music

Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

How Shabbat-observant music lovers grooved at the Lockn’ Festival in rural America

BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS, Virginia – When the biblical Abraham and Sarah opened up their tent and welcomed everyone to come in, they had no idea they would be setting a precedent that would be replayed last week at the four-day Lockn’ Festival in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

A “hippie” jam-band Americana gathering held annually since 2013 and attended by some 30,000 music lovers, Lockn’ has featured headliners such as Phish, Dead and Co, Tom Petty, Robert Plant and Carlos Santana. The festival strives to blend world-class music, promote local vendors and encourage community engagement.

For an observant Jew, attending a music festival over Shabbat poses many potential logistical challenges: It is not permitted to light fires, make any purchases or carry in a public place. There is no kosher food on site, and many would question the permissibility of attending a concert at all on the Sabbath – even if tickets are purchased in advance and one need only show a wrist band to get in.

Enter Rabbi Yehoshua Eliovson and 25 members of his JamShalom and Shabbat Tent organizations.

Shu, an IT professional with Orthodox rabbinic ordination, has been friends with festival organizer Peter Shapiro for many years. JamShalom received special permission to arrive at Lockn’ on Wednesday to begin setting up its “Shabbat Tent.”

The tent makes it possible for observant Jews to keep Shabbat while also attending a music festival, and it serves as a source of outreach and support for concertgoers.

The American-born Shu, who has lived in Israel since 2004, drove down from New York with two of his children, ages 17 and 23, in vehicles loaded with camping gear, banners, tapestries, rugs and Shabbat food donated by Grow & Behold. They set up the communal tent to be used for prayers and meals, but it was destroyed in a torrential rain storm. After purchasing a new big tent, the crew was on their way to again building a Shabbat camp.

It rained again most of Friday. Three hours before the start of Shabbat, the rain stopped and the sky cleared. Two guys with deep connections to music and traditional Judaism, Yehuda and Motti Shur, heated food for Shabbat dinner over a camping stove and warmers. They grew up in a Shabbat-observant home with a music-loving father, Rabbi Moshe Shur, the longtime director of Queens College Hillel. The elder Shur once lived on a California commune led by Wavy Gravy, jammed with Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, played in the Diaspora Yeshiva Band, and presented at Blues for Challah: A Grateful Dead Shabbaton.

TWO YOUNG shirtless men were on ladders around the campsite, anchoring wood poles and tying string to the tops as part of the eruv that would enable observant Jews to carry on Shabbat. Shu, meanwhile, entertained questions from curious Jewish and non-Jewish fellow campers. “We don’t roll on Shabbat,” Shu tells a 40-something couple, explaining, “We only carry within the private domain within our campsite.”

He then shared, “My rebbe is Trey [Anastasio, lead singer of Phish], and his rebbe is Derek Trucks, and both will be performing tonight. We are excited!” 

Leib Meadvin, a Philadelphia area artist and math teacher with a long beard who just came from the for-pay shower house, is dressed in dark slacks, a white button-down shirt and Crocs. The hassid, clearly the oldest member of the group, has a long and distinguished history of following the Grateful Dead and attending concerts. He proudly shows off his tallit and tefillin bag with his Hebrew name and Grateful Dead logo.

Unlike most members of the group who feel comfortable walking to the concert venue on Shabbat (and who are able to enter without scanning their wrist band if they say they are with JamShalom), Leib and his son will not hear live music until after the Havdalah prayer on Saturday night when the Tedeschi Trucks Band will be joined by Trey Anastasio.

Shabbat starts with most still wearing shorts and tie-dyed shirts. Shu shares words of Torah, leads an extended Kabbalat Shabbat with Lecha Dodi sung to the tune of the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple.” After Kiddush and Hamotzi (the blessings over wine and bread) and after dinner is served, the eclectic group sits in a circle on chairs and carpets.

Lisa, a young woman from Louisville, Kentucky, who lives in Brooklyn, tells about her cannabis edibles business, explaining how she carefully doses each of the three layers of her signature cakes.

“If you feel comfortable eating in my house, you will feel comfortable with the kashrut of my edibles!” Lisa came to Lockn’ and the JamShalom “to cultivate community.” She observes, “We are one big festival family. THIS is our family within a family.” 

