Adventures With Jeff Fortier

      2012 Hike near Breckenridge

When Jeff Fortier first walked into The Note office to buy ads for shows at the Outhouse (circa 1988-89) it was tough to take him seriously. At first glance he sported a garage/punk/thrash look with dreads to his ass, a lot of tattoos and piercings. By 1989, I had been in the music business for about 15 years and had witnessed a lot of music promoters come and go—myself included. Fortier was promoting punk, ska and hardcore bands like Murphey's Law, DRI, and the Melvins, and I was confident he'd be another "here today, gone tomorrow" concert promoter, so we made sure he paid for his ads upfront. As time went on, he proved me and countless others wrong. He defied music industry odds and his business grew. It wasn't long before he was promoting shows at other venues in other cities and in other states.

       He visited The Note office each month at deadline with his ad in one hand and cash in the other. As the time passed, the ads he bought got bigger and his visits got longer. It wasn't long before our conversations went from "thanks for the ad, give me your money" to " thanks for the ad, give me your money  and by the way… what do you think about the world?"

      It didn’t take long to learn that we were polar political opposites and that led to animated conversations. But they always had a civilized ending. Eventually those conversations extended to our private lives, and that lead to a friendship long after The Note closed in 1995. We learned that we shared a passion for music and the business of music. We also learned we enjoyed seeking adventures and loved to cook and eat good food. "I'm moving to Colorado," I told him in late 1999 at one of our regular breakfast meets. "I gotta get the mountains and skiing out of my system."

       "I Iike to ski," Fortier told me.  "I've always wanted to take one of those helicopter ski trips where the helicopter takes you to the top of the mountain and drops you off. Would you want to do that?"

      "Of course," I answered. "I've always wanted to go to Vietnam and see a rock show."

      "I'm in," he answered back, not really catching my yarn.

       After I moved to Colorado, our political and life conversations continued on the phone, in emails, on ski lifts, in ski lodges, at concert venues around the country and on various journeys. As Fortier's business continued to develop, our conversations started to be interrupted by bands, road managers, talent agents, ticket outlets and employees. "Frankenreiter (Donovan) sold 1,400!" Fortier said excitedly to the person on the other end of the phone as we were riding up a ski lift. "I only need 2,300. We're about there…. Train and Maroon 5 only did 2,500? I need at least 5,000 on that. Yeah, we have a $200,000 nut on that show, so keep me posted."

      It's been quite a kick to observe the life and career of Jeff Fortier. He plays the dedicated role of a consummate hustler unafraid to take risks and promote music that he loves at venues that he loves. He's also not afraid to make a buck when a buck needs to be made. His efforts, personality and ability to multi-task have paid off. An argument can be made that no one individual has developed and promoted the music business more in Kansas and Midwest. I'm not the only one who thinks that. As of this writing, he's been nominated for the Pollstar "Independent Promoter of the Year" award an astonishing four times (Pollstar is the worlds' concert industry bible). His promotional company, Mammoth, is in partnership with Live Nation (one of the world's largest concert promoting companies) and he promotes shows in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri. He promotes all the concerts at Starlight Theater in Kansas City and Sandstone Amphitheater (or whatever corporate name it has now) in Bonner Springs. He also promotes shows at the Uptown in Kansas City, Liberty Hall in Lawrence and too many other venues to mention. His company employs 30 to 50 people on a full-time basis and hundreds of others on a part-time basis.

       We still talk about the music business, women, cooking and family. We also talk about seeking new adventures in unusual places. A few years back, we were sharing a four-person ski lift at Vail with a couple. There was a couple riding the lift with us. As usual, the phone was pressed to Fortier's ear. "I'd like to take one of those helicopter rides to the top of a mountain where they drop you off and you ski down," he said. I looked over at him and he was looking up the mountain phone still pressed to his ear. It had been at least 10 years since we last talked about helicopter skiing. "Am I going to get to promote Charlie Sheen in Kansas City?"

       "Huh? What? How would I know that?" I asked.  "Are you talking to me?" I've learned that no response from him usually means he's not talking to me and since I got no response, I assumed he was on the phone speaking with some high-powered agent or manager.

      "You tell Timberlake that $350,000 should be enough for that date." I peered at the couple through the corner of my eye who hadn't said anything since we loaded on the lift. They remained quiet as Fortier flung rock star names and large numbers around. There's nothing boring about a lift ride with Jeff Fortier.

