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Bridges, Not Walls Concert: GR Choir is much more than Justice singing

This city is full of lots of opportunities to join others in song. This is true whether one joins a band, a church choir, or any one of the many choral groups that are offered in this region.

In fact, the human voice in song is to many cultures one of the most beautiful aspects of being alive. There is just something very powerful about what happens when we all get on the same page in song.

Keeping that local tradition alive is a relatively new choral group, Justice Choir GR. This choir has already been featured in Rapid Growth’s story, “Social Justice Choir puts GR's culture of giving to work” by Dan Treul and on Sunday, Mar. 24 you will have a chance to listen to their latest community program at Trinity United Methodist Church. 

As with their past performances, this one is organized around a theme with Sunday’s concert rooted in the topic of immigration, welcoming new neighbors, and how we can all work together for a better community. 

An added bonus for the Justice Choir GR performance is the inclusion of the Latinx rock collective Cabildo, who will be joining this very topical and timely program.

Sunday’s concert will also seek to connect folks to more information from community organizations who are locally providing immigrant support services, including the Justice Choir GR’s featured partner, Justice for Our Neighbors West Michigan

So if you are seeking an entertainment option with a bit of insight into this topic delivered by song, then Justice Choir GR has just the program for you. As a reminder, this concert is free, but organizers are asking that you register in advance at their Eventbrite event page to attend.

Speak Your Truth: Transgender Day of Visibility hosts an open mic

While the headlines as of late have not been great for many on the gender spectrum, our local transgender community wants us to know that despite the news, our local community is thriving and finding support here in Grand Rapids. 

This fact is worth celebrating, and so on the 10th anniversary of the international Transgender Day of Visibility, commemorated around the world on March 31, they invite you to hear their stories at their annual Speak Your Truth open mic event.

In the past, those attending have been treated to inspiring, first-hand storytelling from a diverse group of individuals that have included stories about trans siblings to people discovering their voice.

The event also provides space for community members to hear firsthand from those in the field who are creating positive moments within the West Michigan community. 

This year’s special guest is Rachel Crandall-Crocker, Executive Director of Transgender Michigan and the founder of TDOV. Yes, the woman who started this international event will be back in Grand Rapids to share her insights with those gathered.

Organizers want those seeking to attend to know that this event, sponsored by the YWCA and The Mitten Brewing Company, is family inclusive, though mild adult language may be used by some of the speakers.

(Editor's Note: Tommy Allen, our publisher, recently joined the Grand Rapids Pride Center’s board. This event is presented by the Center as well as a host of other area organizations. The highlighting of TDOV and all of our events still remain a community service of Rapid Growth's mission. Thank you.)

"Relaxer": A new indie film classic is born here

Opening Friday, Mar. 22 (through Apr. 11)
I know we sound like a broken record, but there is something unique in West Michigan where access and connections can easily produce collaborations in the pursuit of one’s creative dreams.

Now as a preface, if fame and fortune is your career tracks focus, then, yeah, L.A. or New York will have advantages we cannot even touch. But if you want to find a place where people actually help each other out in the pursuit of a creative project, then this is where it can happen.

Filmmaking is one creative area locally that continues to evolve through the ease of access to digital tools, as well as access to space — a growing problem for artists in nearly every major city — and on Friday, March 22, one of the darlings of modern independent cinema, director Joel Potrykus, will be debuting his latest release, “Relaxer,” for our locals. 

This Sob Noisse Movies production, lensed in Belmont, MI and released through Oscilloscope Laboratories, is the story of a man’s obsession in the midst of an impending Y2K apocalypse fast approaching. 

It stars Potrykus’ muse Joshua Burge as Abbie, whose drive is to conquer the ultimate challenge of the unbeatable level 256 on Pac-Man, a goal that keeps him on the couch until he has been victorious.

I attended a family and friends viewing last year and can say without a shadow of a doubt that this is one of my favorites within the canon of films that Potrykus has released.

And an added bonus is that if you enjoy Burge in his other Potrykus' directed roles, then get ready for him in "Relaxer" as it is our favorite local screen actor at the height of his craft. (Burge recently, after years in West Michigan, sold his home to relocate to L.A. so that this next level of his career will have a chance to lift off.) 