There are several Israelis in the group. Two hesder yeshiva students whose families made aliyah from the United States five years ago are here, prior to enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces.

Racheli, who grew up in a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) family in Lakewood, New Jersey, and who works in special education in Israel, is here for the shows, and for the “the Rabbi Shu experience.” She is also here for “the people, the tapestries, the kitchen full of food, and the heady jams!”  

ONE OF Shu’s daughters just completed her service in the IDF. She and Shu will continue on to Colorado to see some Phish shows before traveling in India.

Dinner is quick. Most dash off to the venue to catch the Trey Anastasio Band with Derek Trucks. Even more music awaits at another venue, Garcia’s Forest, with a set starting at 12:30 a.m. More prayers, Shabbat food and music will follow Saturday, late morning.

Peter Shapiro, the festival founder with deep Jewish ties, loves what he sees. “Whenever I see Shu and the JamShalom crew at a show, it makes me feel better. They are able to bring out and evoke the best of the Judaic spirit and do it in an accessible way that people of all ages and backgrounds can embrace and feel a part of. It is uplifting and a model for showcasing the best that the Jewish religion and its culture and people represent.”

According to Prof. Shaul Magid, distinguished fellow in Jewish studies at Dartmouth College and senior research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, there is a long history of observant Jews attending concerts and music festivals over Shabbat.

“This Shabbat counterculture thing started with the Rainbow Gathering,” in the early 1970s. “They had a Shabbat tent, an eruv and hevra [community]. It was a place for Jews, and non-Jews and a lot of Grateful Dead stuff, and people returned each year.” He also credits the Havurah movement of the 1970s with empowering Jews to take a “do it yourself” approach to Jewish ritual and observance.

While most Chabad and mainstream Orthodox Jews would likely not attend a music festival over Shabbat, Magid credits the influence of Chabad with the idea that “there is no place a Jew can’t go.” Magid feels that “Jews coming to music festivals through JamShalom represents a certain kind of confidence we American Jews have. We are good. We can go anywhere!”

Rabbi Menachem Creditor, author, activist, musician and scholar-in-residence at UJA-Federation New York, approaches the question of observant Jews attending music festivals through the lens of a rabbi.

“When a rabbi is asked a question like this, it’s typically easier to say no,” he says. “In truth, the beauty of halacha [Jewish law] is its elasticity. Finding ways for Jewish tradition to allow for a communal experience of music demonstrates the power of tradition to not reject the world but rather cherish it enough to see its worth.”

Rabbi Gabe Greenberg, director of the Jewish Renaissance Project at Penn Hillel, is supportive of Jews who balance Shabbat observance with music festival attendance.

“Observant Jews who attend these music festivals are embodying and enacting the ancient Jewish yearning to celebrate with community during pilgrimage festivals. I think this fusion of old and new is a wonderful manifestation of Rav Kook’s adage, ‘The old shall be made new, and the new shall be made holy.’”

WHILE SOME people who attend music festivals with JamShalom have been Shabbat-observant for many years, some younger participants are newly observant or seeking, and appreciate the guidance and support that JamShalom and the similar Shabbat Tent group offers.

Lara and Cheston Mizel at Lockn’ from Los Angeles run a Shabbat tent described as “an oasis of chill based on Shabbat hospitality, mindfulness and nourishment for the body and soul.”

Cheston Mizel has observed that Jewish twenty- and thirty-somethings who attend music festivals “are looking for something and want to connect. If we don’t do it, others will give answers. We didn’t grow up frum [religious] but found it later. We love festivals and we want to share and do outreach.” 

The Shabbat tent was started in 1999 at a Phish show as a one-time project. Its success prompted organizers to expand to various settings across the country, appearing at festivals such as Bonnaroo, Mountain Jam, Gathering of the Vibes and Fare Thee Well. They have also hosted Passover Sedarim at Coachella (affectionately called “Matzachella”) and most recently hosted nearly 200 people at the July 4th High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, California.

“We are listed on the festival website and we are located right near the front door!” reports Mizel proudly.