      As the chair continued to move us up the mountain, he continued to hurl around figures and rock star names, and the couple next to us continued to sit still and quiet. Fortier never has held back on a business conversation when I was around, but now there were innocent civilians being pelted by his friendly fire.  What could they possibly be thinking? Were they sitting next to rock ‘n’ roll royalty, or did they think he was making up the whole conversation? I turned my head, bit my bottom lip and stared at them. They remained quiet and stoically looked forward. "Great day out here, huh?" I asked trying to break the ice.

        "Yea, real nice, " they replied quickly in a tone that sounded like I was interrupting them.

Not sure why Fortier is flipping me off here.
I thought he liked the trees

       "Which part of the mountain are you planning to ski today?" I asked.

       "I don't think we can do that show in Lincoln," Fortier said raising his voice above the small talk. They didn't answer my question. Fortier got off the phone and looked ahead to see how much lift time we had left. I could tell he was thinking about making another call. Instead, he put the phone in his pocket and prepared to unload from the lift. But before we got off, he asked, "Have you ever done the helicopter skiing before?'

      "No I haven't," I answered.

      "Man, I'd like to do that."

      "Follow me," I said as our skis hit the ground.

       We went about 300 feet and loaded on to the next chairlift that'd take us further up the mountain. Fortier asked, "Don't you think it'd be cool to take a helicopter up to the top of the mountain and ski down?"

       "Yeah," I replied. "That'd be real cool—but you gotta be pretty good to do that. It's expert terrain at the top, and it's not real easy to ski." Skiing once or twice a year had made Fortier a good skier, but helicopter skiing is for experts. In my opinion he probably wasn't ready for helicopter skiing. "Maybe we should try a more challenging run on this mountain to give you an idea of what it'd be like to be dropped at the top by a helicopter?" He had the phone to his cheek and was listening to voice mail. He returned my look, smiled and pressed the phone closer to his cheek. I was pretty sure he didn't hear a thing I just said.

      "Damn," he said. "I hope those guys got those radio ads on."

       We unloaded from the lift and started our descent down the hill. We came to a traverse and coasted side by side. He looked over at me and asked, "If I paid for it, would you want to go helicopter skiing?"

      "Sure," I answered. The idea of maneuvering around boulders and cliffs sounded like fun to me and I'm pretty confident in my ability to make such a run. But doing a helicopter ski trip with a novice skier would be a recipe for disaster. "I'd love to go. But it's seriously difficult terrain. You have to be pretty good, and I'm just not sure you're ready for that."

      "When I skied Canada, I noticed a couple companies that take you up and drop you off," he said. "How much do you think they cost? Is there one in Colorado we can do?"

      I stopped in mid-run to take in the views and continue the conversation but Fortier's phone let out it's familiar ring. He took the phone out of his pocket to answer. I skied further down to give him some privacy.

       He made the call short and skied over to join me and take in the view. "I've never seen a helicopter ski company here in Colorado."

      "I know there's one down south by Telluride," I answered. "But seriously, man—that some hairy shit."

      "How far is Telluride from here?"

      I let out a sigh. "Follow me."

      Up ahead was an expert run. The hill had a sheer pitch along with deep craters and big bumps. It was an expert run, but would be far easier than any run he might face after being dropped from a helicopter. We got to the edge of the run. I looked over at him. I'd seen that look before. It's a combination of puzzlement, oh-shit, and fear. It's a hard expression to hide. ALL skiers have had this expression at one time or another when confronted by a challenging ski run that MAY be above their ability. He turned his head to the side one way. Then turned it the other. There was no other way out. The only way down was to ski it. "How 'bout we do this and then we'll talk about the helicopter ski trip?" I said.

      I jumped into the run and carved my skis through the ice and snow and over the bumps. Since the run was steep I kept my skis parallel to the mountain, careful not to point them straight down the hill so I could maneuver myself down the slope under control.  I emphasized my motion as I went down the hill, hoping Fortier was watching and would be able to imitate my technique. After about 50 feet I stopped. I planted my poles and dig my ski edges into the snow for stability. I tilted my head up the up the steep slope at Fortier. He was still peering over the edge. Even from that distance I could see his face still held the combined expression of puzzlement, oh-shit, and fear. "Come on down," I yelled. "Just do what I did."

