In the Pines

In the pines traditional murder ballad from appalachia

The Pressley Girls first learned the song In the Pines back in 2013. They've been doing the song ever since. Chatter and Chitter do the song in the same arrangement as The Louvin Brothers did-including imitating the mournful sound of the wind. 

The song is sometimes called Where did You Sleep last Night and is considered to be a murder ballad. In a 1994 the New York Times published an article about the song titled POP MUSIC; A Simple Song That Lives Beyond Time written by Eric Weisbard

Weisbard wrote the article primarily to point out the oddity of Kurt Cobain, of Nirvana fame, recording the song as well as to highlight the longevity of the song itself. Here's an interesting excerpt from the article:

"Researching the song for a 1970 dissertation, Judith McCulloh found 160 different versions, a finding that raises the question: Why does a song like "In the Pines" endure and permutate so insistently? The answer may be that its essence is not a specific story or even a musical style but the kind of intensely dark emotion that, as is the case with much in American music, survives longer in popular memory than does treacly sentiment.

The song probably has its origins in the Southern Appalachians, where it is still passed on as part of an oral tradition. The mystery writer Sharyn McCrumb says a college friend from Georgia taught her a verse that she used as a chapter heading in her 1992 novel, "The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter." As she demonstrated in a telephone conversation, she can also sing a very different "Mitchell County, N.C." version that includes a reference to the local Clenchfield railroad line.

Dolly Parton, who performs a version on her recent album "Heartsongs" says: "The song has been handed down through many generations of my family. I don't ever remember not hearing it and not singing it. Any time there were more than three or four songs to be sung, 'In the Pines' was one of them. It's easy to play, easy to sing, great harmonies and very emotional. The perfect song for simple people."

In the 1981 book "Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong," the music historian Norm Cohen notes that "In the Pines" has three frequent elements, not all of which always appear. There is the chorus "in the pines," a stanza about "the longest train I ever saw" and another verse in which someone is decapitated by a Train.

"The longest train" section probably began as a separate song, which merged with "In the Pines"; references in some renditions to "Joe Brown's coal mine" and "the Georgia line" may date its origins to Joseph Emerson Brown, a former Georgia governor, who operated coal mines in the 1870's. The earliest printed version was four lines and a melody compiled by Cecil Sharp in Kentucky in 1917. Another variant, mentioning the train accident, was recorded in 1925 by a folk collector onto cylinder, a precursor of the phonograph. The next year, commercial hillbilly recordings of "In the Pines" and "The Longest Train" began appearing.

How did Kurt Cobain discover "In the Pines"? Long before Nirvana's rise, he and Mark Lanegan, leader of the Seattle rock group Screaming Trees, formed a friendship around a mutual love of Leadbelly. Mr. Lanegan owned a copy of the original Musicraft 78 rpm of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" that Leadbelly recorded in 1944. "My father gave me the record when I was a kid," Mr. Lanegan says. "He was a schoolteacher, and he found in the attic of an old school a box of blues records." Mr. Lanegan and Mr. Cobain recorded an EP of Leadbelly tunes, but only "Where Did You Sleep" was released on Mr. Lanegan's 1990 album, "The Winding Sheet," with Mr. Cobain playing guitar.

Although Leadbelly is credited with authorship of "Where Did You Sleep" on "The Winding Sheet" and Nirvana's "Unplugged in New York," his own discovery of the song was almost as secondhand as that of the Seattle musicians. Alan Lomax, the folk music archivist and promoter, reported to Ms. McCulloh that Leadbelly learned parts of the song from someone who had taken it from the 1917 Sharp version and other parts from the 1925 cylinder recording.

For all its complicated history, the meaning of "In the Pines" may be even more blurry, a vast continuum of different varieties of misery and suffering. "This unique, moody, blues-style song from the Southern mountain country is like a bottomless treasure box of folk-song elements," wrote James Leisy in his 1966 book "The Folk Song Abecedary." "The deeper you dig, the more you find."

