In the spotlight | 10 min read

From Geology to Technology to Rockin' 1000, Founder Fabio Zaffagnini gives back

Rockin' 1000
© Jolien Evaert | storychief.io

Truth be told, I never had dreams of becoming a rockstar when I was a kid. I'd see people thrash about playing air guitar. That wasn't me growing up.

I only learned of Fabio Zaffagnini last month, but after having talked to him just a few days ago I won't soon forget him.

Fabio Zaffagnini is the Founder and general manager of Rockin' 1000.

The "1,000" indicates the number of musicians who gathered together in 2015, and every year since, for the love of music. The number grows each year, as does the notoriety of what is now hailed as the"biggest band in the world," attracting everyday musicians and global stars alike.

Believe it or not, Rockin' 1000 came to fruition out of a pipe dream—a joke even, between friends of Zaffagnini. He'd never thought he'd actually pull any of it off. He was, after all, just a regular guy who just happened to love music like all the other regular music lovers in the world.

All he'd really wanted back then was for the Foo Fighters to come back and perform in his town of Cesena (the band had never been back to Cesena after a tour date there in 1997).

The rest is, well, history in the making...

Fabio. You're a week away from the big event in Florence. 'That's Live 2018.' How are you feeling? How are you even finding the time and energy to talk to me?

Yes, hello!

Well. I'm excited.

It's the end of a long road right now. Our main event of the year. We have several collaborations around the world, but what's coming up on Saturday—That's Live 2018—well, that's the big one.

Let's rewind a bit then to when all of this started. The seeds you planted for all this, that was in late 2014, right? Walk us through that process.

Well. I saw a park.

[Laughs}

I decided, I'm going to get 1,000 local musicians to come to this park and we're all going to play 'Learn to Fly' from the Foo Fighters. I thought, I'm going to record it and see if it's enough to convince the Foo Fighters to come back to my little town of Cesena.

I had no idea what I was doing. In my previous life I was a marine geologist and I was a researcher. I was drawn later to technology and founded a couple of startups.

But I had no experience organizing actual events. So I asked some friends who had more experience than I did. We thought it would be a big mess and there would be no music at all.

It was just supposed to be for fun. We were completely unaware of what it would turn into.

Sometimes those are the best experiences in life. Going into something with little to no expectations.

So. You crowdfunded the first event? And did the musicians bring their own instruments?

Yes, it was crowdfunded for a period of 6 months or so (close to $50K).

We didn't have enough money for television commercials or radio spots. So we used social media to spread the word and to recruit musicians from music schools and bands. Some of them were just "under the shower" singers.

But all the musicians were first screened. And they were willing to pay their own expenses and bring their own instruments to get to Cesena. 350 guitarists, 250 singers, 250 drummers and 150 bassists.

To them, it was a once in a lifetime experience. Where else would you be able to perform, live, with a thousand other people?

We all made new friends and built friendships and relationships to last a lifetime.

Rockin' 1000 debut

The original video, of you and 1,000 musicians, went viral. Currently, it's got close to 45 million views. Tell me more about that.

Yes. It's crazy.

It's what started everything, and the rest of the Rockin' 1000 channel.

Dave Grohl and his band did end up seeing our video and he returned the favor with his own video.

Dave Grohl's response

The Foo Fighters did come to Cesena that year, and performed as promised.

And since then, everyone who was there have entered some sort of community—an online community. A global community.

Community. People. Word of mouth. It comes down to that human interaction, even in these times of drastic change, doesn't it? How big is this community?

Well. We started with 1,000 in 2015.

Today, we're now a week before our 4th "That's Live" event, and it's more than 10,000.

"In this period of time, when everyone wants to close borders, we’re doing the opposite."

Music is a powerful and strong language. We have musicians coming from 30 different countries like Brazil and Ecuador, Russia and Lebanon, US and Canada, even South Korea.

Cool! I was born in South Korea. Raised in America. It's good to hear all my people are representing at Rockin' 1000.

Speaking of representation though, tell me about Courtney Love's involvement this year. How'd you manage that?

We try to break down the barriers of those who live in the real world and the rockstars in the celebrity world. We try to get big names to come and play alongside the rest of us.

We screen each and every musician who joins each annual event, but none of us are famous. And we don't get to play with our idol rockstars just any day.