      Fortier is a true adventurer. A true adventurer faces and overcomes fear… often at the risk of a little pain. Over the years, while skiing together, Fortier has followed me through trees, around cliffs and rocks and down steep hills on skis. We've hiked high above tree line and driven ATVs on trails that scared the hell out of me. We rafted through class 4 rapids and hung with rock stars and people who partied like rock stars. In business he's offered bands more money than he thought he'd make and made deals with partners that he was sure would swindle him. He's never backed down and this challenge would be no different. With a determined expression on his face, he cautiously jumped into the run, kept his skis parallel to the mountain and traversed across the steep run. "Good," I thought.

      Unfortunately, a skier cannot traverse a steep slope all the way down. A turn has to be made when the edge of the run is reached. Turning on a steep slope is more difficult than turning a slope with a lesser pitch. Most of it is in your head, as there's a brief moment when the tips of your skis are facing straight down the very steep slope and unless you get your skis around fast, gravity will pull you down the slope at an uncontrollable speed along the bumps and possibly onto rocks and into a tree. Or worse,  an unwary person could go over a cliff.

       Fortier made his first right turn gingerly. He planted his pole, dug his edges in and moved his skis around back to parallel with the mountain. He lost his balance but quickly regained it and traversed slowly to the other side of the mountain until he got to that edge. Again, he planted his pole, turned his shoulders and worked to dig the edges of his skis back into the traverse position. But this time no matter how hard he twisted his hips and shoulders the edges of the skis didn't make it all the around to the traverse position.  In a flash, his tips were pointing straight down the slope and the relentless force of gravity took control. "Oh shit," I thought. I realized he was no longer in control.

      As gravity pulled him he remained upright struggling to twist his hips in hopes that'd turn his skis parallel to the mountain so he could regain control. But it was no use. It only took a few feet for his speed to reach the extreme. The combination of the steep slope, the bumps and the speed was more than he could overcome.  His skis remained pointing straight down the very steep slope and he was suddenly barreling down the hill fast. As he passed me, the expression on his face wore a plea for help. He didn't know what to do and was running out of time to do something about it. There was only one thing I could do to help. "Fall down." I yelled.

      Falling isn't a natural reaction, especially when you're going at break neck speed. But it's better than running into a tree or another skier—or hurling over a cliff. The longer you wait to fall, the faster you're going to go and the more it's going to hurt when you stop. So falling before reaching mach speed is key.

      Fortier is well known to be cool under pressure and this moment would test that. I grimaced as he bent his knees and slowly let his body give in to gravity. His hip hit the ground first then he went to his side. His speed and the steep slope left little room for forgiveness. He held his poles tightly and I held my breath as he slid and slid and spun and slid and bounced and landed and finally came to stop right next to the fence that stops people from going over the side of the mountain. " Whew," I said to myself, exhaling. That was close.

      I quickly skied to him and was relieved to see his eyes were open and he was breathing. He remained lying on his side and looked up at me. He was holding his ski poles close to his chest and wasn't moving a muscle. He stared straight ahead and didn't say anything. Since his eyes were open and he was breathing I figured everything must be alright. With the exception of a few body bounces, the fall didn't look that bad and he hadn't gone over the side of the mountain. I stopped a few feet away from where he lay in the snow and looked down.

     "You still want to do that helicopter ski trip?" I asked.

      There was no reaction. He lay there with a "what the hell just happened" expression on his face.

      I finally asked, "Are you ok?"

      "I think so," he finally said something. "My arm hurts."

      He laid in the snow for another ten minutes before he gingerly lifted himself up. Since he had practically slid to the bottom of the hill there wasn't much further to go to get to the lodge. We skied slowly to it and kicked our skis off. I would later find out that he broke his elbow or something like that. It healed, so I don't really remember. Anyway, we don't talk about the helicopter skiing anymore, and you can be sure he still is on the phone most of the time we're skiing.

       It wouldn't be long before the tables turned. I flew into DaNang one fall evening to meet up with Fortier and finally see a rock show in Vietnam. It was my first time there and I was anxious to hang with the people, mingle with the culture and eat some real pho bun. "Hey Shibley," I heard his familiar voice ring through the surprisingly mod DaNang International Airport. He greeted me with a bro hug and a smile. "Welcome to Vietnam."

