Past the Press Release: An Interview with Bob Sellers

Past the Press Release is an interview series featuring a new member of a professional Southern Gospel group. It’s a chance to look past the standard “excited to be here” press release comment and learn a little more about them. Meet the Kingsmen’s new lead singer, Bob Sellers!

Bob Sellers

Bob Sellers

Daniel: How did you discover Southern Gospel? What groups first captured your interest?

Bob: I was pretty much born into gospel music. My mother (Helen’s) side of the family was very musical. They were raised in church and she sang duets with her sister, Brenda, on local radio. I have been hearing Mom sing and play at the piano all of my life. She has no musical education and plays by ear. She’s always been able to hear a song one time and sit down and play it by ear. Her sister Delois was in a really good regional quartet for many years. She wrote a lot of their material and had songs published in various hymnals.

My very first memory of quartet singing, however, came from my father Robert’s side of the family, and a group called The Challengers. My great-uncle Tiny Hickman played guitar and sang baritone. I remember going to Saturday night sings of theirs that were packed out. Earl and Linda Mashburn were in that quartet as well and would go on to form a full-time group called The Mashburns (now disbanded).

As for professional quartets, I’d heard several groups, including The Kingsmen as a young person, but didn’t fully appreciate it. It wasn’t until I was probably 16 or 17 years old at a small Methodist church in my hometown of Gordo, AL when I became totally addicted to the quartet sound. An older J.D. Sumner and The Stamps appeared that night and I thought I’d never heard singing that low or that high before.

From that point on I began to buy every Southern Gospel CD I could, and I still love it just as much today.

Daniel: Have you had any voice training, or other preparations for what you’re doing today?

Bob: I’ve never had any type of formal training. When I was a kid singing with my mom and sister, she typically sang the melody and put us where we needed to be. At the time, I didn’t even know it was harmony, but I know that those years, along with the ability God gave me, are what really enhanced my ear for harmony and blending. I’ve always tried to study some of the best, as well…not only how they sing, but how they connect to the audience.

Daniel: I understand you’ve been with Capstone Quartet since 2004, and are its manager and emcee. Did you sing with any other groups before Capstone?

Bob: Capstone is the first group I ever joined. Their lead singer was called to preach, and I knew the owner (Joe Brown) a little. He probably didn’t even know I sang then, but I’d created a rough demo using a CD burner and my church’s sound system, and had given him a copy sometime earlier. Long story short, he gave me an audition and I was there for most of 8 years.

We averaged 80 to 100+ dates a year, which in addition to working a 40-50 hour per week job helped prepare me for full-time ministry. I became the owner/manager mainly through attrition, but I took our group as seriously as anything I’d ever done.

Daniel: Have the remaining members of Capstone announced yet whether they will be carrying on the group?

Bob: Very recently, we all sat down to discuss Capstone’s future. I committed my support in whatever the other guys wanted to do. Our bass singer had already resigned just a few weeks earlier, and as we had learned from past experience and with no serious replacements in mind, it would have been a daunting task just to replace one key member, much less two. What we all agreed that we didn’t want to do was bring in singers just for the sake of keeping the group together who, whether from a talent or ministerial perspective, would cause the quality to drop off.

The more we talked, the more we all felt that it was God’s timing to disband the group after 19 years. It was a difficult decision for us, and our last appearances on December 18th were very emotional.

Daniel: When did you first become familiar with the Kingsmen? What are some of your favorite past Kingsmen albums and singers? What was the first Kingsmen lineup you saw live?

Bob: I don’t remember precisely when I first experienced The Kingsmen. There was a Sunday morning gospel show on radio when I grew up that played all the great quartets, and The Kingsmen were always among my top two favorites (along with The Cathedrals). I loved their style and energy most of all. My first vivid memory of seeing them live was at The University of Alabama at the “Firemans Singing” that was held there annually. The lineup during that time would have included a full band, but the member I remember most is Big Jim Hammil. I was amazed at how Big Jim could take the audience in the palm of his hand, say whatever he wanted and make them laugh, cry or shout seemingly at will. And I also remember how far his suit coat would fly when he threw it and how he’d sometimes “knock” the rest of the group off the front of the stage for their finale. Ha.