Relaxer,” a comedy/fantasy, will be screening at UICA until April 11. Do not miss this modern indie American classic as you will be amazed at the performances of many faces, as well as crew members, from our region who helped create this fantastic film.
 

Tunde Wey: This chef is an artist shifting our focus beyond just food.

There are many times when I will set out to try and distill via words why someone’s event is worth your time. This is never truer than when considering the event: Culinary Conversations Meetup featuring Chef Tunde Wey.

As I looked at the calendar with this event circled, I knew that I would have to cover the arrival of Tunde Wey, but I just wasn’t sure where to start as he defies so many definitions.  

Wey is truly a modern artist who works as a chef illuminating his love of food as a platform to shine a light on a multitude of racial injustices still prevalent in American culture. I must admit that even with my knowledge of Wey’s path (he has written for RG’s sister publication, Model D), I would be challenged to entice you with the limited space we have to showcase this event because of his complex and necessary work. 

Wey, while in Grand Rapids for this Grand Rapids Downtown Market Meetup produced in collaboration with Start Garden, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women, and Michigan State University Extension, will speak about a variety of issues including racial inequality, wealth disparity, and the struggles he faces as a Black chef and business owner.

“For decades we have made food spaces — at least dining spaces — exempt from critical conversations of race and equality,” said Wey. “Food spaces embody the sort of structural inequalities that exist in the larger community, and they contribute to those inequities as well. It is incumbent on all of us to address the injustices that we see in all the spaces as they exist.”

And lucky for us, last week a national publication, GQ, released what I believe to be a very good look at the work of this incredible artist who is shifting our attention to areas via practices we all engage in every single day. 

To read this incredibly insightful look at this artist who works with food, please read “The Provocations of Chef Tunde Wey” by Brett Martin. This in-depth piece will help prepare your mind for this powerful Meetup that is sure to rock the world of all those who will venture to our Grand Rapids Downtown Market for its latest Culinary Conversations.

 

Project 1: Part one of the big reveal from ArtPrize

It seems like only yesterday that we put ArtPrize 10 to bed for a two-year rest. (ArtPrize returns in 2020 to Grand Rapids.) But no worries since the off-year, new biennial program, Project X, will debut fall 2019.

This Thursday night special reveal party is just the first of many reveals to come for this brand new art event that is focused heavily on curation.

At the ArtPrize Hub, guests who attend this kick-off reveal of Project 1 (Fall 2019) will learn first who are the international, national, and local artists who will be creating works for their debut.

And while you will learn the locations at a later date for ArtPrize’s new multi-sited exhibition project, tonight’s reveal is about the artists who will be visiting our region in preparation for this new event. 

In addition to Project 1’s artist reveal will also be a chance to see the new brand identity, created by Grand Rapids’ very own Conduit Studio.

In addition to a chance to hear first about the art project while sipping beer and wine (first drink is on ArtPrize), you will be able to enjoy the DJ sets by hi-ker and DJ Adeshola Makinde.

From ArtPrize: “Project 1 — the next evolution of ArtPrize — is the first in a series of multi-sited public art exhibitions in Grand Rapids, Michigan. With ArtPrize moving to a biennial schedule, the Project series shifts the organizing principle of our fall exhibition from competition to commission every other year. In Project years, we’re able to build deep collaborations with artists and provide resources, time and community connections in a whole new way.”

Libations & Learning: Grand River Rapids Restoration Update

As we move farther away from the river restoration and park creation launch event held at DeVos Place last year, many folks are beginning to turn their attention to all things related to the Grand River — the state’s longest running river and namesake to our city Grand Rapids. 

On Thursday, Grand Rapids Whitewater (GRWW), the group who has spearheaded the rapids restoration movement, will be presenting to the public registered to attend this special Libations & Learning event an update of the project’s current status. 

Libations & Learning is also a chance for those who could not attend the launch event to hear firsthand from GRWW how the project is progressing and will impact downtown living in Grand Rapids as the project moves ever closer to implementation. 

Please register in advance to attend since space is limited. Free tickets may be secured here.

Irish On Ionia: Dancing (and drinking good beer) in the streets!

