In May 2014, a web startup founder named Fabio Zaffagnini realized over breakfast that his next project had nothing to do with his company, Trail Me Up, but had everything to do with the Foo Fighters. So he put boots on the ground and hammered out a mission: bring the band to Cesena, his small northern Italian home city, where the band hasn't set foot since 1997. He only needed 1,000 musicians to make it happen.
And back in July, he finally did. What began as a daydream bloomed into Rockin'1000, a large-scale, one-off rendition of the Foo Fighter's song "Learn To Fly" coordinated and performed by 1,000 drummers, guitarists, bassists and singers in a large, flat, treeless Cesena park. The goal was to impress the band enough to have them perform in Cesena once again. And it worked.
On Tuesday, the Foos finally played in Cesena, cranking out nearly 30 songs over a few hours. Band leader Dave Grohl gave a heartwarming thank you speech. They rocked "Learn To Fly," because they had to. The singalongs were deafening.
But why did Zaffagnini, the original organizer, choose "Learn To Fly" and not another of the Foos' best-known hits, like "Everlong" or "Best Of You"?
"'Learn to Fly' is easier," Zaffagnini told MTV News. "There’s no solos. The structure is more regular. There’s no virtuosity in the singing. It’s easier for all the people together to play at the same time and be synchronized without struggling too much. We have simplified the song to let everybody play."
"Everybody" literally does mean 1,000 people -- some local players, some from elsewhere in the Romagna region and some from far enough away that they flew in from around the country -- all of whom are listed on the project's website (and at the end of the video). But while the video captures the performance's looseness, getting that many musicians to play in time with each other is no easy task. In fact, it took months of four "music gurus" holding tryouts to assemble the right crew.
"We divided all the players, especially the guitar players, after the recruitment into “good” players or “average” players. The good players had to play the hard part, the average players had to play in a different way -- easier, more simplified. And it worked," Zaffagnini said. "But we didn’t know what would happen, you know, when we just got all these people. They never did any rehearsal together."
Of course, turning a pipe dream into a real plan of action requires money, so Zaffagnini launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise 40,000 Euro. And that was a modest budget from the start. Rockin'1000 locked in partnerships with Heineken and a handful of Italian brands to help cover "amps and microphones and mixers and cables and all the cameras, all the operators, all the toilets, you know? Everything! There’s uncountable things to pay — insurance, and all the paper, the merchandising, T-shirts, everything. Facebook ads. Many, many things."
So, four minutes of "Learn To Fly" with 1,000 musicians and singers -- enough to sway Dave Grohl. "Ci vediamo a presto, Cesena.... xxx David," he wrote on Facebook just days after the Rockin'1000 performance -- in English, "See you soon, Cesena."
At the end of the performance, Zaffagnini hopped on the mic to say how Italy isn't necessarily a place where dreams come true, a fact he said makes this feat even more special to him.
"Italy is going through a big huge crisis, and since I was a little kid, everybody — everybody — used to say, 'Hey, we cannot afford it because there’s a crisis,' even if there was not any crisis at all. And it got worse through the years. So people feel kind of depressed... So everybody [was] kind of surprised about seeing such a big happening thing in Italy. A lot of people when they see the video say it doesn’t seem like an Italian thing. It looks like more the American Dream, you know?"
This time, it was the Italian Dream coming true. Thanks to the Foo Fighters.