Daniel: The press release introducing you mentioned that the first song you recall singing in your church with your mother and sister was “A Place Where the Hungry are Fed.” Now that your voice has changed and matured, do you still have the range to sing it? Is there any chance the Kingsmen might bring it back? (It’s a long-time personal Kingsmen favorite!)

Bob: I still love the song, “A Place Where The Hungry Are Fed”. I can sing it, but I’d hate to try to hold that note out and walk back and forth across the stage for 5 or 10 minutes (seemed like it!) like Arthur Rice did.

As to whether The Kingsmen will pull that one back out, I have no idea, but that was Arthur’s signature song. No one else will ever be able to make it theirs, and shouldn’t attempt to, in my opinion. Good Lord willing, I’ll have a signature song of my own one of these days.

Daniel: Put that way, I’d have to agree with you! What are some of your other all-time favorite Kingsmen songs?

Bob: As to other favorite Kingsmen songs of mine, it’s really a mixed bag. I love ballads, but I love the “3 chords and a cloud of dust” sound, too. Some of my favs from the past are:

  • Child, Child
  • Inside The Gate
  • That Lovely Name I Hear
  • Wish You Were Here
  • Healing Stream
  • Beautiful Home
  • Look For Me at Jesus’ Feet
  • All of them!

Of the newer ones, I really love “That’s All I Need”, “God Knows”, “That’s When I Knew It Was Him” and “Loving Shepherd, Gracious God”. My favorite recordings would have to be the ones that were cut live such as Big ‘n’ Live, Chattanooga Live, et cetera.

Daniel: Could you tell us about your family?

Bob: God has blessed me with a wonderful family. I married my middle/high school sweetheart, Kansas, in 1998. Two years later our first girl, Corley, came along. We had another girl, Ellie, in 2003 and our son, Will, was born in 2005. My wife is absolutely my soul mate. I could have searched the world over and never found someone more Godly, sincere and supportive of me and my ministry, not to mention beautiful! She’s a 6th-grade teacher in Gordo and is heavily involved in our home church. My wife and kids are the joy of my life and I try to cherish every minute I have with them.

Daniel: I understand that you’re an Ordained Deacon, serving Faith Free Will Baptist Church in Carrolton, Alabama. Could you shed some light on why deacons are ordained in your church, and what ordained deacons do?

Bob: My home church, Faith Free Will Baptist in Carrollton, AL was founded in 1978 by my grandfather, Paul Sellers. He pastored there until succumbing to cancer in 2000.

Shortly thereafter, I was ordained as a deacon. At that time, I was not traveling and felt the need to take on more of a leadership role in the church. Our deacons oversee the day-to-day operations of the church, which at that time consisted mainly of helping to locate a new pastor and constructing a fellowship hall. A couple years ago, I asked to come off the active deacons list, simply because I was no longer able to devote the time necessary to do the role justice.

Daniel: Any non-musical hobbies? Have you had any careers outside of music?

Bob: Outside of music and my family, hobbies of mine include college football and basketball, photography, computing, camping and anything involving the great outdoors. I have a bachelor’s degree in Finance from The University of Alabama (Roll Tide!) and spent 17 years as a Commercial Lender before trading my loan calculator for a microphone. I was the first person in my immediate family to obtain a 4-year degree, so I’m very thankful for it. If I didn’t sing for a living, however, my next profession of choice would involve photography.

God bless.

Daniel: Thanks, and God Bless you, too!

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Past the Press Release: An Interview with Daniel Ashmore

Daniel Ashmore, Old Paths bass singerPast the Press Release is an interview series featuring a new member of a professional Southern Gospel group. It’s a chance to look past the standard “excited to be here” press release comment and learn a little more about them. Meet The Old Paths’ new bass singer, Daniel Ashmore!

Daniel J. Mount: Did you grow up around Southern Gospel? If not, when did you discover it?

Daniel Ashmore: I grew up going to a Baptist Church listening to Hymns like Sweet Sweet Spirit, The Old Rugged Cross, Just As I Am, Amazing Grace etc. I wasn’t listening to Quartets or any type of Southern Gospel group until I was 17 years old.

I remember sitting in the back of the car on the way back from a college football game listening to Randy Travis singing some gospel songs. My dad and my granddad both encouraged me to try to sing some, and I found that I was able to. I think I was about to turn 17 at the time.