Shu is also there to meet the diverse, unique needs of young Jews. He put up his first JamShalom flag at the Super Bowl in 2011 and at a Nassau County Coliseum concert in 2012, where he recounts, “We grilled with our hevra. It was chill. Then, Pete [Shapiro] invited us to Lockn.” 

Shu finds young Jews “in their best moments spiritually, when they are at music festivals. We put up a tent at a crossroads of where Jewish kids are. We at JamShalom create connections where they are.” 

In Israel, Shu works for Deloitte, where he is a service leader for strategic storytelling and fundraising readiness. He has also continued to consider ways he might help youth in both Israel and America. “I love music and realized kids were in the fields,” he says.

Through JamShalom, and a new venture called the Negev Farmhouse (named after a Phish song and album), Shu and his wife say they are striving to meet the needs of Jewish young adults. “I have the largest congregation of millennials in the world. They call me 24/7.” 

The Negev Farmhouse “provides an authentic space for young Jews (18-32) to discover and celebrate their personal relationship with Judaism within a community of like-minded friends.”

Shu finds millennials who don’t come from observant backgrounds are discovering Shabbat and observance through JamShalom. “They say, ‘I love JamShalom and PhishShalom and doing Shabbat at shows. Can’t we do Shabbat without the concert?’” He points out that, of course, Shabbat comes every week and can be meaningful in all locations.But a Lockn’ Shabbat – with 12 hours a day of live jam band music for four days – only comes once a year.

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Original Article in Jerusalem Post

The Jewish and engaging Kaufman is perhaps its most colorful member. Her family and personal stories weave deep connections to Jewish causes while offering a window into American history.

NEW YORK – The packed crowd at the Mercury Lounge on Manhattan’s Lower East Side last week was witnessing a rare feat – the New York debut of a band that formed in 1967.

Ace of Cups, the all-female San Francisco rock band from the heady Summer of Love, who shared stages with the Grateful Dead, The Band, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane and opened for Jimi Hendrix at a free concert in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, might have been one of the only hippie bands of the era who didn’t nab a recording contract and become stars.

However, a half-century later, with it members now grandmas and hovering around the 70-year-old mark, the band with four of the original five Aces – Denise Kaufman (vocals, bass, harmonica), Mary Gannon (vocals, ukulele, bass), Mary Ellen Simpson (vocals, lead guitar), and Diane Vitalich (vocals, drums) – were rocking the crowd and enjoying the accolades.

Their debut album released late last year, and featuring contemporaries like Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna), David Freiberg (Quicksilver Messenger Service), Barry Melton (Country Joe & The Fish), Pete Sears (Jefferson Starship, Moonalice), David Grisman, Steve Kimock (Zero, RatDog), Bob Weir (Grateful Dead), Taj Mahal and Buffy Sainte-Marie, has won them the full-fledged recognition that evaded them the first time around, as well as a sense of vindication and jubilation.

The Jewish and engaging Kaufman is perhaps its most colorful member. Her family and personal stories weave deep connections to Jewish causes while offering a window into American history – from the Stock Market Crash of 1929, to the early and late 60’s Bay Area scene.  

Raised in northern California, Kaufman played piano, guitar and wrote songs from an early age. At her high-school graduation in Palo Alto, Jerry Garcia, the famed lead singer and guitarist of the Grateful Dead, played at the after party. She traveled on Ken Kesey’s bus as part of the Merry Pranksters (when LSD was available in vats of Kool-Aid), and was chronicled as Mary Microgram in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Kaufman attended Lowell All-City School in San Francisco for the first two years of high school, joining her first picket line in San Francisco at age 14. She then transferred to the Castilleja School in Palo Alto, “the same school Grace Slick had previously attended.”

The legends of the up-and-coming 60’s music scene were very accessible. When Kaufman graduated high school in 1964, she arranged to rent Bimbo’s 365 Club in North Beach, San Francisco. “I had to find a band, and hired my favorite local band, The Zodiacs, which included Pigpen [Ron McKernan] and Jerry [Garcia]!”

After taking summer school classes at Stanford, Kaufman started her studies at UC Berkley, intending to study political science and theater. 

