Vasco Rossi’s Modena Park concert: the world’s biggest live rock concert ever – in my hometown. Who’s that guy that comes from the farm?

Vasco-Rossi Modena-Park
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Vasco Rossi’s Modena Park means 220.000 paying spectators at the concert.

Is this a modern-day Woodstock or just a megalomaniac product?

Is the rebellious spirit of Woodstock still here or are the children-parents-grandparents singing along together just celebrating cheap thrills?

Is Italy a full-time member of international rock music now or are we just celebrating our provincialism?

Who ‘vita spericolata’ Vasco Rossi, the grandfather rock star, really is?

Vasco Rossi’s Modena Park means 220.000 paying spectators at the concert, 10.000 in the town’s main squares with mega screens plus 30.000 in Rimini Beach Arena, 140 more mega screens around the country, 100.000 people in movie theatres, the event live on state TV in Eurovision. Modena Park begins in town on July 1, 2017 and finishes at dawn on Rimini Beach Arena, way down the Via Emilia, the Italian ‘Route 66’, a ‘creativity’ road throughout Emilia-Romagna, a region which is actually a single post-modern urban realm, an area extremely creative in the arts, especially music, since the times of Modena beat music capital in the 60s.

Vasco is an hybrid product of the via Emilia, a mix of ‘cantautore’ and rocker whose live shows remind me of Bruce Springsteen’s energetic ones. Vasco is ‘grezzo’, rough and naïve, and that’s the way he wants to appear: I got to know him in the seventies, when he was the DJ of a disco called ‘Snoopy’ in Modena and …


Saturday July 1, 2017, afternoon


Vasco- Rossi Modena- Park

The sun is shining bright, the beach is white and crowded, the rough sea is unusually green and blue: it looks like an ordinary weekend in the Riviera Romagnola, but it is not. All around me, the whole country is almost paralyzed: most trains and buses, filled with fans, are heading to one single town, cars are stuck on all Northern Italy’s motorways, the army, the Protezione Civile, all health structures and police forces are on the field for the occasion: the greatest rock concert of all time is about to take place tonight in Modena, now a town running on the blade, where even the final high-school State exams are postponed and funeral cannot be held. The rock star is Vasco ‘the Blasco’ Rossi who is going to perform in front of 220.000 paying spectators inside parco Ferrari in the heart of Modena – ‘Drake’ Enzo Ferrari’s, Vasco Rossi’s… and my hometown. Everybody’s fingers are crossed since no one knows what is going to happen, the town completely invaded by Vasco’s fans from all over the country to celebrate his 40 years of career in a four hour concert titled Modena Park that begins here in the evening and, I have just discovered, finishes at dawn on Rimini Beach Arena. Luckily, the weather has turned a bit cooler after the almost 40 degrees of the previous period and, for the most daring audience, surviving for more than 24 hours in the sunny park should be less challenging than it might have been.

That’s why early on Friday morning I ran away from the frenzying city like many other modenesi did. I roamed down the via Emilia heading for the coast and found refuge in a seaside resort called Riccione, a few kilometres South from Rimini: was maestro Federico Fellini still alive, he would not have missed the chance for a surrealistic rendition of the event on film. I thought I had run away from it all, but that was just an illusion. In the news, in the social media, on the beach, in bars this is the only topic of conversation and so I soon discovered that Vasco is staying next to me at the Rimini Grand Hotel before flying his helicopter to Modena and that the Modena Park concert is having a follow-up since Vasco’s band is moving to Rimini beach straight after the concert to play ‘Alba Chiara’ again live at down in front of other 30.000 fans who are spending the night watching the concert on a mega screen. Indeed going from Modena to Rimini on the via Emilia is like going down to Venice beach from Downtown L.A. on Sunset Boulevard: the via Emilia is a red hot thin line, a ‘creativity’ road throughout Emilia-Romagna, a region which is actually a single post-modern urban realm where its inhabitants live, work, move, suffer and have fun, an area extremely creative in the arts, especially music. But if Vasco’s celebration starting in Modena and finishing in Rimini is not surprising, this Blasquo phenomenon is. It is a modern day version of the Beatlesmania of the sixties, a self-generating collective frenzy that duplicates like a pandemic virus, regardless of the value of the artist, that joins together three generations. For me, who got to know the rocker when I was a teenager, it is an incomprehensible phenomenon since our megacity has produced much more refined music artists.