       He was dressed in a tank top and jean shorts cut below the knee. It had been a long time since I saw the tattoos that adorned his body so I gave them a once-over. Though the rebellious aura of Jeff Fortier was as powerful as ever, he had changed since the first time we met in The Note office. My mind briefly drifted back to the time when he sported dreads to his ass and showed his tats proudly. Somewhere, sometime and somehow a transition from a punk rocker to respected businessman had occurred. His Doc Martens completed his punk outfit but, unfortunately,  the dreads had long ago been replaced by an everyday respectable-guy haircut.  "Thanks for picking me up," I said, returning the bro hug. "Who's that?"

      Standing behind Jeff was someone who looked to be a native of the country. He might of stood all of  5' 5". "I call him Bill," Fortier  said. "No matter how hard I try, I can't pronounce his real name. He's our driver. He's taking us out tonight."

      I looked at Bill, smiled and stuck my hand out. "Nice to meet you.” Bill's turned his head away from me and look at Fortier.

      "He doesn't like to touch anyone," Fortier said as he walked ahead to the car. I pulled my hand back. "But he knows what we want to. He's also pretty handy to have around in case we need protection or when we need something translated. I have a surprise for you. Ever heard of Resurrected, from the Philippines? They're playing at this place I learned about."

      When you travel more than halfway across the world it's a good feeling to end up where you're supposed to be and I anticipated seeing the show, so I was excited. I was also ready for a drink. We weaved our way through the DaNang Airport parking to Bill's car, an older Toyota Camry. I loaded myself and my carry-on bag into the back seat.  

       I noticed a cooler between Fortier's legs. "You got a beer in that thing?" I asked.

      "I have a surprise for you." Fortier popped the top and showed off a cooler full of Vietnam Bia Saigon beer. Next to the cooler was a brown sack, from which he pulled a bottle of Vietnamese rice whiskey.

      With a grin he handed me a beer and the bottle of whiskey. I had never had rice whiskey, so I took a swig and prepared myself to chase it with the beer. But that wasn't necessary. "Nice," I said as the smooth whiskey slid down my throat.  I handed it back.

      "I thought you'd like that." He waited a second, then took a monster swig off the bottle and pulled it from his lips. He choked, coughed and sprayed the whiskey all over the front windshield. He continued coughing for a couple minutes and took a deep breath. "You OK?" I asked, half-laughing.  Bill's eyes remained on the road. The incident didn't appear to have any effect on him.

      "Yeah, I'm fine, " He choked out the answer and took a gulp of his beer. He returned the whiskey bottle to his lips and took in another huge mouthful. He lowered his head, pressed his lips together, squinted his eyes in determination and tried to gulp down the whiskey. But it was no use. Again he choked, coughed and spit-sprayed the whiskey all over the front of window. This time Bill turned his head, gave Jeff a look that didn't need to be translated ("Did you really just do that again?") Bill wiped the inside of the windshield with a napkin and returned his eyes to the road.

     I'd never seen Fortier drink whiskey before, and since most of it was on the windshield and dashboard, I guessed I still hadn't seen him drink whiskey. I was grateful when he handed the bottle back to me. I took a swig followed by my beer but kept the bottle this time. I feared he'd try to take another drink. At about this time we pulled onto a dirt road. The branches of the trees draped over the road, the ground around the road was plush with different types of flowers, weeds and other assorted shrubbery.  It had been raining earlier that day but was clear now. That, along with the vegetation, made things feel very humid. I sucked on the beer and asked if we could pull over. I had to piss.

      "We're almost there," Fortier answered as Bill drove on.

      It would be another 45 minutes before Bill pulled the car into an area where about 35 other cars were parked. The sun was down, and there was a building about 100 feet away that looked like a barn. On the building was one spotlight pointing towards the parking area. Fortier got out of the car and told me this was the best place to piss. The buzz I got from the whiskey and beer hit me pretty hard as I  climbed out of the back seat.

      "Don't freak out if someone starts smoking opium or weed," Fortier said.