Not very long after joining the choir at the church, my grandparents purchased the Cathedrals’ A Farewell Celebration DVD. I tried to sing along with the singers, and found that I really enjoyed trying to sing the bass part.

About a week later my music minister and grandmother kept telling me about a Southern Gospel quartet called “The Commonwealth Quartet” that were going to be at my church that weekend. I decided to go, and really enjoyed the harmonies and the message that these guys brought. They were very, very nice to me. I immediately started talking to the bass singer and before they left that night they allowed me to get on stage with them and sing The Old Rugged cross and Sweet Sweet Spirit with them. Even though I did not really know what I was doing at the time, these guys were a great encouragement to me, and I will never forget them. When I left that night I knew what I wanted to do. It had to be God showing me all of this because the timing could not have been better.

Daniel J. Mount: What groups were the first to catch your attention?

Daniel Ashmore: Well, I spent most of my time watching “The Cathedrals” and George Younce. I was so amazed at the message of the songs, but what caught my attention right off the bat was how low and clear George Younce was. My brother made a statement which I agreed with. He said that George sounded like a baritone Saxophone. This was something I could relate to because, since fifth grade, my brother taught me how to play Saxophone. I am pretty sure that I wore Youtube out listening to and watching various southern gospel groups. The groups that caught my attention first were “The Cathedrals”, “The Statler Brothers”, and “Gold City”.

Daniel J. Mount: Were you already hoping to be a bass singer before your voice changed? Or did you just find that you had a deep voice after it changed, and then decide what to do it from there?

Daniel Ashmore: I never even thought I would sing growing up, but when I did, I realized I was able to sing lower than everyone around my age.

If you had asked me about singing when I was 13 or so I probably would have told you that I would end up being a performer on Saxophone. I listened to Johnny Cash when I was about 13 and enjoyed his low range but never tried to sing along.

Daniel J. Mount: Who are your bass-singing heroes?

Daniel Ashmore: George Younce was my primary hero. I listened to him more than any other bass singer. It was tough to grow and love “The Cathedral” Quartet then find out that they were no longer together and my favorite bass singer had passed away a few years before I even knew who he was. I found later that I really enjoyed the Bass singing of Tim Riley, Jeff Chapman, and London Parris.

Daniel J. Mount: A mutual friend (J.C. Johnson) has told me that you did some singing with regional groups in Mississippi, before getting the call to go with the Old Paths. Who have you sung with, and do any highlights from your time in those groups come to mind?

Daniel Ashmore: Yes, I did do a little bit of singing with some groups around my area. For a while every now and then I filled in occasionally for “The Masters Quartet” and once for the “Tracemen”. I met a very good friend through filling in for “The Masters” quartet named Donald Tallent.

I ended up singing in a group called “The Fishers of Men” before singing with “The Old Paths”. Although I did not sing with them very long I did enjoy having somewhere to minister through music and singing with my brother Raymond Ashmore in a group before leaving.

Daniel J. Mount: Any non-musical hobbies?

Daniel Ashmore: Yes! I love cars and love Drag Racing. We spent a lot of time Drag Racing when I was growing up. It was some of the best memories I have with my family.

Daniel J. Mount: How can people keep up with what you and the group are doing?

Daniel Ashmore: People can keep up with us through our facebook page. You can also follow us from our website at

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Past the Press Release: Michael Helwig

Past the Press Release is an interview series featuring a new member of a professional Southern Gospel group. It’s a chance to look past the “excited to be here” comment standard to every new hire press release and learn a little more about them. Meet the Dixie Echoes’ new tenor singer, Michael Helwig!
Daniel: I understand that you were born in Ontario, Canada. Could you tell us a little about your upbringing—specifically, perhaps a tidbit or two about growing up Canadian that might be surprising to residents of the United States?

Michael: I grew up in southern Ontario in a large city about an hour from Toronto. Growing up Canadian is similar to growing up American. It’s hard to think of any major differences, besides perhaps local customs and accents. We tend to go a little overboard on the Tim Horton’s coffee and donuts, and love our hockey, but contrary to popular opinion, we do not all live in igloos.