“It was always my vision. Kennedy had been shot. I was in Youth for Kennedy. I studied Latin American studies and Shakespeare.”

Berkeley was emerging as a center of activism and protests. 

“Outside of Sprout Hall, every political perspective was represented by the card tables full of brochures and people on soapboxes. There was a sense of ‘We can do this! We can change the world. We have to!’ I was in heaven there!”  

Kaufman vividly recalls that, within a few weeks of arriving at Berkeley, the campus police removed all the tables and told the organizations that they could no longer operate in any way on the campus. 

“This started the Free Speech Movement,” she continued. “From the first day, I was one of the students ready to fight this battle. Within two months, 700 of us got arrested and our free speech rights were eventually upheld.”

As the counterculture unfolded with its twin flags of music and drugs, Kaufman indulged in both. She describes her involvement with LSD as having “a deeply life-altering effect – there were no words to talk about it.” Even though it wasn’t yet illegal, she recalled that she met resistance at home. “My parents were terrified,” she said, adding that she was one of the youngest involved in Kesey’s escapades, along with the Dead’s Weir and Mountain Girl, Kesey’s girlfriend who would go on to become Jerry Garcia’s wife.

Kaufman always felt she was embodying the Jewish values and that they were always a part of the Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco 1960’s scene. “It was all so intertwined.”  

She notes the involvement of so many of her peers in various civil rights, social justice and spirituality causes and movements.

After meeting the other women in Haight-Ashbury in early 1967, Kaufman and Ace of Cups became integral components of the live music scene in the Bay Area. She was romantically linked to both Paul Simon and to Rolling Stone-founder Jann Wenner.

However, at the same time as compatriots like Grace Slick and Janis Joplin were catching national attention fronting male-dominated bands and receiving record contracts, Ace of Cups were facing challenges. 

“The record label guys that were coming up from LA didn’t know what to do with us. I don’t think we fit in with what they wanted,” said Kaufman. 

They stuck it out without a recording contract for another few years, but by 1972, the band was finished and music made way for motherhood, family responsibilities, “day jobs,” and for Kaufman, life in such exotic places as Kauai, Hawaii.

But nearly 35 years after performing with Jimi Hendrix, the band had an important break – in 2003, it released “It’s Bad for You But Buy It!,” a well-received CD of 1960s “rehearsals, demos, TV soundstage recordings, and in-concert tapes.” 

In 2008, a DVD of their performances from the 1968 television program West Pole was released. 

An even bigger break came on May 14, 2011 when the band reformed and performed at Wavy Gravy’s 75th birthday party and a SEVA Foundation benefit. George Baer Wallace, founder of High Moon Records – in attendance at the Mercury Lounge show – was moved by their performance and offered them a recording contract.

Once again in the limelight, their schedule has been demanding and fun-filled. Before their Mercury Lounge show, the band members appeared onstage with Sirius FM radio host Gary Lambert, who playfully suggested they receive a Grammy Award for best new artist.

The evening kicked off with a video showing the band’s storied history, and continued with an animated Q and A discussion with music editors and writers from Rolling Stone, Relix and other publications. The band played a full electric set and Patti Smith Band guitarist and rock historian Lenny Kaye joined the band for “The Well.”

The next day, they went to Philadelphia for NPR’s World Cafe, and were out late Wednesday attending a Wailers concert at Brooklyn Bowl. Later in the week, they participated in a Friday Night Jam with Rabbi Daniel Brenner and Relix’s Mike Greenhaus at New York’s Rockwood Music Hall.  

The band proudly reports that they have so much additional material that they’ll release their follow up album next year, featuring contributions from Jackson Browne, Wavy Gravy and others. 

The Grateful Dead may have written the line, but it most accurately applies to Ace of Cups – “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

A JEWISH JOURNEY

Denise Kaufman’s parents were “deeply involved” in Jewish causes. “People always came to our home for dinner – from Brandeis, Hadassah, Federation – causes related to Israel.”

She has photos of her parents with both Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan from fund-raising trips they took to America, and she traveled to Israel – once with her parents, and once with a boyfriend in 1980. Her parents even owned an apartment in Netanya.

“They always gave it to their friends to stay in order to have a more local experience of Israel,” she says.