The basic elements of the song remain similar from version to version, but the context can be altered with a few words. It may be a husband, a wife or even a parent whose head is "found in the driver's wheel" and whose "body has never been found." Men, women and sometimes confused adolescents flee into the sordid pines, which serve as a metaphor for everything from sex to loneliness and death. The "longest" train can kill or give one's love the means to run away or leave an itinerant worker stranded far from his home.

In the bluegrass and country versions popularized by Mr. Monroe, the song's eerie qualities are rooted in the genre's "high lonesome" sound, with fiddles and yodeling harmonies used to evoke the cold wind blowing. Lyrics about beheading drop out, but the enigmatic train is almost as frightening, suggesting an eternal passage: "I asked my captain for the time of day/ He said he throwed his watch away."

In other versions, the focus is clearly, as the novelist Ms. McCrumb notes, on a confrontation: "There's a woman doing something not socially acceptable, and she's been caught at it." In one case, a husband demands: "Don't lie to me; where did you sleep last night?" In their traditional interpretation, the Kossoy Sisters begin: "Little girl, little girl, where'd you stay last night? Not even your mother knows." Despite all the variations of "In the Pines," these questions are almost never asked of a man. The woman may also be asked, "Where did you get that dress, and those shoes that are so fine?" and the answer is "from a man in the mines, who sleeps in the pines."

I found the article fascinating because even though I've heard the song my entire life, I've rarely heard the verses that talk about asking the Captain for the time of day and I've never heard the line about the head and the driver's wheel. McCulloh can add one more version to the 160 that her research turned up-The Pressley Girls version.

Lots of folks have a problem with changing the pronouns in a song to better fit their own gender. Chatter and Chitter see things differently. They say they need to feel like the song is about them for it to be part of their creative outlet so they always change the pronouns. In the case of the song In the Pines they're singing about a boy instead of a girl. 

I hope you enjoyed the video! To hear Leadbelly's version of the song Where did You Sleep Last Night go here.


p.s. Remember Guitar Man? For those of you who don't he is my oldest nephew. He shows up in most of our oldest music videos. He's making a movie! Actually he and a group of friends are trying their best to make a movie-go here for all the details. 

p.s.s. A few upcoming performances for The Pressley Girls 

  • Thursday October 27, 2016 @ 1:00 p.m. Wofford College Spartanburg, SC
  • Saturday November 12, 2016 @ TBA - Brasstown Community Center Brasstown, NC

  • Saturday November 19, 2016 @ 1:30 p.m. - Marble Elementary Fall Festival Marble, NC

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Gathering Flowers from the Hillside

Pap and Paul keeping the music alive

We talked about Appalachian Murder Ballads last Sunday, more specifically the ballad of Tom Dooley. Today I have a different ballad to share with you-Gathering Flowers from the Hillside, which is attributed to A.P. Carter of the famed Carter Family. 

Although A.P. did write songs, many of the ones listed under his name are traditional songs he grew up hearing or collected from other folks. I was unable to pinpoint whether he wrote Gathering Flowers from the Hillside or was simply familiar with the song. Actually I couldn't find out anything about the song-no history or stories connected to the murder described in the song. The Carter Family recorded it in the late 1930s. 

Most murder ballads hint at the unfaithfulness of the deceased, however the only complaint about the sweet girl in this song is that she kept him waiting. Maybe she kept him waiting because she'd changed her mind about their relationship or maybe she never even thought they had a relationship and he was just a crazy stalker. Of course nothing she did or didn't do deserved the ending of her life. 

Pap and Paul learned the song from Reno and Smiley and recorded it back in 2009 on their Lamp Lighting Time cd. 

Gathering Flowers from the Hillside - A.P. Carter

I’ve been gathering flowers from the hillside
To wreath around your brow
But you’ve kept me a-waitin’ so long, dear
That the flowers have all withered now

I know that you've seen trouble
But never hang down your head
Your love for me is like the flowers
Your love for me is dead

I’ve been gathering flowers from the hillside
To wreath around your brow
But you’ve kept me a-waitin’ so long, dear
That the flowers have all withered now

Closed eyes cannot see these roses
Folded hands cannot hold them, I know
And your lips that are still they cannot kiss me
They are gone from me forever more

It was on one bright June morning
The roses were in bloom
I took the sweet life of my darling
And that will be my doom.