I had a pretty standard upbringing. I was raised in a Christian home with my three sisters. My dad has been a flooring installer for over forty years, and he’s one of the best out there. My mom stayed home and raised us until we were older, when she went to work in a bakery. Both of them were hardworking, loyal, and very supportive of all of us.

Daniel: Since you come from Ontario, Canada, you’re farther off the beaten path of the Southern Gospel circuit than anyone else I’ve interviewed here (with one exception, a tenor from Northern Ireland!) How did you discover Southern Gospel?
Michael: My dad sang in a local gospel group called the Shepherd’s Quartet when I was just a little guy. Quartet music in Canada is not nearly as prevalent as it is here in the south, so to be raised on this kind of music was not the norm. It was so different from other styles because of the harmonies and “vocal band” qualities; it wasn’t always about how cool it sounded, but more about how good it sounded. The quality of the music rested upon the vocalists, and that was very intriguing to me. My dad’s exposing us to southern gospel led me to my interest in groups such as The Statesmen. I remember as a little kid feeling very let down once I realized that these awesome records we listened to were actually pretty old recordings, and that I’d never be able to attend a live Statesmen concert. That led me to searching for “modern” groups that did the same style.
Daniel: Did you have the opportunity to grow up in a Christian home? If not, where along the way did you hear the Gospel? 

Michael: I was privileged to grow up in a Christian home. My parents always stressed the importance of being at church, and it seems like we were there whenever the doors were open. Dad was a deacon and a Sunday school teacher, so were very involved with our church. I was saved when I was eleven, and even though I went through some rebellious tough times as a teenager, their example and prayers stayed with me and helped me get back on the right path.

Daniel: How long after that was it that you knew you wanted to sing Christian music?
Michael: I don’t remember a time in my life where I was not singing. I always love to make and hear good music. I was fortunate to have early opportunities to sing in church and for things like the seniors’ meetings, weddings, and funerals. I started with my first regional group when I was 19.
Daniel: Your first position was singing tenor for Canada’s Torchmen; since then, you’ve sung lead and baritone for groups like the Wilburns and the Stamps. What have been some of the personal and professional highlights of your sixteen years on the road so far?

Michael: Actually, my first position was with a great group called the Unashamed Quartet. We were four young guys 19-20 years old, and we actually placed 2nd at the NQC Talent Search back in ’96 or ’97. It was a great first experience in this business and we had a lot of fun. The only award I’ve won throughout my career was with that first group: Favorite First Tenor in 1997 for the GMA’s Canadian division.

I have many other highlights to look back on, such as singing with the Gaither Canadian Homecoming (with The Torchmen – although they cut my song and never used it on tape lol). I got to do some amazing trips with The Stamps, such as our time in Australia, New Zealand, and Thailand. Singing for the King of Thailand was a pretty surreal experience. Also, performing on the main stage at NQC is always one of the highlights of my year.

Daniel: Over the years, with different groups, you’ve recorded quite a few songs. Of the songs you have recorded, which are your favorites, and what makes them stand out to you?
Michael: I’d Rather Have Jesus and O Holy Night are two songs that I’ve recorded with many of my former groups. I think those are both so well received because of the power of the song, and not the singer. You’d have to work really hard NOT to move the crowd when you’re singing either of those, because they’re filled with such solid truths and emotion.

One other one that I never actually recorded, but I love, is singing the lead on Ed O’Neal’s When I Cross to the Other Side of Jordan. When I was with the Stamps, Joe Frech, Butch Owens, Andy Stringfield and I would have a blast singing this song after we’d set up our equipment. I’d get a chance to mimic one of my favourite vocalists, Ed Enoch, who was usually still on the bus getting dressed.

Daniel: I hear from a mutual acquaintance (David Mann, here) that you are a licensed car mechanic in Canada. In your years on the road, have you played a role in any memorable bus repair stories?

Michael: First of all, although I am a mechanic and can fix just about any machine, I never finished my apprenticeship because I was too busy singing!

I’ve been fortunate out on the road to have group owners that share my philosophy of preventative maintenance, so there have been no major breakdowns to report. However, should it ever happen, I’m ready. My wife always teases me about the many multi-tools, flashlights, and knives I carry in my pockets at all times!

