What Music Is All About
The story of Italy’s Rockin’ 1000 is one I find to be both fascinating and incredibly inspiring. The organization’s founder, Fabio Zaffagnini, simply drove by a local Cesena, Italy park one afternoon in late 2014 and had a big idea. One drive sparked this seemingly crazy dream that the Foo Fighters could one day return to play in Zaffagnini’s hometown. There was only one way that dream would come true, however. He had to make it happen.
And that he did. In grand fashion.
Zaffafnini would gather 1,000 local musicians who went through a light screening process and most importantly, were likeminded in this vision. They consisted of guitar players, bass players, drummers and singers. All were tasked of memorizing how to play the Foo Fighters 1999 hit, “Learn to Fly.” Eventually, they would gather in the same “field of dreams” park. Zaffagnini and a small team then orchestrated a mesmerizing video of all 1,000 musicians rocking in unison and concluding with a plea to bring the Foo Fighters to Cesena.
“Italy is a country where dreams cannot easily come true. But it’s a land of passion and creativity. What we did hear was a huge miracle.”
“This is all that we got, 1,000 rockers that came from all over the nation at their own expenses. And they did for just one song,… your song.”
In response a video was posted on Foo Fighters facebook page which included Grohl speaking in Italian, saying, “Hi, Cesena! I am David, hello. I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian. Only a little, a little. That video — but how beautiful! Very beautiful. Thank you very much [literally: a thousand thanks]. We are coming, I promise. We’ll see each other soon. Thank you very much. I love you. Bye.”
A little over a year later, the dream became a reality as Foo Fighters were so moved by this effort they agreed to play a show in Cesena on November 3, 2015. Their opening song? “Learn to Fly.” Though a November European tour was already in place, Cesena was added in late October as a direct result of the video Dave Grohl called “one of the greatest moments of my life.”
The incredible video now has over 34 million views, declared Italy’s most seen video of 2015 and was listed in the “Best of 2015” by both Google and Facebook.
“Dave said that they don’t really think about the rest of the world when they write their songs and seeing that video helped him to realize the impact they have on their fans. What they (and other bands as well) do is entering people’s guts, and this means that for the past and future decades, millions of people were and will be inspired by their songs; while driving, jogging, working, studying, dancing, doing whatever they’re up to. All of them will be mumbling their words, shaking their head, tapping their feet. I have no idea about how they feel about this now, but if they have time to think about it, I am sure that they would feel satisfied about their contribution to mankind,” Zaffagnini told me in 2015 interview.
“Tonight, we are here for a very, very special reason. This has never happened before. This is like a revolution. First of all we have to say thank you to all the musicians who are here tonight. It’s unbelievable. What you guys did, … the whole world saw what you did. That’s a beautiful thing. I was on vacation and my phone was like bling, bling, bling, bling from all my friends saying, “Have you seen this.?” After 100 texts, I looked at one. And then, I fuckin’ cried. When we make music, we do it in our basement or our studio. It’s very simple. We write the songs and we then make the records, but we don’t really think about the rest of the world. And then to see you people singing our song for the whole fuckin’ world, to me, is like the greatest moment ever. You should do that same thing for U2, do it for Pearl Jam, do it for Pearl Jam, do it for Soundgarden, do it for all Rage Against the Machine, do it for all the rock bands,” said Grohl on stage in Cesena,before breaking into “Big Me.”
Zaffagnini was invited to onstage during the Foo Fighters Cesena show, had “My Hero” dedicated to him, sat upon Grohl’s throne and spoke to the joyous crowd. Reminiscing about at all the smiles he made happen he thought, “I will probably never get back to earth after that. Every time I think of this my eyes get wet, but not because I was so close to the band or somehow “popular” for three minutes. It’s been the best ending I could imagine, after more than one year of hard work, joy and pains. Thinking about all my team, all the people who worked at Rockin’1000, the musicians, volunteers, donors, even the ones who watched our video, millions and millions of people that got goose bumps.”
The Rockin’ 1000 work was not done. In fact, the experience was just the beginning.
“Last year someone said that we made a revolution, but this is the real revolution, people from all over the world came together and are giving us an unforgettable show.”
Zaffagnini and the Rockin’ 1000 were at it again with “That’s Live,” the biggest rock band on earth.
Based off the concept of the “Learn to Fly” performance, this was a full concert consisting of the largest band on earth; 1,200 (ages ranging from 7 years-old to 86) musicians performing an 18 song set at the Orogel Stadium Dino Manuzzi in Cesena. The concert was attended by almost 14,000 people. The President of Emilia-Romagna Region, Stefano Bonaccini, and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who followed the event through the social media, also sent their congratulations.
As for the show, the entry on stage of the musicians took more than half an hour alone. Orchestra Director Marco Sabiu then arrived standing on a motorbike, hidden under a boxing robe to a thunderous ovation. The audience was asked to use their smartphones to create choreographies throughout the evening and there was a moment of silence in memory of David Bowie.
“Last year many people saw the video, but just a few could see the 1000 musicians live, and all of them would tell you that it’s been just magic. This is why we decided to organize on entire live concert: 18 songs that made the History of Rock played by 1200 rockers. We called it “That’s Live” and it happened on Sunday July 24th. The idea was to see if a group of unknown passionate musicians, in a stadium, having a kick ass production team, can give a show that generally is given by Rock Stars. And this is a result: we went sold out, with 14k people, an unforgettable show, and a wall of sound that left everybody literally breathless,” Zaffagnini told me in a follow-up interview last year.
“That’s Live,” took 400 stage lights / 25 cameras / a 8000 mq stage / 20 km of cables / 3 led walls / 100 mq of projection / 12 Line Array sound systems / 500 microphones / 1250 headphones / 387 channels on the mixer / 200 recording channels/ 700 kw of electricity / 4,800 meals / 500 accreditations including press and staff and three days of rehearsal.
“We wanted to go through the history of rock, from the Fifties until nowadays, songs had to be generation anthems, not too hard to perform, lyrics had to be in accordance to the message that we wanted to spread.”
To close out 2016, the Rockin’ 1000 released the “That’s Live” album. Their message was, 2015 was all about Foo Fighters, 2016 has been all about the Thousand. It took four months to produce the album, which quickly went to the top three on the Italian rock charts.
The Rockin’ 1000 is what music is all about. I would have scrapped together every penny possible to join the 1000 rockers who performed “Learn to Fly” on that sunny 2015 day in Cesena. I still get choked up every single time I watch the video. Regardless of the result, the look on their faces, the way they were all in sync for three and half minutes, overflowing with emotion and letting go of everything else in the world should be a lesson in unity to all of us.
We’ll have to see what the Rockin’ 1000 has up their sleeves for 2017. For now, in the words of Zaffagnini…
“Stick together, no more conflicts and play Rock n’ Roll”