I’ve been gathering flowers from the hillside
To wreath around your brow
But you’ve kept me a-waitin’ so long, dear
The flowers have all withered now

To hear the song click on the link below-and then click your back button to come back to this page. Or if you'd rather listen to it on the player at the right it's number 10. 

Gathering Flowers from the Hillside

 I hope you enjoyed the song-sort of peppy for a murder ballad. If you have any history about it, please leave a comment and share it with me. 


p.s. A few upcoming performances for The Pressley Girls 

  • Saturday October 22, 2016 @ 2:00p.m. Cherokee County Fair Murphy, NC
  • Thursday October 27, 2016 @ 1:00 p.m. Wofford College Spartanburg, SC

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Appalachian Murder Ballads

Murder ballads in appalachia

Tom Dooley is a song I've heard all my life, I even used to be able to play it on the piano. It's one of those sad down right mean songs about a horrible act-that still seems to draw me in for some reason.

Appalachia abounds with lonesome sadistic songs about killing-almost always a girl. Some of the songs insinuate the girl broke a sacred trust. Most of the songs end with the killer getting what he deserves. I've often wondered why I like such songs. This genre of music is called murder ballads.

Many murder ballads came across the big pond with folks who were coming to the new world to make a better life. The sheer number of the songs and the longevity of them show I'm not alone in my strange attraction.

I'm not sure if I like the songs because of a feeling of "there but for the grace of God go I", morbid fascination with death, or the satisfaction of knowing the troubles I have in my life seem minor compared to the story told in the song. Maybe it's because while I'm listening I can vicariously live out a range of emotions-fear, outrage, despair, and then when the song is over I get to go back to the sunshine.

While researching the story behind Tom Dooley  I found some interesting information.

  • His real name was Tom Dula. The y sound was added in the way other Appalachian words have y's added like extry for extra.
  • Dooley was a confederate solider who survived the war-although 2 of his brothers did not.
  • Dooley was a fiddle player.
  • The motive for the killing of little Laurie Foster resulted from a bizarre love triangle which included 2 of Laurie Foster's cousins.
  • Both Dooley and Ann Foster Melton (one of the cousins) were charged with the murder of Laurie Foster.
  • Right before Dooley was hung he gave his lawyer a written statement, which stated he was the only person responsible for the death of Laurie Foster.
  • The Kingston Trio released a version of Tom Dooley in 1958.
  • The trio won the first Grammy ever awarded to a country/western act.
  • Popularity of the song led to guitars outselling pianos in 1963-for the first time ever.
  • There are some folks who believe Dooley was never hung-that at the last minute a vagrant, whose face was hid beneath a hood, was hung instead. 

As with most murder ballads there are several versions of the song Tom Dooley . The version that was made popular by the Kingston Trio was credited to Frank Proffitt who was a NC farmer as well as a musician. A couple of song collectors visited Proffitt in 1938 ensuring the song would be spread to a greater audience than the one in the mountains of NC. 

For more information on the history of Tom Dooley check out The Daily Yonder-The Murder that sold 10,000 guitars.

For this weeks Pickin' and Grinnin' Tom Dooley.

I hope you enjoyed Pap and Paul's version of the song. As you can see from the age of my nephews, the video was filmed way back in 2008 when I first started the Blind Pig and The Acorn.

I'll share a few other murder ballads with you in the next few picking and grinning sessions. As I said at the beginning of this post, the songs are not for the faint of heart and I'm unable to articulate why I like them so much, but I do. 


p.s. A few upcoming performances for The Pressley Girls 

October 15, 2016 @ 4:00 p.m.- Stecoah Valley Center Harvest Festival Stecoah (Robbinsville), NC 

October 22, 2016 @ TBA Cherokee County Fair Murphy, NC

October 27, 2016 @ 1:00 p.m. Wofford College Spartanburg, SC

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Day 2 of the JCCFS Fall Festival

The kudzu kickers

At 2:00 p.m. today The Pressley Girls will be performing at the John C. Campbell Folk School's Fall Festival on the Festival Barn Stage. Yesterday was a great day for a festival the weather was perfect and as usual the artists, crafters, and performers out did themselves-we had a great time and I do believe everyone else that was there did too! I enjoyed seeing more than a few Blind Pig Readers and I so appreciate them taking the time out of their day to spend a few minutes talking with the girls and me along with a few other nice things they did for us. 