Daniel: Moving on to a couple of fun questions: In the Dixie Echoes, there are now two men named Randy and two named Michael. Randy Shelnut Jr. sometimes goes by “Scoot”; have you had any discussions with Mike Jennings about who gets to keep the name and who gets a nickname?
Michael: So far Mike Jennings has stayed “Mike” and they’re calling me by my full name, “Michael”. But with two Randys and two Mikes (singing into two mikes) there’s sure a lot of comedy material there, though.
Daniel: You grew up in Canada and are preparing to move to Florida; are you looking forward to or dreading the Florida heat?
Michael: I don’t exactly miss Canadian winters and shovelling the three feet of snow that would fall during the night. Heat has never really bothered me, as long as I have air conditioning. I’m looking forward to some nice breezes off of the Gulf of Mexico!
Daniel: I understand that you are married, with three children; could you tell us a little about your family?
Michael: Although we grew up in a big city and attended different schools, my wife and I have known each other all our lives. Word has it that we flirted a lot as babies in the church nursery. I told her when I was thirteen that I would marry her, we dated throughout our teen years, and we finally got married back in ’97. Leslie has always been amazingly supportive of my music; as a matter of fact, she was the one who gave me the push I needed to start singing full-time when I got the call from Jackie Wilburn. She has also home-educated our kids for the past seven years and is preparing to return to school herself. She’s my best friend and I know I’m blessed to have her in my life.

We have the best kids in in the world: identical twin daughters, Eva and Laura, who are about to become teenagers next month, and our son, Sam, is ten. The girls are very creative and artistic; they like to draw and animate cartoons and also do a lot of writing. Samuel is our budding physicist and computer expert. All three kids have a great aptitude for music and we’re excited to see where God will take them in the future.

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Past the Press Release: Meet Mike Jennings (Dixie Echoes)

Past the Press Release is an interview series featuring a new member of a professional Southern Gospel groups. It’s a chance to look past the “excited to be here” comment standard to every new hire press release and learn a little more about them. Meet the Dixie Echoes’ new bass singer, Mike Jennings!

Daniel: Could you start by telling us a little about your background – where you grew up, when you became a Christian, et cetera? I notice you attended Liberty; did you grow up in a Christian family?

Mike: I grew up in a very good Christian home in Westminster, Maryland. I was saved at the age of 12 at Clearfield Bible Church after a summer movie on the grounds. I was baptized the following week. I attended Liberty University but joined the Military following my freshman year. While at Liberty I sang in the university choir and the chamber choir.

Daniel: I notice that you served in the Navy. How many years were you in the Navy, and what was your specialty?

Mike: I spent four years in the Navy and was involved in Naval Security.

Daniel: Did you serve during peacetime, or were you deployed during any major conflicts or wars?

Mike: I joined the military during Desert Storm but was on delayed entry. The conflict had ended by the time I started basic training. So, the time I was in was relatively peaceful.

Daniel: Did you grow up around Southern Gospel, or was it a later discovery?

Mike: I have been around great music my whole life. My parents sang in a quartet together. I used to love going to church and listening to them practice. They had such a beautiful blend. I’m the eldest of four kids and we have been blessed to sing together as a family for many years. My parents and all of my siblings are still involved in their church music ministries.

I was blessed to sit between my dad and grandpap in the bass section of our church choir for many years as well.

Daniel: Which groups got you interested in this style of music, and thinking that you would really like to be singing it yourself?

Mike: Westminster had a great southern gospel promotion called Reflections of Light Ministries. I started attending those in early 2000 and saw Palmetto State, The Dixie Echoes and Brian Free and Assurance and started listening to their music almost exclusively. I would sit in the auditorium after these concerts and think to myself that I wanted to do this. I would always feel uplifted and blessed after concerts by these groups and I wanted to be a part of a ministry like this.

Daniel: Did you know that you could sing bass from the time your voice changed, or was it a later discovery?

Mike: I grew up listening to the Cathedrals and trying to sing like my dad and George Younce. I enjoyed the Statler Brothers and Oak Ridge Boys as well

Daniel: I have already heard some high praise regarding your tone, pitch, and overall delivery. What did you do to train and develop your talent, and do you have any tips and suggestions for aspiring bass singers? (I’m not a bass, but I have readers who are!)