Kaufman mostly raised her now-adult daughter, Tora, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where she cofounded a school (The Island School), arranged Seders (“We had 120 for a seder in 1983!”), served on the board of the Jewish Federation of Hawaii, and hosted Entebbe mission physician Ilan Kutz.

Kaufman speaks fondly of the Friedmans, Israeli friends she met on Kauai in 1980. “Their daughter and her family now have an organic a farm next to ours.”

In 1980, Kaufman and her boyfriend spent a few months in Israel, which she recalls affectionately. They played Hawaiian music (on the dulcimer and guitar), and appeared on the Israeli TV program, Kitoret, with Yaron London. They played at Jerusalem’s Tzavta Theater, surfed in Yamit (“We bought a little car”), surfed and camped in Dahab, in the Sinai.

“One of the most amazing musical experiences of my life happened under the stars in Dahab. We started playing music in the desert night – there were no lights and we couldn’t see anyone, but people in the dunes around us began to join us in song. We sang with an unknown choir almost till dawn.”

Kaufman continues to be actively involved in Jewish life. She speaks fondly of Rabbi Mordecai Finley, her rabbi at Ohr HaTorah in Los Angeles, where she currently spends most of her time. She plays bass there every Shabbat and holiday when she is in town. Kaufman notes that this was also Leonard Cohen’s shul.

In Los Angeles, when she’s not rocking with the Ace of Cups, Kaufman is a private yoga teacher and has worked with Madonna, Quincy Jones, Jane Fonda, and former basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.


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Original Article at The Jerusalem Post

The last time Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train” rolled through New York City, Yitzhak Rabin was Israel’s prime minister, Ephraim Katzir was president, Mordechai Gur was chief of staff and Rina Mor, Miss Israel, became the first Israeli to win the Miss Universe pageant. And Stevens was one year away from embracing Islam and changing his name to Yusuf Islam. It’s been a long journey for Stevens/Yusuf who last appeared in New York City in 1976.

Stevens’ long-awaited return to the Beacon Theater was a true lovefest.

“We love you, Cat,” “Why did it take you so long?” shouted fans in the sold out, 2,800-seat Beacon Theater. The fans, mostly of the over-40 set, wore suits and jeans, Hillary (Clinton) buttons and Neil Young concert T-shirts and sang along to every word of the 33-song set. At least one fan wore a black suede kippa.

Stevens is playing select US and Canadian cities over a three-week period in September and October as part of the “A Cat’s Attic” tour. The show features “a limited run of strippeddown, introspective performances which coincides with the 50th anniversary of Yusuf/Cat Stevens’ first hit single, ‘I Love My Dog,’ which was released in 1966.”

Stevens opened the first show of his two-night run at the Beacon standing in front of a curtain, which soon opened to reveal an old house, framed pictures, a record player, a blue sport team jersey and other memorabilia from an earlier era. Two musicians, Eric Appapoulay on guitar and vocals and Kwame Yeboah on bass and percussion, stood far back right of the stage, allowing Stevens to remain central throughout the two hour-long sets. Stevens alternated between standing and sitting on a stool as he played acoustic guitar. At times, Stevens surprised the audience, playing The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” on an old record player and playing a song on the piano.

The audience sat attentively as Stevens recounted nearly his entire career in story and song.

“It was so intimate, like we were in a small café,” observed a 50-something female fan from Westchester County, 45 minutes from Manhattan.

Is it possible that this gentle, likable man can also have a controversial, notso- peaceful side? Jews are keenly aware of Steven’s well-documented but not easily verifiable bottom-line stance on Israel and terrorism.

“I don’t know what is true or not,” notes the 50-something fan, who has heard various reports of past support of Hamas. “I went there for the music of my youth. The first album I bought was Tea for the Tillerman (1970) – the only album of mine my parents also enjoyed!” Stevens began the show by recounting his yearly years, his parent’s café in London and his desire “to draw and paint and be an artist.” He mentioned the impact of Bernstein’s music – and the Beatles – on his musical development and appreciation. Stevens saved up to buy his first guitar and started writing music.