The girls will be doing In The Garden during their set today. The video below was filmed at the Folk School during a concert back in June. They've been doing the song for a good while now. In the beginning Paul and I played along with them, but over time we realized just the one guitar and their two-part harmony was all it needed. 

My favorite part of the song is at the end of the third verse that they sing together. I love Chitter's high sweet voice on the word calling. If Pap could hear me say that he'd say "Yes but Chatter's voice below it helps-it takes both voices to make it sound like that. That's what harmony is." And he would have been right, but mostly he would have been trying to encourage both girls equally. Pap was an encouraging person. Whether he ran across an old friend who was down on his luck or a kid he'd never met before that was trying to throw just the right curve across home-plate he had an encouraging word to share with them. 

For those of you who can't attend, I hope you enjoyed a peek into today's fall festival and for those of you who do come, I hope you have time to say hello to us. 


p.s. A few upcoming performances for The Pressley Girls 

TODAY-October 2, 2016 @ 2:00 p.m. - Fall Festival JCCFS Brasstown, NC

October 15, 2016 @ 4:00 p.m.- Stecoah Valley Center Harvest Festival Stecoah (Robbinsville), NC 

October 22, 2016 @ TBA Cherokee County Fair Murphy, NC

October 27, 2016 @ 1:00 p.m. Wofford College Spartanburg, SC

I Walk in Silence When it Comes

Jerry Marshall Wilson - I find Jesus by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

After Pap died I was worried about dreaming about him. Sounds silly I know. I was afraid if I dreamed of him it would make me even sadder and I didn't think I could stand that. Then as the days, weeks, and months went by I began to worry about not dreaming about Pap and wondered if I ever would. 

Chitter and Chatter are big dreamers-usually as soon as they awake they start telling the craziness that occurred while they slept. Granny doesn't approve, she will never tell her dreams before breakfast for fear they'll come true. Both girls say they dream about Pap at least once a week if not more. They say sometimes it makes them sad and sometimes it doesn't.

I finally dreamed about Pap Friday before last.

I was at some sort of meal-you know like dinner on the grounds or a family reunion. As I walked beside a long table looking for someone to eat my plate of food with I suddenly saw Pap sitting on the other side of the table with his own plate of food. I stopped and literally screamed "DADDY!" He gave me a smile and a small chuckle like he'd been waiting on me to find him and in the way of dreams the rest is pretty hazy. 

I once heard Jimmy Ibbotson, of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band fame, tell how he dreamed a song.

A few months after his father passed away he dreamed he was in a southern church where he didn't recognize anyone. The congregation started asking him to sing his new song-he told them he didn't know what song they were talking about. Someone tapped him on the shoulder and when he turned around it was his father. His father told him to go on and sing the song for them. As he walked up front and began to sing the words just flowed out and that's how the amazing song was written or dreamed.

For this week's Pickin' & Grinnin' In The Kitchen Spot Jimmy Ibbotson's song I Find Jesus.

I hope you enjoyed the song, it has great words and the story behind how it was written makes it even more special to me. 


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What Makes you Feel Young?

Original music by Paul Wilson in Appalachia I'll be Young

Paul, Tipper, Granny Gazzie, and Steve 

I'm sure you've heard someone say "Getting old isn't for sissies" meaning the older you get the more aches and pains a body seems to have. Thankfully no matter what our age there are things we see, feel, hear, or think upon that instantly makes us feel young again. 

As the girls were growing up I was often reminded of things I hadn't thought about in years and as I witnessed the events I felt like I was a young girl again. You know things like the pure joy of playing in the creek, making mud pies, and those hand clapping rhymes like Ms. Mary Mack Mack Mack all dressed in black black black.

Since my entire life has been surrounded by music it's often a song that makes me feel young again. When I hear a song from childhood it makes me feel like I'm a little girl hiding behind Pap or Granny's legs instead of a momma with two grown girls of her own.