Usually it's very hard to get in direct contact with big artists because most of them have managers, but this year we got a lucky break.

Ambassadors are priceless

Through Renzo Rosso and the Only The Brave Foundation, we were able to invite Courtney Love to join us in Florence next week. She accepted enthusiastically, and has been our biggest ambassador this year.

She truly embodies our core values at Rockin' 1000.

And what are these core values?

Yes. There are three:

  1. Promoting the spirit of togetherness:
  2. Encouraging everyone to do something amazing where not any one person stands out.
  3. Drawing people from many different nations.

I see. That seems like it's working.

Now, Courtney Love referenced some great cause being supported by Rockin' 1000 this year. Not only have you sold 15,000+ tickets, but you're also giving a portion of the proceed's to charity—to San Patrignano.

How did you choose this particular charity? It's a very special one.

To be honest, we weren't even sure if we could afford to donate a part of what we collected.

We've always wanted to, from the beginning, give back. But production costs for putting on events like these are extraordinarily high.

But for our fourth event we said, "It's time."

"Let's just take a risk and hope we can afford to give a chunk to charity."

San Patrignano is not far from where I grew up. It's a rehab community with 40 years of history of helping young people, children and their families affected by addiction. They've helped thousands of kids.

Wow. Well, I'd like to asking you something a bit more personal.

Being thrown suddenly into the spotlight can change people. Do you think this whole experience has changed "Fabio Zaffagnini" at all?

I don't think it has, no. Though that's a good questions. Maybe it's something I should ask the people closest to me.

I remember though, all of a sudden, the newspapers started to talk about me. I got to see what it takes to build a community.

And I saw behind the scenes of what the entertainment industry is like. I got to see the bright side and the dark side.

But I think it's good that I was older when all this happened. {Laughs}

Otherwise it really would have changed me.

How old are you, if I may ask?

I'm 42.

So am I, actually. And 42 means you've lived some life. You mentioned before this idea of a "previous life."

Can you tell me a little bit about your path to Rockin' 1000? And where your love of music comes from?

I grew up in a house where music was played all the time.

The guitar thing came kind of late but I spent all my extra money traveling and attending concerts. So music's always been a part of my life.

At some point I was getting kind of bored with my work in marine geology, so I started building small projects with my friends—always around music.

My first was about 10 years ago. I started a car sharing platform to go to concerts. It evolved into a ticket-buying system too, in groups, because it's always cheaper to buy tickets as a group.

Then I founded a startup similar to G Suite, Trail Me Up, backpacking 360 pictures but for hiking trails and places that are only reachable on foot—natural parks and mountains.

That was still running when Rockin' 1000 happened.

And where is Trail Me Up now? What happens after Rockin' 1000? Or do you think this is it and you'll stick with Rockin' 1000 only?

I don’t know what I want to do. I don’t really know.

No real concrete plans. Things change so fast. These days everything just happens so fast. I do my best to take opportunities day by day.

I plan to go on working with my passions.

I admire that. Every choice you've made leading up to now has a common thread. You chase your next passion.

I was always driven by passion.

But once things get bigger and bigger then everything changes. When it turns into your job it’s different. It’s not just passion, but it’s something else. Something more.

If I could choose what I wanted to so, I'd just work on which songs we musicians will play and in which order. Which order will we play it in and which artists do we invite.

There are investors to talk to. Fundraising must be done.

Because you, you’re the face of Rockin' 1000. But you're right. There's a difference between your passion and your job.

The reason I’m doing this every year, with our Thousand, it's because I saw from the beginning that this goes beyond music. It goes beyond a business model.

It’s more a mission than a job.

You have to surround yourself with believers. People who believe in that mission.

Absolutely. That's the only way the story is passed on.

I respect you balancing the business with the core values of Rockin' 1000. And I love that your founding team is mostly women.

Yes, they really are fantastic in what they do. That's so important. A team should compensate for each other. I know they do for me.

Success to the Rockin' 1000

Story Chief wishes Fabio and each and every performer all the success this Saturday at Artemio Franchi Stadium in Florence.

Cheers to building communities of ambassadors and believers!

P.S.: If anyone is there at That's Live 2018, then please be on the look out for one of Story Chief's own rockstar sloths on the guitar!

One of the thousand #rockin1000 #courmayeur2017 #курмаер #wolfmother

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