Just over a year ago, 1,000 Italian musicians went viral by banding together and playing Foo Fighters’ ‘Learn To Fly’ in a park. By doing so, they managed to convince the world-famous rock band to agree to a performance in the small town of Cesena, central-northern Italy. And then, just over a week ago (July 24), the project known as Rockin’1000 returned for a second bout, this time squeezing its 1,200 performers into the town’s Orogel Stadium to perform a string of classics to a 14,000-strong crowd. NME spoke to organiser Fabio Zaffagnini about how he turned the dream into a reality.
Where did the idea for a concert like this come from?
Fabio Zaffagnini: “We started right after the success we had last year with ‘Learn To Fly’. It went so big on YouTube, it’s hit something like 32 million views. We realised many people could see that video online, but just a bunch could see the musicians performing live, so we decided to focus on this concept of a live show.”
When did you start working on the plan?
“Late December 2015 until the beginning of January: we decided to do this gig tracing the history of rock’n’roll from the 50’s to nowadays, so we’ve been working pretty hard. But it’s been easier to find musicians compared to last year.”
How do you go about rehearsing something so large?
“Just like last year, every musician would have a private area online they could use to see all the tutorials, all the sheets and all the information to prepare properly. We had an automatic system that could record all the times that musicians would log into their private area. If they were not studying enough we had a team of people that would call all these musicians and ask them if they were studying or not, because this time we could not fail: this was a concert in front of a paying public.”
So if people were studying at home, how long did you have to practice together in person?
“We organised three days of rehearsals, Thursday to Saturday, and from the morning till the evening we just did the rehearsals for all the songs. They were just perfect from the beginning on the first day. They studied a lot. The songs were simplified, they were not too hard to perform and I have to say the live impact of that wall of sound was so impressive. Last year the musicians were not amplified, they were just recorded for the video, but this time it was for the public, so it’s still very hard for me to describe the live impact of all these people performing together.”
What instruments did you have other than guitar, bass, drums, and vocals?
“Keyboards, violins and bagpipes. The special instruments came in and out but drums, guitars, bass and vocals were there all the time.”
“Yes because we decided to play ‘It’s a Long Way to the Top’ by AC/DC, so we invited something like 30 pipers.”
So what happens now for you guys, have you thought about your next project?
“Well, actually we’re publishing an album of the concert and we’re hoping it’s going to be released in September. Afterwards we’re going to release a DVD of the entire show. We’re working on a documentary to tell the story of Rockin’1000 from the very beginning – from when this project started something like 2 years ago. But we’re also trying to figure out how to go on with the whole project.
“The live show has been really, really cool and the feedback we got from the public was enthusiastic so we will probably think about going on and organising other live shows, but we don’t have an idea about where to do that. We’d love to have an experience outside of Italy but we just finished a week ago so… we’re just figuring out what to do next.”
“We would love to add musicians and bring music to as many places as possible. This time we had musicians from very far from Italy: from Canada, Mexico, South Africa. A few came from very far away: from Thailand and the Deep South. All of them really enjoyed the experience because it was really a four-day immersion in music and sheer fun. It was magic.
“They all joined this project and took the flight to come over to this tiny town that is Cesena and to perform in front of thousands of people, just like rockstars do. Actually they’re just normal musicians playing in pubs, but for once in their life they were in a context that is similar to the one that is generally reserved to rockstars.”
Did you have a Guinness World Records rep come along?
“Well, we didn’t apply. I think that if we did it we would’ve got the Guinness World Record… but it’s not something that we care about that much. I mean, what we obtained last year and this year as well, it’s bigger than any – I don’t know. It’s more about the emotions rather having our name written in a book.”
How difficult was it logistically to get all those performers into the stadium?
“Well we had a good experience last year that taught us a lot about how to manage all these people by giving them headphones and stuff, so we had provided them with all the food for the stage, but they had to come at their own expense. So we tried to find a few hotels that were cheap for them to come without spending too much money. There was a team of something like 200 volunteers to take care of all these guys and try to help them with their needs. It’s been massive work, it involved something like 500 people. 30 of them worked intensively throughout one entire year.”
Do you ever think you’d come another country, like the UK, and set up a similar project?
“Well why not? If the starting conditions are good enough I have to say we’re open to any place. One of the hardest parts for us was the funding part and finding the right location to organise this whole thing. So of course Britain would be an amazing and very cool place to organise something like that, but still deciding going to one place rather than the other we would have to have some base in that place with someone who would help us with something as complicated as this.
“Every country is different and we definitely need to collaborate and work with locals in terms of production as well. So why not! If we have the base we can almost be anywhere.”