When I'm outside on a warm summer night seeing the lightning bugs and hearing the katydids and frogs I feel young again. I'm taken back to the days of playing hide-n-seek, telling ghost stories, and walking home in the dark to a house lit up with love.

Today's Pickin & Grinnin Spot features a song written, by Paul, I'll Be Young.

I'll Be Young written by Paul Wilson

When time like a freight train has passed me by and spring has long since sprung
Somewhere in a rocking chair with my mind made up I'll think of you and I'll be young

I'll be young I'll be young
Deep within my heart
I'll be young I'll be young I'll be young

When the days of my youth like grains through the glass have fallen swiftly past
And the spryness of my body is completely gone I'll think of you and I'll be young

I'll be young I'll be young
Deep within my heart
I'll be young I'll be young I'll be young

When I'm lying in the ground no one remembers me and the weeds grow tall o're my head
And the end of the world has just begun I'll think of you and I'll be young

Oh I'll be young I'll be young
Deep within my heart
Yes I'll be young I'll be young I'll be young

I hope you enjoyed Paul's song-it's a real toe-tapper with great words. Please leave me a comment and let me know what makes you feel young.


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Way Back in the Mountains

This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig and The Acorn back in 2012. And in case you're wondering, we still like to go to bed early and we're still a bunch of tired car sick babies on occasion.

My life in appalachia - Way Back In The Hills

I'm sure I've told you at some point, but if you missed it, the Blind Pig Family is not made up of night owls. We go to bed early. 

Yesterday evening after a full day of work for The Deer Hunter and me along with a full day of Little Middle Folk School for Chitter and Chatter we headed out for a place way back in the mountains above Cashiers, NC. Its called Caney Fork and is just below a place called Little Canada.

Another thing about the Blind Pig family, two of us get car sick all the time and the other two get car sick about half the time. Being tired, hungry, slightly nervous, and sitting in the backseat of car you've never been in going around winding curves you've never driven pretty much guarantees all four of us will be car sick. 

So why would we put ourselves through such an evening knowing 5:00 a.m. would come early the next morning? To travel back in the mountains, sit on a porch like my Granny Gazzie's, and make music.

The green siding on the house, the flower pots sitting on the railings, and the various outbuildings made me feel like we had traveled back in time.

We visited Henry Queen-maybe you've heard of him or his mother Mary Jane Queen? The Queen family is well known in Western NC for their love of music. Mary Jane passed away a few years ago, but her love for the ballads and songs she learned as a child have been passed down through her family and beyond. I can't help but think she'd be pleased to see her porch full of young musicians learning from her son in preparation to go out and share music with others.

The music was amazing, the company was good, but I felt a bitter sweetness sitting on that porch. Maybe it was because the house reminded me so much of Granny Gazzie's house that now sits empty or maybe its because I know those old houses are far and few between these days and so are the people who inhabit them.

Ever since we left the Queen home I've been thinking of the Front Range song- Way Back In The Hills written by Bob Amos. I taped the video below back when I first started the Blind Pig-its just as good today as it was back then. 

As we headed home after the music making, the girls and I were all car sick. Luckily The Deer Hunter wasn't.

After the 2nd stop at a closed gas station to get a drink out of a machine I said "You know what? We're a bunch of babies, why we can't even stay up past 8 o'clock without getting sick." Everybody in the car agreed with me. "But" I said, "even though I feel so miserable-I'm so very glad we went." Everyone in the car agreed with me on that statement too.


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Angels of Mercy

In Memory of Pap
Photos and graphics by Ron Priest


I've had Pap strong on my mind ever since Uncle Henry had his stroke. I guess we all have. Granny told me "If your Daddy was still here I know where we'd be going today. We'd be going right down there to see Henry." The girls have went on and on about how Henry looks like Pap, how he has his hands, his eyes, and some of his mannerisms. 

One of Pap's cousins called Granny this week to tell her she was sorry she didn't know he'd passed away. In one of those its a small world moments, someone from this area was visiting her church in Gastonia NC and told her Pap had died in the Spring of the year.

