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That Foo Fighters ‘Learn to Fly’ viral by 1,000 Italian fans: how it happened

It took seven takes to film and record the amazing performance

On 26 July, in Cesena near Rimini, Italy, 1,000 musicians (250 drummers, 350 guitarists, 150 bass players and 250 vocalists), selected from applicants from all over Italy, recorded the Foo Fighters’ song Learn To Fly in an appeal to the rock band to come and play in the city.

A seven-minute YouTube clip of the performance, rounded off by a heartfelt plea from organiser Fabio Zaffagnini to the members of the band, soon went viral (18 million views so far). It quickly reached the attention of the ‘nicest man in rock’ Dave Grohl – who responded with a video message humbly accepting the invitation.

The event, accomplished on a very tight budget and entitled Rockin’ 1,000, was staged in a local Cesena park. The 48-track recording of the audio was made by Sandro ‘Amek’ Ferrari and Vanis Dondi, interfaced via ADAT/MADI with the production set-up.

The rest of the audio team comprised sound designer Francesco Penolazzi (pictured left with Ferrari), sound and lighting supervisor Cisko, Alberto Paderni and Lucio Boiardi Serri of Bluebeet Studio, responsible for mix and mastering, and Francesco Filomena (protocol engineer and MIDI specialist).

Penolazzi positioned 48 of his stock of AKG 414 ULS microphones overhead throughout the ‘stage area’ in wide cardioid configuration. (Mic stands were mounted atop wind-up stands to reach the required height.) The band was thus covered in sections, obtaining a more selective compact mix. The consoles used were a Yamaha PM5D + DSP5D (PM5D brain without control surface) and an 01V96.

On 9m lifts a short distance from the mega band, the audio team positioned two more 414s (one cardioid and one figure-of-8 for the ‘MS’ technique), two Sennheiser MKH816 shotguns and two Sennheiser MKH40 cardioids in X-Y mode.

Positioned on a central riser and facing the 1,000 (though barely seen in the video), the ‘guru’ band, (who wrote the parts and selected the musicians) were covered with near-field placement of four MKH40s, an EV408s, an SM57 on the snare and BSS DI boxes.

The rest of the mics were around 100 classic Shure SM58s, distributed between vocalists stage front and elsewhere among the musicians.

As monitors, the vocalists had an Adamson rig comprising twelve B218 subs and twelve MH-225 mid/high cabinets, supplied by Paride Pironi’s TD Rent, headquartered near the park. Point-source speakers, mounted to give 180° dispersion, were chosen, as line array characteristics were deemed to be unsuitable.

Cans for a conventional click track were only available for 250 musicians, so the other participants followed a ‘luminous click’ provided by twelve DTS LED fixtures, chosen for their ultra-fast on/off speed and mounted on the 18-foot (5m) high tower hosting conductor Marco Sabiu (right).

Apart from the sheer scale of Rockin’ 1,000, another incredible aspect of the event was that the crowd of over 2,000 watching the recording managed to remain silent during the seven takes in total it took to make the recording/video.

Rockin’ 1000 production manager Claudia Spadoni commented: “I’ve worked on a lot of large complex events, but everybody’s enthusiasm for this event was something you don’t see every day and turning a dream into reality was really magic!”

Penolazzi was particularly proud of the fact that the project was done on a very low budget by a team of specialists almost all from the local area – but people who normally work at the famous Cinecittà film studio in Rome, abroad or on international events.

Fabio Zaffagnini, who had the idea for the event and organised it (pictured, centre, with Penolazzi, left, and Cisko), says in the video: ”This will be seen by a huge amount of people all over the world, but it’s been conceived to address five people – Chris, Pat, Nate, Taylor and Dave – Foo Fighters. This is a miracle – a thousand rockers from all over the nation here at their own expense, for just one song – your song – so we ask you to come and play for us in Cesena.”

FF frontman Dave Grohl soon posted a video reply to the appeal, in Italian: “Cesena – What a beautiful video – Thanks a million! We’re coming – I promise – See you soon – I love you – Ciao!”

All photos by Roberto Ugolini

Watch the YouTube clip: