscapes and smooth-edged hip hop production. Coming in third is Sloslylove, a born-and-raised Eau Clairian who knocks out some of the smoothest, sexiest jams we’ve heard since the 1980s. –Thom Fountain

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Best Folk Performer(s)

1st Place: The Shillelagh Lads
2nd Place: Brian Bethke
3rd Place: Eggplant Heroes

Kiss them, they’re Irish! The Chippewa Valley can appreciate the luck o‘ the Irish year-round with folk performers The Shillelagh Lads, who offer a high-energy, authentic Irish music performance. Offering a foot-stomping, jig-dancing, mug-pounding good time, the Lads certainly deliver upbeat, dynamic performances at locales around town for audiences of all ages. Brian Bethke took second place in the folk performer category, wooing Chippewa Valley audiences with his singer/songwriter sensibilities. Third-placers Eggplant Heroes, a group composed mainly of UW-Eau Claire professors, offers tunes rooted in mountain gospel and folk set to lyrics by poet and songwriter Max Garland. –Taylor Kuether

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Best Hard Rock/Metal Band

1st Place: 4th Floor
2nd Place: The Ronald Raygun
3rd Place: Our Judgment

Though Three Lakes’s 4th Floor may not be a strictly local band, the Chippewa Valley seems to be their adopted home. Regular gigs in town plus ferocious metal hooks reminiscent of Shinedown and Linkin Park jams garnered the group enough support to snag first. Last year’s second place winners The Ronald Raygun hold their spot for another year – the drone and psychedelic metal project featuring Dwarfcraft Devices’ Ben Hinz, plus drummer Matt Haapala and local audio engineer Jaime Hansen. Local technical death metal band Our Judgment scored themselves third place this year. We may not be seeing them in the polls next year however, as despite the release of their fantastic Concepts EP last December and an ambitious summer tour, the band disbanded after five years last August. –Tyler Griggs

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Best Hip Hop Artist

1st Place: Written By Daniel
2nd Place: Frozen Tundra
3rd Place: Mr. Pizzy

As far as Eau Claire hip-hop goes, Frozen Tundra has had a hold on this category in our Best Of poll since its inception seven years ago, showing up consistently. This year proves no different, with the rap posse taking second place and their frontman, Mr. Pizzy, taking third with his ever-growing solo career. Topping out the list is up-and-comer Written By Daniel, who released his first album, uprooted, last fall. Written By Daniel’s cerebral lyrics and storytelling match up over deft production from Evan Middlesworth from the Chippewa Valley’s own Pine Hollow Studios. (This isn’t the only time that name will show up in this poll.) With the newbie taking first this year, it’ll be interesting to see how the veterans step up their game come 2014. –Thom Fountain

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Best Jazz Band

1st Place: UWEC Jazz I
2nd Place: Chippewa Valley Jazz Orch.
3rd Place: Memorial Jazz I

UW-Eau Claire’s Jazz I finds itself at the top of the Best Jazz Band vote for the sixth time (and fourth time in a row). The Robert Baca-led big band has a decorated past that includes two Grammy nominations and six Down Beat Magazine awards for the nation’s Best College Big Band. The Chippewa Valley Jazz Orchestra (CVJO) slid into second place for 2013, marking its first appearance in the top three. The CVJO, which includes a combination of UWEC students and community members, performed with the likes of Mike Walk and Michael B. Nelson in 2013. Falling from a 2012 second-place finish, Memorial High School’s Jazz I takes third in the poll. This swingin’ high school band has been a finalist at the Essentially Ellington jazz competition in New York five times, and has a Justin Vernon collaboration CD on the shelves. –Tyler Jennings Henderson

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Best Local Album Released In The Last Year

1st Place: The Shouting Matches, Grownass Man
2nd Place: The Sue Orfield Band,
Fight The Good Fight
3rd Place: Laarks, Fiat Lux

Patience is apparently key in this year’s poll for Best Local Album. All three winners were a long time in the making, but paid off with something great. Justin Vernon’s Shouting Matches predate much of the Bon Iver hype, but this year the band finally released its debut album, Grownass Man, a bluesy, sometimes raucous record that shows off the musicality of Vernon, drummer Brian Moen, and multi-instrumentalist Phil Cook. Right behind them (and barely edging out third place) was The Sue Orfield Band’s Fight The Good Fight – the follow-up to 2009’s Bonk! Orfield has been ever-present playing live gigs, but fans waited a long time to hear new recordings from the sax player and bandleader. Finally, indie-pop veterans Laarks released their sophomore record, Fiat Lux, after working and reworking it for the better part of three years. Also, an interesting tidbit: Moen drummed on both the first and third place albums in this category. Way to go, Bri-guy. –Thom Fountain

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Best Local Book Released In The Last Year

1st Place: Jay Gilbertson, Full Moon Over Madeline Island
2nd Place: BJ Hollars, Sightings
3rd Place: Joe Niese, Burleigh Grimes: Baseball’s Last Legal Spitballer

One thing that has always impressed me about Eau Claire is that you can’t shake a stick in this town without hitting an author. That’s why this category is so competitive this year. Leading the way is Jay Gilbertson with his third book in a series, Full Moon Over Madeline Island. Following that is BJ Hollars’ Sightings and Joe Niese’s snapshot of early baseball, Burleigh Grimes: Baseball’s Last Legal Spitballer. –Scott Morfitt

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Best Local Comedian/Comedy Act

1st Place: Glassworks Improv
2nd Place: BareBones Improv
3rd Place: Cullen Ryan

Well Chippewa Valley, it seems that you really like your improv these days. I mean you really like it, like in a crushy Jonathan Taylor Thomas like way. There is no problem with that at all: Improv is dreamy and for the most part clearly outshines Tim Allen. This year a group of young upstarts, Glassworks Improv, leads the way with their long-form style. They are followed by their mentors, BareBones Improv.  Rounding out the list is Cullen Ryan, the nicest comedian ever. –Scott Morfitt

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Best Local Theatrical Production in the Past Year

1st Place: Avenue Q (CVTG)
2nd Place: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (UWEC)
3rd Place: Seussical the Musical (CVTG)

The past year has seen many great local performances, and this year’s No. 1 local performance proves that “crude” is sometimes the best way to go. Avenue Q, put on by the Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild, took the top spot with its political and social jabs and mature themes. A fun fact about the performance: The actors in the production had to go through rigorous puppeteer and Pilates training in order to properly use the puppets. In second place is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was presented by the UW-Eau Claire music and theatre arts department and featured an impressive set including a moat built into the stage. In third place is the family favorite Seussical the Musical, put on by CVTG as well. –Dustin Hahn

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Best Movie Theater

1st Place: Micon Cinemas Chippewa Falls
2nd Place: Downtown Cinema
3rd Place: Micon Cinemas Eau Claire

You might notice that this year’s results for Best Movie Theater look more than a little like last year’s – in fact, the first-, second-, and third-place cinemas have taken the same spots three years in a row. Once again, Micon Cinemas swept the category with three of its theaters. For the third year in a row, Micon Cinemas Chippewa Falls took the top spot. Located in the Chippewa Mall, this theater includes a giant lobby, stadium seating, and a great selection of newly released movies. Second belongs to our local budget theater. The Downtown Cinema shows movies a few months after they are released and because of that offers great discounts. Last but not least, we have Micon Cinemas Eau Claire. Like its Chippewa Falls sibling, Eau Claire’s Micon has stadium seating, a new lobby, and special midnight showings for certain movies. –Emily Anderson

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Best Music Festival

1st Place: Country Fest
2nd Place: Country Jam
3rd Place: Rock Fest

“Go big or go home” is a credo for some, and that attitude certainly summarizes our Best Music Festival category. These are not only some of the biggest music festivals in our area but are also some of the largest overall events in the Chippewa Valley. Our two local country music bashes top the list, with Country Fest at No. 1 and Country Jam at No. 2. While most voters were a little bit country, some were a little bit rock ’n’ roll, putting Rock Fest at No. 3. These multi-day shindigs are headlined by some of the hottest national acts in the business. Mix in camping, food, and drinks, and these fests become as fun as fun can get. –Graham Barnes

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Best Musical Performance in the Past Year (touring or local)

1st Place: Gaelic Storm at the State Theatre
2nd Place: The Shouting Matches’ “secret show” at The Mousetrap
3rd Place: Mojo Lemon Blues Band at Durand Blues Fest

Gaelic Storm really took the town by – wait for it – force with their State Theatre performance in March, bringing in their Celtic-influenced music just in time for St. Paddy’s Day. But beyond that performance, local performers nabbed the second and third spots, an oddity in the Best Musical Performance category, which usually goes to national acts passing through. In second, The Shouting Matches’ “secret” show at The Mousetrap might’ve tested the capacity of the bar (and the temperature a music fan can take), but the packed gig was well worth it with Justin Vernon, Brian Moen, and Phil Cook dazzling a captivated local crowd welcoming their hometown heroes. In a similar note, the Mojo Lemon Blues Band would’ve blown the roof off the Durand Blues Festival last fall (if there had been a roof). –Thom Fountain

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Best New Band

1st Place: Softly, Dear
2nd Place: Hounds Before Lions
3rd Place: The Rattlenecks

The Best New… categories are always some of the most interesting, giving us a peak into what’s on the horizon in the Chippewa Valley. That holds true with this year’s best new bands. Leading the pack are the up-and-coming indie rockers Softly, Dear – a country-influenced rock group consisting of musicians almost all new to the scene. Behind them is Hounds Before Lions, a group of UW-Eau Claire music students who write understated, poignant indie ballads (but I can attest they aren’t afraid to bust out the rock at live shows). Finally, coming in third are The Rattlenecks, a new band featuring familiar faces. The Jim Pullman-led folk group is reminiscent of Fleet Foxes or Dawes. –Thom Fountain

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Best New Festival or Event

1st Place: UWEC Outdoor Summer Films
2nd Place: Clearwater Winter Parade
3rd Place: The Chippewa Valley Challenge

New events keep the Chippewa Valley fresh every year, but they can be risky before anyone knows exactly what they’re all about. Luckily, this year we had at least three new events that blew out expectations. Taking first by a long shot was UW-Eau Claire’s Summer Film Series, an outdoor series that ran through the summer and showcased old and new films on the lawn next to Haas Fine Arts Center on Water Street. Second place went to a new Eau Claire parade, this one in the colder months. The Clearwater Winter Parade featured all sorts of winter- and holiday-themed floats and bundled-up (but happy) attendees. Rounding out the top three is the Chippewa Valley Challenge, a collaborative “get fit” campaign that helped 533 participants lose more than 2.5 tons. –Thom Fountain

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Best Open Mic

1st Place: The Mousetrap
2nd Place: Pizza Plus Artisan Night
3rd Place: Stones Throw

Before the major record deal or even a consistent schedule of gigs, many performers hone their craft as regulars at an open mic. The Chippewa Valley offers an assortment of opportunities for the aspiring musician or the established entertainer. Our trio of winners are all within steps of each other along Eau Claire’s newly renovated Barstow Street. The Mousetrap’s Sunday open mic has a long history of being hosted by some of the city’s most prolific artists. Working our way north, Pizza Plus opens the mic to virtuosos of all mediums on Tuesdays. Nearby, the historic Stones Throw offers the opportunity to get your weekend started early with a Thursday open mic. –Graham Barnes

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Best Place For Live Music

1st Place: Phoenix Park
2nd Place: Eau Claire’s House of Rock
3rd Place: Eau Claire’s Acoustic Café

In Wisconsin we really like two things: being cheap and town festivals. Considering that Phoenix Park plays host to numerous musical events – including the weekly Sounds Like Summer Concert Series, which brings thousands of us down to the riverside for free music each Thursday during the summer – it is no surprise that the ark took top prize in the Best Place for Live Music category. Phoenix Park was followed by a couple of stalwarts of the Chippewa Valley music scene: House of Rock (for those of us who like to sip a brew) and Acoustic Café (for those of us who like to sip a latte). –Scott Morfitt

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Best Public Art Installation (non-gallery)

1st Place: Sculpture Tour Eau Claire
2nd Place: Art on the Bus
3rd Place: Snow sculptures at
Winter After Hours

Though it moved across town this year because of construction on South Barstow Street, the Sculpture Tour Eau Claire still nabbed first place in this category by a wide margin of votes from Chippewa Vallians. The popular installation dots corners and sidewalks along Water Street, the North Barstow area, and the Mayo campus with sculptures by artists from around the country. And the tour seems to be here to stay: A new batch of sculptures arrives each May and remains in place for the coming year. Joining the category for the first time is Art on the Bus, a project that wrapped three new hybrid city buses with art designed, photographed, and illustrated by UW-Eau Claire students Jenny Johns, Aly Wheeler, and Luke Benson (the latter of whom also illustrated this edition of Volume One). The buses now are mobile murals, adding artistic flair to the streets of Eau Claire. And of course, snow sculptures created at Winter After Hours still hold a special place in our hearts. While the frozen creations by Jason Anhorn and Steve Bateman are more temporary than the other competitors, they are no less intricate or awe-inspiring. –Taylor Kuether

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Best Rock Band That Isn’t Bon Iver

1st Place: Adelyn Rose
2nd Place: Laarks
3rd Place: The Heart Pills

The Best Rock Band category was particularly close this year, with the top three contenders all coming within six votes of each other. Leading the pack for the first time was Adelyn Rose (who scored second last year). Frontwoman Addie Strei’s straightforward songwriting paired against the band’s jazz sensibilities creates a perfect, organic mix. In second was a four-piece of old hands in the music scene – Laarks – whose sophomore record, Fiat Lux, brought them back to the forefront in Eau Claire, even though several members now live out of town. Rounding out the top three was The Heart Pills with their fun, jangly, country-influenced rockabilly. –Thom Fountain

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Best Touring Theatrical Production In The Past Year

1st Place: The Nutcracker at
The Mabel Tainter Center
2nd Place: Elvis at Fanny Hill
3rd Place: Vince: The Life & of Vince Lombardi at the Heyde Center

It’s hard to top a timeless classic, and no one did in this category. The Nutcracker, produced by Continental Ballet, took to the stage last December at the Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts in Menomonie, and now it has taken No. 1 in our poll for Best Touring Theatrical Production. Fanny Hill’s tribute to the King of Rock ’n’ Roll last winter, a Las Vegas act featuring the skills of impersonator George Thomas, snatched second. (While the dinner theater’s 2014 schedule is still tentative, we heard Thomas’ blue suede shoes may be headed back to Fanny Hill’s stage in January.) Finally, the Heyde Center’s presentation of a one-man show about another legend – Vince Lombardi – placed third in the standings. –Tyler Griggs and Tom Giffey

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Favorite Local Visual Artist

1st Place: Steve Immerman
2nd Place: Laurie Bieze
3rd Place: Steve Bateman

After placing third in this category last year, Steve Immerman of Clearwater Glass Studio has secured the No. 1 spot. It’s no wonder, either, considering the breathtaking beauty of his glass creations. Coming in second place is veteran stained-glass artist and sculptor Laurie Bieze, who is no stranger to the top positions in this category: She has won twice and has placed in the top three almost every year Volume One has had a Best Of poll. At No. 3 is Steve Bateman, who is back on the list for the first time since 2009. Many know Bateman as the sculptor responsible for creating the (now sadly vandalized) Garbage Goose at Banbury Place, the fish on Water Street, as well as award-winning snow sculptures. –Dustin Hahn

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Your Favorite Local Author

1st Place: Michael Perry
2nd Place: Jason Splichal
3rd Place: Jay Gilbertson

There are no big surprises in the top slot for your favorite local author this year. Once again, you’ve awarded unstoppable Chippewa Valley wordsmith Michael Perry the crown of nouns and verbs. This past summer, his New York Times bestseller Visiting Tom went to paperback, sending the nonfiction author down the road for a book tour or two. Your second-favorite writer is local poet Jason Splichal, who spearheaded a series of great readings last fall. In third, you selected Jay Gilbertson, author of the Madeline Island series – books in a genre Gilbertson affectionately describes as “Lady Lit.” The latest, Full Moon Over Madeline Island, revisits his quirky cast of characters as they deal with rarely discussed personal issues. –Mike Paulus

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