      "Is it OK if I ask for some?" I swayed a bit, a bead of sweat ran down my forehead and I relieved myself without incident next to the car. After I finished, we walked towards the barn. Bill followed. As we walked towards the building, I recalled a time in 1976. I was 16 at the Beer Mill in Wichita, Kansas (you were supposed to be 18 to get in) when the guy sitting next to me pulled out a chunk of hash, put his lighter on it and sucked in the smoke.  "I've seen that in America," I said to Fortier as we reached the door. It just so happened 20 cops raided the Beer Mill that night looking for underage drinkers.  For some reason the cops passed over my 16-year-old ass… that time. Perhaps sitting next to the hash guy played in my favor as all their attention went to him. They took him out to a place where I'm sure he's never been heard from again. I wondered what how harsh the law was in Vietnam, and if they even cared about this out-of-the-way place. Either way, I decided I'd stay away from the smokers.

     "I got you covered." Fortier handed the door man some Vietnamese money. All I had was American money—cash—and a lot of it. I worried about pulling it out and risking the wrath of the impoverished. I looked back over my shoulder. Bill was there, so I had a mild sense of comfort, even though he could shake us down just as easy as anyone else.

       We walked into the building. I looked around. About 75 young Vietnamese people filled the room. At least 90 percent were males. The floor was dirt. The stage was built of wood and didn't look very stable. The place smelled of sweat, sewage, weed and opium. I’ve been to many rock 'n roll bars like this. "Do they have a name for this place?"

      Fortier smiled, shrugged his shoulders and we made our way to the bar. Bill followed close behind. We got a pitcher of beer. As he filled our glasses, I looked around. We didn't fit in here. Actually, Fortier fit in better than me. My clean-cut American white boy looks stood out like a sore thumb. At 6', I was the tallest person in the bar, but I noticed several stocky bouncer-types around the room that I wouldn't want to tangle with. The perfumed smell of opium was thick in the air and it helped cover up some of the stench but it was impossible to escape the smell completely. I waited anxiously to get used to it. Fortier grabbed our pitcher, a couple glasses and worked our way towards the stage. We found a ledge to set the pitcher on. Onstage was a guy setting up the microphones around the band gear, which was already in place.

     I was curious to see what kind of instruments Asian rock stars used, and I was close to the stage studying them when a loud, very pissed-off voice interrupted my focus. I didn't understand what "Ee sig nah o ki so wakimo" meant, but it reverberated anger and evilness. In fact, the voice was so pronounced I thought it may have been directed at me, so I backed away from the stage and slowly turned my head around. Two guys stood face to face about three feet from me. One of them was holding pitcher that was nearly empty. His face was beet-red and veins popped out of his neck and forehead as he unleashed a screaming tirade of Vietnamese into the face of the other guy.

      The vein-popping screamer got even more pissed off when his adversary turned his back to walk away. His voice got louder but the other guy continued to move away. The screamer cocked his arm back, glass pitcher in hand, took a step forward and thrust it into the back of the guy's head, knocking him to the ground at our feet. The remaining beer in the pitcher sprayed on Fortier and me.

        The overwhelmingly violent action came as a surprise. I froze in shock, horror and disbelief and it took forever for me to finally bent down and see if the guy was alright. He let a moan as blood geysered from his skull. I didn't know what to do, and was relieved when his friends came over. I backed off and looked over at Fortier, whose face also had an expression of shock but it looked more like anger. He walked over to the guy who slung the pitcher and said something couldn't hear. Whatever it was, the pissed off dude got to looking more pissed off. I turned my head around the room searching for our driver but he wasn't in sight.

      The kid who slung the pitcher into the guy's head looked like he was ready to lay into Fortier next as he moved his face within an inch of Fortier's and let out an evil laugh. But Fortier stood his ground—and I wasn't so sure that was the right thing to do. Things weren't going in a good way, so I started to cautiously move to Fortier's side. The punk clenched his fist and hurled it at Fortier's face stopping an inch short of his nose. Fortier jerked his head back. Within a split-second he expressed fear, then relief. I was also relieved, and let out a sigh heard in China. The Vietnamese bully delivered an evil smile to Fortier at about the same time he glanced up at me. He jerked his head towards me causing me to also make a jerk-back reaction. It was apparent this guy was on something besides opium or hash. He smiled, washed in self-satisfaction, feeling as though he had conquered us. The only time I get mad is when someone pisses me off—and that pissed me off.