Mike: Thank you! I am always singing! I have been singing all of my life and there is nothing that I would rather do. My wife and son are also singers and it’s something we enjoy doing together. I have never taken formal voice lessons. I have been fortunate to have very good choir directors throughout my life and I always learned as much as I could from them.

The advice I would give any aspiring bass singer is to practice as much as you possibly can. Learn to breath properly, project and sing properly in order to preserve your voice. Most importantly of all remember who we’re singing about and the rest is easy.

Daniel: In the post where I announced your hire, quite a discussion broke out as to whether Marylanders are Southerners or Northerners. Readers as far away as Minnesota wanted to claim you as a Northerner, while Southerners like me thought we could claim Maryland! So, just for fun: I know you’re moving to Florida, but during the time you were in Maryland, did you consider yourself a Northerner or a Southerner?

Mike: Southerner at heart, and officially by about 25 miles!

God Bless.

Daniel: Thank you, and God Bless you, too!

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Past the Press Release: Meet Philip Batton (Liberty Quartet)

Phil Batton

Phil Batton

Past the Press Release is a new interview series, featuring people who have recently joined their first professional Southern Gospel groups. It’s a chance to look past the “excited to be here” comment standard to every new hire press release and learn a little more about them.

Daniel: Are you an Idaho native? If so (or if not), how did you discover Southern Gospel?

Philip: No, I am not an Idaho native. I was born in Phoenix, AZ and have lived in a few States since then. My Dad pastored a few churches across the country. My Mother was an Idaho native, and that’s where I get my Idaho roots.

Daniel: What is your musical background – both any training and any previous groups?

Philip: I was born into a singing family. My Parents sang at many church camps and revivals and at our home churches while I was growing up. I sang in Bible College in the Choir and a Quartet. The first real southern gospel quartet I started singing with was called Joyful Sound, in which I was one of the founding members. Then I moved on to Homeland Harmony Quartet, in which I was also a founding member. While I was with them I filled in for Liberty, I believe, around five times, singing every part except the bass!!

Daniel: Which Southern Gospel groups (in general) and tenors (in particular) inspired you to want to sing this style of music?

Philip: I grew up listening to the Cathedrals, Gold City, Happy Goodmans, Gaithers, my favorite was the Cathedrals. I guess you could say the tenors I listened to the most were Cathedral tenors, Kirk Talley, Danny Funderburk, Ernie Haase. I also loved to listen to Steve Green!!

Daniel: Now that you’ve been singing for at least a few years, who are some of the current voices in our genre who inspire you today?

Philip: I loved Frank Seamans’ tenor voice as well as David Phelps, Guy Penrod, Chris Allman has an amazing voice as well. I would have to say though some of my favorite singers are Kim Hopper, Chrysta Beene and Shari Easter!!

Daniel: In your opinion, what makes a song great? What makes you say, “This is a song I really want to sing”?

Philip: When I know it’s something I can sing from my heart, when I can relate to it. I love to sing some of those older songs and hymns, they have such depth and meaning to them, but I love the songs that will be on our new CD coming out in Sept, they are some of the greatest songs out there today written by a number of different artist that obviously know what and Who they are writing about!!

Daniel: What do you think Southern Gospel needs to do to make it another generation?

Philip: Keeping true to the roots of Southern Gospel will keep it another generation, I believe!!

Daniel: What do you think Southern Gospel needs to do to expand its presence in the West and Northwest?

Philip: Whatever Liberty is doing seems to work pretty well lol!!

Daniel: When did you first hear Liberty Quartet? How long have you known them, now?

Philip: I first heard Liberty Quartet about ten years ago when they opened for L5 here in Meridian Idaho. As far as really knowing them, though, I would have to say about four years now!!

Daniel: Do you have a family? If so, could you tell us about them?

Philip: Yes I am married to a wonderful Lady named Susie and lets just say I married way above my level.. we have been married almost 5 years now and live in Caldwell Idaho, I also have a 16 year old boy named Philip Guess Batton, He lives in England for now with his Mother!!

Daniel: I know other group members have shared this here before, but for any new readers: What are the best ways to find out more about Liberty, and to keep up with your road adventures?

Philip: We are on Facebook, we have an e-mail newsletter people can sign up for, and also our regular mail letter, you can also go to our website and see our schedule there!! I will also be taking lots of pictures and posting them on facebook as well!!

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