There are plenty of ways to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Grand Rapids, from visiting any one of the Irish bars of our city for more traditional fare to joining folks in the street for the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. 

But another event of a different jig is also heading back into the streets for the state’s largest St. Patty’s celebration: Irish on Ionia.

One part Irish Fest mixed with a hefty dose of EDM (electronic dance music), this annual street fair is a day-long endurance test if your goal is to make it from its 7 a.m. debut to its 10 p.m. closure. (No worries, most know on this day it is all about pacing oneself.) 

Scheduled to appear this year on the event’s two stages is a collection of artists and dancers all celebrating the joy of this holiday held out in the open air (so dress warmly).

The event offers two levels of tickets as well, but a word of advice, this event has been known to sell out so be sure to purchase your tickets in advance to ensure your entry.

For all the details on the acts performing, as well as to purchase tickets to Irish on Ionia 2019, please visit their website.

People & Pets: LaughFest’s furriest event bounces back into town

Sunday, Mar. 17, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. (Contest at 12:30 p.m.)
On the last day of the 2019 LaughFest and barring any unusual, rapid body hair growth from Ali Wong (the festival’s closing act at DeVos Hall), People & Pets will be the furriest event once again this year.

Folks with pets (or those who simply love to be around them) are invited to the GRCC Ford Fieldhouse (111 Lyon St. NE) on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for this annual free event centered on the humor of our furry friends. 

People & Pets is a chance for furry friends and their owners to showcase how funny their pets truly can be. Folks who arrive early and register from 10:00 a.m. to noon will be able to compete in the 12:30 p.m. contest for prizes and trophies for Best Costume, Best Pet Trick, Best Look A Like, and Most Unique Pet.

In addition to the contest, People & Pets includes a chance to visit animal vendors tables, sit for a portrait in a pet-friendly photo booth, enter giveaways, and enjoy festive entertainment for the whole family, regardless of how you define it.

Please note this pet policy for those brings their fur babies: please keep all pets on a leash while at the event. Make sure your dog is well-mannered and up-to-date on vaccines. Be aware that puppies under the age of 16 weeks have not received all their shots and are more susceptible to acquiring an illness. Dogs four months and older should be current on the rabies vaccine. Also, be aware that not all dogs are given bordetella, the vaccine for dogs that prevents kennel cough. 

Parking is snap when you use the Lyon Street ramp for this LaughFest event at Ford Fieldhouse.

LaughFest is an arm of our local Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting cancer, grief, and emotional health support programs offered for free to area children, adults, families, and friends.

Opening Day 2019: John Ball Zoo wakes up the beasts of the Westside

Lions, tigers, and bears! Oh my!

After a long winter’s sleep, the animals of John Ball Zoo are ready to receive visitors as they take their first steps into the advancing oh-so-slowly warmer season is nigh. 

So if you have run out of options with your kids who are undoubtedly climbing the walls for new adventures beyond museums and movie screens, then the opening of the 2019 season of our local and much beloved John Ball Zoo is just for you.

But our zookeepers remind us that not all animals are acclimated to our weather, so some animals might decide to stay inside a bit longer than others (Can’t blame ‘em.) But rest assured, they will be out and those who are not will be as soon as the temps rise with time.

But for the animal-faithful fans of our region, the opening of the John Ball Zoo’s new season is always a welcome sign that the worst of the winter is finally behind us. Brave souls should dress warmly as we welcome our city’s animals as they venture out for the first time this year.

Matt Bellassai: Laughfest's class of 2019 gets a queer over-achiever that the audience loves!

Friday - Sunday, Mar. 8 -10, 7:00 and 9:00 p.m.
LaughFest has been many things over the years, but one of the pure pleasures, in my opinion, has been how willing they have been to embrace a wide array of avenues from which comedy can spring. 

This can include everything from their inspiring galas (signature event) to their embracing of the emerging artists who take non-traditional paths to each of our area stages. Some comics take to the stage as their sole path to their comic careers, but many more are emerging in the era of the standup via platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook.

One such act using modern platforms as a stage is the comic stylings of Matt Bellassai — a comedian who is also a much-lauded writer and beloved social media personality. 

Bellassai is unique in that he created "To Be Honest" on Facebook and quickly built an audience of more than half a million followers. 

When Bellassai arrives in Grand Rapids for LaughFest, he will have just wrapped a sold-out, nationwide comedy tour, The Drunk and Alone Tour, which visited 20 cities. 

What makes Bellassai so much fun is his frankness but also his refusal to bury his sexuality — making him a perfect fit for those who all too often blow up my phone asking, “Who are the queer comics at LaughFest this year?” (Elaine Dalcher, here is your queer comic. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.) 

Bellassai claims to have been born around 1400 BC, after being abandoned by his mother in a wicker basket soon after his birth and sent down the Nile wrapped only in a scratchy blanket full of grass stains, dirt, and fingernails. Yes, he has Mose syndrome … but don’t we all at some point?

This Chicago native now living in Brooklyn, NY has sold more than 7,500 tickets with most venues adding multiple shows due to increased demand, so buy your ticket now. In 2018, Bellassai won the fan-voted People’s Choice Award for Social Media Star and attended the American Music Awards as their official social media correspondent, covering both the carpet and live show.

I will be your host for both shows at The Pyramid Scheme and promise this is sure to be quite a hit at the festival this year that boasts a plethora of amazing and off-the-beaten-path comics that are sure to connect with our we-are-over-winter-so-let’s-laugh-out loud-together West Michigan audience.

If you need a greater motivator to check out Bellassai’s act, he has added four more shows to his initial two. Yeah, he’s a big deal and should be on your list of must-see LaughFest 2019 shows. 

To discover all the comics coming to Grand Rapids for LaughFest 2019, please visit their website.

Captain Marvel: Women's History Month gets a helluva kick off

Women’s History Month has plenty of ways that one can celebrate its significance, but, damn, Girls Rock Grand Rapids (GR!GR) has defiantly raised the bar with the best and most epic event so far this month to commemorate this moment in time.

In honor of Women’s History Month, GR!GR along with downtown GR’s community player extraordinaire Vault of Midnight is thrilled to be hosting a special “Captain Marvel” film premiere/fundraiser for GR!GR.

Captain Marvel is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first female-led superhero film and stars Brie Larson as Carol Danvers in the role as the universe’s most powerful hero right as Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races. The film is set in the 1990s, a previously unseen period in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

According to Disney’s Marvel Studio, “Captain Marvel” must navigate two alien races as they reach Earth. Captain Marvel uses her skills along with a small cadre of allies at the center of the maelstrom to drive this thrilling new entry into the Marvel canon of film works. 

This special screening is a benefit for our local Girls Rock Grand Rapids (GR!GR) —  a volunteer group of women housed at the Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities and is dedicated to empowering girls and women through music.  

All ticket proceeds are pledged to directly benefit GR!GR as funds raised support their music summer camp.

As an added bonus, GR!GR’s band Calling Shotgun will also be performing a live set on stage before the film begins, so arrive early. The film starts at 7 p.m. sharp, so get there early to bask in the glow of all things female at this amazing and festive night out at Celebration Cinema North.

For all the ticket options, please visit in person the Vault of Midnight Grand Rapids or online at vaultofmidnight.com. Tickets are also available at the Cook Arts Center. Tickets are non-refundable.

Advocacy & Me: YNPN's Conversation Starter presents something worth talking about

Most weeks, G-Sync Events feature events to fill your after-work hours with an escape from the grind of your day-to-day living. But for this week, we wanted to feature an inspiring event happening during your lunch hour that is sure to amp up your advocacy game with the many nonprofits that so many of our readers have indicated they proudly serve in our region.

As one who has been an advocate for so many organizations since I arrived here many decades ago, the powerful importance of advocacy on behalf of our community’s many organizations has never been more important than right now.

Our Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Grand Rapids (YNPNGR) seeks to present an event devoted to advocacy and how it strengthens our communities while also elevating critical voices of an organization’s stakeholders. Advocacy also helps us be able to articulate for others who may not be in a position to have their voices heard.

Advocacy is a vital and an often overlooked area in our toolbox for change. And yet, our contributions when we act as an advocate create a positive impact, according to BoardSource, who reports that only "15% of nonprofits nationally have established processes for how to engage in advocacy and lobbying."

On your Wednesday lunch hour join Justin Sheehan, an experienced attorney and nonprofit leader, who will share how your organization along with your assistance can move the mission forward through intelligent advocacy.

According to YNPN’s site, “since November of 2015 Sheehan has been the Executive Director for Lansing Promise and, in addition, he currently works for Michigan Community Resources (MCR) traveling the state of Michigan supporting nonprofit organizations in learning their rights and building their capacity to engage in effective advocacy and lobbying efforts. Prior to his role at Lansing Promise, he was the Senior Legal & Policy Program Manager at MCR.”

In addition to Sheelan’s appearance will be a chance to network with House Representative and former WMEAC Executive Director Rachel Hood, who will share how to advocate with elected leaders.

The event is free to attend, but you are asked to pre-register here.

Please remember YNPN’s Conversation Starters are held over the lunch hour and that while limited appetizers are provided, if you seek a heartier lunch, City Built Brewing has a stunning array of flavorful dishes from which to choose.

Oscar Shorts 2019: Live action, documentary, and animation creates space for local visual learning

Through Mar. 9 (Documentary, Animation), through Mar. 14 (Live Action)
You could spend the weekend scouring the web for access to the many short films nominated for Oscars this year and maybe eventually discover them. Or you could just visit the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art (UICA) and see all of the 2019 Academy Award nominees in one place.

What makes this annual film series so important for locals is the chance to screen the 2019 Oscar-nominated shorts in the genres of animation, documentary, and live action. Specifically for filmmakers (or those thinking of becoming one), this opportunity creates an informal classroom as the best of contemporary cinema are projected here. 

Here is a quick overview of three short film programs being screened at UICA: 

Oscar Shorts 2019: Animation

Animal Behavior
Synopsis: Dealing with what comes naturally isn’t easy, especially for animals.

Bao (Winner) 
Synopsis: An aging Chinese mom suffering from empty nest syndrome gets another chance at motherhood when one of her dumplings springs to life as a lively, giggly dumpling boy. Mom excitedly welcomes this new bundle of joy into her life, but Dumpling starts growing up fast, and Mom must come to the bittersweet revelation that nothing stays cute and small forever. 

Late Afternoon
Synopsis: Emily is an elderly woman who lives between two states, the past and the present. She journeys into an inner world, reliving moments from her life. She searches for a connection within her vivid, but fragmented memories. 

One Small Step 
Synopsis: Luna is a vibrant young Chinese American girl who dreams of becoming an astronaut. From the day she witnesses a rocket launching into space on TV, Luna is driven to reach for the stars. In the big city, Luna lives with her loving father Chu, who supports her with a humble shoe repair business he runs out of his garage. As Luna grows up, she enters college, facing adversity of all kinds in pursuit of her dreams. 

Weekends 
Synopsis: The story of a young boy shuffling between the homes of his recently divorced parents. Surreal dream-like moments mix with the domestic realities of a broken family in this hand-animated film set in 1980s Toronto. 


Oscar Shorts 2019: Documentary

Black Sheep
Synopsis: Everything changed for Cornelius Walker on 27 November 2000 when Damilola Taylor was killed. Damilola was 11, the same age as Cornelius. He lived five minutes away. He had the same skin colour. Cornelius’s mother, scared for her son’s safety, moved their family out of London. Cornelius suddenly found himself living on a white estate run by racists. But rather than fight them, Cornelius decided to become more like the people who hated him. They became his family and kept him safe. And in return, Cornelius became submerged in a culture of violence and hatred. But as the violence and racism against other black people continued, Cornelius struggled to marry his real identity with the one he had acquired. 
 
End Game
Synopsis: Where will loved ones spend their last days? Who will be in the room? What feelings and secrets need to be shared with family before it is too late? 

Lifeboat 
Synopsis: Volunteers from a German non-profit risk the waves of the Mediterranean to pluck refugees from sinking rafts pushing off from Libya in the middle of the night. Lifeboat puts a human face on one of the world’s greatest contemporary, global crises and provides a spark of hope surrounding how civil society can intervene in the refugee crisis in a meaningful way. 