      He turned his back and started laughing with his friends. His evil laugh directed at Fortier played over and over in my mind as did the pitcher being smashed into the guy's head. Most of the knee-jerk reactions I've made in my life ended up with unfavorable results. I was about to make one of those knee-jerk reactions and like the rest, it made all the sense the world at the time.

      I stared at the back of the punk's head and realized the move had to be made before it was too late. I swiftly hurled my hands underneath his armpits, brought my arms up around his shoulders and locked my knuckles behind his neck. I was surprised how easily I secured him in a full-nelson. His friends looked confused but I didn't plan to stick around and explain how their friend pissed me off. Actually, I had no plan at all, and I suddenly regretted my reaction. But it was too late. I couldn't let him go for fear that he and his friends would beat my ass to a pulp. So I picked the punk up and decided to head to the door, deducing there'd be help there. Someone needed to show this punk you can't slam a pitcher into the back of someone's head or threaten my friend Jeff Fortier (who, by the way was  standing about three feet from all this with an astonished, jaw-dropped expression. The commotion and adrenaline drowned out all coherent sound, but he smiled as his lips said "What are you doing?")

      It's unlikely he saw my return grin. The punk fought like a marlin hooked on a fishing line. He kicked, screamed and moved in all sorts of directions attempting to escape the full-nelson. My fingers were locked as we slowly moved through the crowd towards the door. At this point, I believed the consequences of my actions would earn me a big thanks from the Vietnamese kid who had his head spit open by the pitcher. The bar management would be glad to be rid of this bully and would surely buy me a shot of that rice whiskey. Yes: I was a hero and perhaps I'd even get a letter of commendation from the Vietnamese government. It never occurred what would really happen.

      "Get Bill," I yelled out at Fortier. I began to feel I was into something I wouldn't be able to handle. Fortier, agape, continued to offer up a grin, but his eyes were filled with astonishment and fear. He frantically looked around the room and suddenly made a mad dash to his right into the crowd and out of sight. The struggle continued with my nemesis. Three Vietnamese were moving rapidly towards our position. Uh-oh. I realized they didn't know this guy slung a pitcher into the back of someone's head. They didn't know he threatened my buddy Jeff Fortier. "I'm doomed," I thought.

        Thankfully, adrenaline was shooting through my body and allowed me to tighten my hold on the punk. I continued my quest for the door, but there was no way we'd make it. Impact was certain—and then all three guys jumped on top of me at the same time. There was one more step before a slow collapse started. Thoughts raced through my head as we started our descent towards the floor. Could an American even get admitted into a hospital here? Where the hell were Fortier and Bill?

      The three Vietnamese continued to drag us to the floor and also started landing punches to my face and exposed ribs and stomach. There was some pain, but I focused on inflicting pain to the kicking and screaming bully who was still secure in my full-nelson. I pulled his head close to my chest to block their punches and aimed his face towards the floor.  Soon, the weight of four people would be on his head and that would just make all this worth it. Justice would be done. We all five hit the floor, my prisoner face-first, followed by my 220 pounds, followed by the three Vietnamese guys on top of us. For me, the impact wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it'd be. The Vietnamese were small and I landed on the bully. I pushed myself up making sure my weight was on my victim's face which was kissing the ground.

      Two of the Vietnamese bouncers held on to my arms but I wasn't going anywhere. Fatigue had taken over and I was at their mercy. The other bouncer unloaded one then two punches to my face. I tried to fight back and then noticed the bully slowly working his way back to his feet with a face full of blood and anger. He would soon get up and have some revenge on my face as well. Right then, Fortier put his Doc Marten on the back of the bully's neck and pushed his face back to the ground. Bill delivered a blow to his side, which seemed to put the bully out. 

      Bill then yelled out something in Vietnamese and the bouncers let go of my arms. He stepped over to the bouncer that punched my face and said something. The Vietnamese bouncer shook his head as though he understood. He shouted something to the two other Vietnamese bouncers and they also shook their heads. Then Bill took my arm and led my dazed self out of the bar. I felt some blood running down my lip but it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Fortier followed. There was a feeling of vindication as we walked out of the bar and the pain of the beating was masked.  Soon a smile came over my face. Fortier returned the smile and said, "You still want to see a rock show in Vietnam?"


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