After Granny told me about her calling I said "I remember Pap telling me she had been having a hard time and was helping out family." Granny said "Yes your Daddy called her a good while back, it might have even been before Christmas and talked for hours with her. You know when he was growing up he went out there and lived with her family and worked and he always liked her. She told me when your Daddy called her that day she somehow knew he had called to tell her goodbye and in his encouraging way to tell her everything would be alright one way or another."

Pap continues to speak to us through our memories and through his songs. I listen to all the songs he wrote with a new ear, a new perspective. It's been many years since he wrote Angels of Mercy but as I listen to the song now, the change of words between the two choruses shouts out to me.  

Angels of Mercy written by Jerry Wilson

Lazarus was hungry, suffering, waiting alone
Outside a gate of plenty, a beggar with no earthly home. 
The crumbs were all he asked for, oh such a small thing indeed. 
The dogs his only comfort for no man came to his need.

Angels of comfort came from his Father in love. 
Angels of Mercy carried Lazarus above.

Sometimes life is a burden. 
The body grows weak and tired. 
Afflictions weary the traveler, his pathway uncertain and hard. 
But as it was with Lazarus, oh so let it be with my soul. 
Let Angels of comfort carry me into God's fold.

Angels of comfort come from my Father in Love. 
Angels of Mercy carried me above.

I hope you enjoyed the video, the song is one of the tracks on Pap and Paul's recent cd Shepherd of My Soul. The cd is now available on CD Baby. You can download the entire cd or pick and choose-only purchasing the track(s) you prefer. Go here if you're interested. You can also find the cd on Itunes and you can listen to it on Spotify. The cd can also be purchased directly from me-go here for those details. 

A big THANK YOU to everyone who said a prayer or sent a good thought for Uncle Henry. He has improved beyond what they originally expected and each day seems to bring a little piece of him back to his family. 


p.s. The Pressley Girls' Schedule for this week: *TODAY-September 4 @ 2:00 p.m. Heritage Day Festival Blairsville, GA

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Jesus Won't You Come By Here

Jesus won't you come by here - now is a needy time

Uncle Henry and Tipper tasting an apple from one of his trees

Do you ever have one of those weeks where you just keeping getting bad news? That's the kind of week it's been around the Blind Pig house. As I worried about people who lost loved ones and people who are praying they don't lose a loved one I was reminded of a song Pap and Paul used to sing Jesus Won't You Come By Here. They learned the song from the movie Sounder. I believe it's an old negro spiritual although I've never heard anyone sing it other than the folks in the movie and Pap and Paul. 

The video below was filmed back when Paul was in college. I love seeing Granny's old furniture with the handmade slipcovers and the matching curtains she made. I went with Pap when he bought the furniture from a man who looked like Orson Wells. The man was drinking wine-which totally shocked a 7 year old Southern Baptist girl. I remember Pap laughing when he told Granny I was afraid of the man because he was holding a wine glass that had apparently been filled many times that day.

The song conveys such a plaintive sound of need that it looks like more folks would sing it. Even with the compelling need of the words the beauty of the human spirit comes forth in the harmony and Pap's high tenor.

My Uncle Henry suffered a significant stroke on Thursday and things aren't looking so good for him. If you've got an extra prayer or good thought please send it his way.


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The Way I Am

2016 The Pressley Girls Festival on the Square 3

Just before Pap died, I videoed the girls doing a song made famous by Merle Haggard- The Way I Am written by Sonny Throckmorton. I never got to show Pap the video but I know he would have liked it.

The Deer Hunter and I listened to lots of Merle Haggard during our courting days. While I have many favorite Haggard songs, The Way I Am is right up there near the top. 

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you feel like a fish out of water? The song makes me think of those times where I find myself somewhere that I wished I wasn't. I'm not good at pretending to like something that I don't like.

When I was a teenager Pap would tell me "Be your ownself. Don't worry about what everybody else is doing or not doing."

Teaching me to be my ownself is one of the best things Pap and Granny did for me. I'm thankful the girls have learned to be happy with their ownselves too. 

Knowing the way you are makes it easier to live in this world and do the things you need to do even when you don't want to do them.


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