A Night at the Garden
Synopsis: In 1939, 20,000 Americans rallied in New York’s Madison Square Garden to celebrate the rise of Nazism — an event largely forgotten from American history. A Night at the Garden, made entirely from archival footage filmed that night, transports audiences to this chilling gathering and shines a light on the power of demagoguery and anti-Semitism in the United States. 

Period. End of Sentence (Winner)
Synopsis: In a rural village outside Delhi, India, women lead a quiet revolution. They fight against the deeply rooted stigma of menstruation. For generations, these women didn’t have access to pads, which lead to health problems and girls missing school or dropping out entirely. But when a sanitary pad machine is installed in the village, the women learn to manufacture and market their own pads, empowering the women of their community. They name their brand “FLY,” because they want women “to soar.” Their flight is, in part, enabled by the work of high school girls half a world away, in California, who raised the initial money for the machine and began a non-profit called “The Pad Project.” 


Oscar Shorts 2019: Live Action

Detainment 
Synopsis: Two ten year-old boys are detained by police under suspicion of abducting and murdering a toddler. A true story based on interview transcripts from the James Bulger case which shocked the world in 1993 and continues to incite public outrage across the UK today. 

Fauve 
Synopsis: Set in a surface mine, two boys sink into a seemingly innocent power game with Mother Nature as the sole observer. Alone in the wild the two boys play around. Complicity evolves into a confrontation where one wants to have power over the other. Taking proportions larger than nature, this game will not prove as harmless as they thought. 

Marguerite
Synopsis: An aging woman and her nurse develop a friendship that inspires her to unearth unacknowledged longing and thus help her make peace with her past. 

Madre (Mother)
Synopsis: A single mother receives a call from her seven-year-old son who is on vacation with his father in the French Basque Country. At first the call is a cause for joy, but soon it becomes a horrible nightmare when the child tells her that he is alone and cannot find his father who left a while ago. 

Skin
Synopsis: A small supermarket in a blue collar town, a black man smiles at a 10 year old white boy across the checkout aisle. This innocuous moment sends two gangs into a ruthless war that ends with a shocking backlash. 

 

Bad Jews: The body is barely cold and the family fighting is just warming up … with laughs

We have all been there and if you haven’t yet, then it is just a matter of time before a relative passes and the uncomfortable divvying up of the deceased “stuff” commences. 

As is typical in my experience over the years, kinfolk, normally sane, will go off the rails over the tiniest of objects left behind by the deceased.

This scenario is pretty much the setting of the newest production from Jewish Theatre Grand Rapids as they present the wildly funny and very dark comedy “Bad Jews,” written by Joshua Harmon and directed by Tom Kaechele.

“Bad Jews” centers on relatives Diana and Liam, both polar opposites spiritually speaking and yet equally as biting with their stinging brands of humor. These two characters, along with the cast that are swept up into their drama, take us on a journey into the modern meaning of faith in a secular world. There is even a hilarious performance of “Summertime” from the Opera “Porgy and Bess” in the play that is sure to leave the audience rolling with laughter. 

Bad Jews offers something for everyone, from the Jew to the Gentile and everyone in between. 

The show runs February 28, March 2, 7, and 9 at 8 p.m. and March 3 and 10 at 3 p.m. Tickets: $25 General, $23 Seniors, $8 Students. There are no Friday performances because of Shabbat.

Laugh at Rosa!: A community kick-off celebration of laughter

Over the years, LaughFest has invited the city to join them for a community-wide celebration of this popular festival devoted to the art of laughter. 

In the past, we have been treated to everything from rubber chicken tosses in an attempt to set a new world record, to restaurants serving up fried chicken, to community showcases rich with stand up comedy.

For LaughFest’s ninth year kick off, they are (once again) inviting the community to join them at Rosa Parks Circle with a celebration of their opening day complete with family activities, engaging contests, and a chance to win free tickets to one of festival’s amazing shows taking place March 7 through 17! 

Billed as Laugh at Rosa, comedy fans are in for a special treat this year as their three-hour program at Rosa Parks Circle will present a snapshot of the festival with on-stage performers, stand up comedians, food trucks, and music. 

To follow all the fun as it happens this year, be sure to follow LaughFest's Instagram account for an insider’s edge to all of the programming happening.
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