“I didn’t have a band – I was born to be solo,” he said, then played “The First Cut is the Deepest.” Stevens described being on tour with Jimi Hendrix (and alluded to his involvement in the drug culture of the times). In 1969, he reported, “I collapsed with tuberculosis, and began to reassess my life… I had to get some answers.” He began playing “Trouble.”

After the set break, Stevens focused more on the music and spoke less between songs. He described a particularly dark period of “not finding what I was looking for” and his experience with numerology. A near-death experience in 1976 when he went swimming “too far out” at Malibu Beach in California was a turning point in his life.

“I realized in that moment what I believed in – I called out to God to save me and he did.”

He then treated the audience to an acoustic cover of the Impressions classic “People Get Ready.”

Stevens’ brother, David Gordon, bought him a copy of the Koran as a birthday gift from a trip to Israel. Gordon was reportedly married at the time to an Israeli woman with family in Tel Aviv. Stevens was very taken by the Koran and the story of Joseph. Stevens converted to Islam in December, 1977 and changed his name to Yusuf Islam in 1978. He auctioned off his guitars and stopped performing for nearly 30 years. He devoted his time to various philanthropic and educational causes in the Muslim community of London and around the world.

Perhaps this was the moment in the concert where Stevens would shed light on his conversion to Islam and perhaps set the record straight on Hamas and Israel.

“I have journeyed endless miles, seen many harbors, and learned I must give up what you are. When I finally did make it out, I didn’t get the reaction I expected. There was misunderstanding – almost anger at the choices I made.”

No further details offered. An audience member shouted, “We are sorry!” It is unclear what exactly Stevens was referring to. Perhaps he was alluding to his 1989 comments in London which seemed to suggest support for the fatwa calling for the death of Salman Rushdie, author of Satanic Verses. Or to his alleged support for Hamas, which, according to an ABC News report, led to denial of entry to Israel. Stevens, who had been in Israel earlier in his career, was held at the airport for several hours and sent back to Germany.

Members of the Jewish community have long memories for significant historical events. And they remain passionate and divided on Cat Stevens. Opinions range from ongoing love of his music and minimizing or dismissing reported anti-Israel or antisemitic views, to refusal to even listen to his music.

Amy Cohn of Manhattan wishes she could have seen Stevens in concert. “I love his music. I tried to get tickets but it sold out so quickly!” Pati Doyle Weber of Florida strongly disagrees. “I wouldn’t give a penny to this antisemite. I haven’t listened to a song of his since his radical change.”

“He is hardly the first talented musician to hate Jews,” says Bruce Abramson of New York City. “Were we to eliminate all music – along with books and art – whose creator disliked Jews (or committed some other offense we may deem equivalent), we would find ourselves aesthetically impoverished.” Nevertheless, Abramson avoided going to the show – “a small price to pay for an important principle.”

Back in the Beacon, the female fan from Westchester felt that Stevens may be having a “metamorphosis – sort of.” She notes that he no longer seems to be using the name “Islam,” choosing to go by both Cat Stevens and Yusuf. “Perhaps he is more mature.”

Stevens mentions the 27-year gap in performing “which I am not going to tell you now. You will have to wait for my book.” But Stevens offered, “When I saw how terrible things were going, I still had a job to do. My dreams never stopped.” And “real life is messy. We all make mistakes. We have a lot in common.” “Try to make the world a better place.”

Stevens seems to be doing his part and on September 24 participated in the Global Citizen Festival in New York’s Central Park. And a portion of every ticket sold on the current concert tour “will benefit the most vulnerable through long-term support to build sustainable futures for children and families. Through Small Kindness, Yusuf’s UK-founded charity, donations will be made to both UNICEF and the International Rescue Committee to help children affected by the current refugee and migrant crisis.

When the trancelike peacefulness of the two-hour lovefest lifts for the concertgoers lucky enough to see Cat Stevens/ Yusuf Monday or Tuesday night in Manhattan, they may still be left with the question of just who the true Cat Stevens/Yusuf is. They will need to wait a bit longer for an answer.

Requests for interviews with Cat Stevens/ Yusuf were turned down. Live Nation returned my inquiry and reported, “He is not giving any interviews this tour.”

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