The via Emilia is for Emilia Romagna what Route 66 is for the USA. This Ancient Rome road runs through the region like the main artery that brings blood and life to the whole body, ‘a great slide that collects and takes to the sea styles, music, passions that live here and go out in the world’ as Rimini’s mayor puts it:

Noi abbiamo immaginato la via Emilia trasformarsi in un grande scivolo che raccoglie e fa scendere verso il mare stili, musiche, passioni che qui vivono e vanno nel mondo e che dal mondo qui atterranno. Uno scivolo che unisce idealmente l’Emilia alla Romagna lungo una strada maestra che da 2200 anni collega la terra di Verdi, Pavarotti, Fellini, la Ducati, la Ferrari, Vasco Rossi. Un flusso di energie e di passioni, una via “Emilia on the Rock” che il 1 luglio, dalla città che per una sera sarà la ‘caput mundi’ del rock, raggiungerà il mare moltiplicando lungo il suo tragitto la carica emotiva del live Modena Park fino ad arrivare alla suggestione dell’alba chiara che sorge nella grande piazza sull’acqua della Summer Beach Arena. Un racconto di rara potenza di una notte che colloca l’evento di Vasco nel solco delle celebrazioni dei 2200 anni della via Emilia e che fa diventare il più grande concerto di sempre un condensato emotivo di totale energia e libertà, un unico evento che inizia al tramonto nel cuore dell’Emilia e finisce all’alba col sole della Romagna”  (see article)

‘When the folk revival and then the rock revolution of the 60s arrived in Italy, it landed in Modena. Amid Ferrari and Maserati cars, balsamic vinegar producers, tortellini restaurants and small industrial enterprises scattered around the province, ‘beat’ music started to bloom almost unexpectedly in this town’ I write in my article 29 Settembre Modena Beat Music Capital. The via Emilia is indeed a memory lane, at the heart of  the various generations and locations of Italian pop music, from 60s Modena to a whole generation of ‘cantautori’ – singer-songwriters like Francesco Guccini and Lucio Dalla – mainly based in the capital city Bologna, a hotspot of creative art and avant-garde cultural epicenter of the whole country. Two famous contemporary writers, Pier Vittorio Tondelli and Edmondo Berselli, both born in this area but alas prematurely perished, gave written voices to this aspect of our region.

In this picture, where does Vasco stand? Tonight my 91 year old mother is watching the show on TV while my 18 year old daughter is already inside Ferrari Park, and they’ll both be singing the lyrics as they are performed live. In between, someone from the generation in the middle, my generation, is more comfortably  watching the live concert in movie theatres; others scornfully ran away. For sure Vasco has cancelled the generation gap but this Vascomania still remains a mystery to me, an irrational new collective mood I haven’t seen since the times of the Mercy Beat, a self-generating wave of passion for an aged rock star – 65 – which grows regardless of the protagonist. Vasco is an hybrid product of the via Emilia, a mix of ‘cantautore’ and rocker who has become a rock-star and whose live shows remind me of Bruce Springsteen’s energetic ones. Vasco is ‘grezzo’, rough: he comes from a mountain village and has all the naïveté of his origins inside of him. I got to know him in the seventies, when he was the DJ of a disco called ‘Snoopy’ in Modena. My rebellious post-68 generation scorned him: the Snoopy was a place for commercial music where young ‘bempensanti’ went to have fun. The music we all loved, pop/folk/rock music from the 60s, was our weapon to change the world which had nothing to do with disco-dance. Our prophet was Bob Dylan, not Donna Summer. When Vasco started to record his own songs our skeptical attitude did not change: in Italy we listened to Francesco Guccini, Francesco De Gregori and Fabrizio De Andrè, singers-songwriters and poets. To our sensibility, Vasco’s lyrics were cheap thrills, preppy schoolgirl stuff with down-to-earth language and no social commitment which tried to give voice to young people’s emotions and feelings. Was that a snobbish attitude? Vasco has always played rough on purpose: his behavior on stage and in life was ‘grezzo’, his accent was ‘grezzo’, his lifestyle was ‘grezzo’, his singing style was ‘grezzo’, and not  the Boss’ kind of roughness and toughness we were so fascinated by. Vasco gave out the idea of living ‘una vita spericolata, una vita come quelle dei film’, ‘una vita che non è mai tardi, di quelle che non dormi mai’ filled with ‘whiskey al Roxy bar’, but it remained an attitude distant from the real self-destructive behaviour of the Beat Generation artists, of the Easy Riders and of the Chelsea Hotel rockers. It was a provincial adaptation of these models, he was a ‘rebel without a cause’ who was not a rebel at all, a nonconformist who was liked by  the children of the conservative ‘vecchia piccola borghesia’, as depicted by the bolognese cantauture Claudio Lolli in one his songs, that ‘ancient lower middle-class’ (meaning Victorian in attitude) ‘ che non so dir se fai più rabbia, pena, schifo o malinconia’. Forty years later, the attitude stands; nevertheless I have to admit that Vasco has always had a style of his own, a personal brand which is unique, and this must be acknowledged. I think that his standing in between – between transgression and ordinary life, between rebellion and tradition, between rock and melodic music, between ordinary language and naïve poetic style – his standing in between is the key to understand his cross-generation appeal and his late ascent to the top of the Italian Hall of Fame.

Sunday July 2, 2017, afternoon


Vasco-Rossi Modena-Park


The sun is shining bright again, the beach is white and crowded, the sea is still unusually green and blue: it looks like an ordinary weekend in the Riviera Romagnola, and today it is. It is the day after the show which I watched comfortably on TV, like an ‘ancient lower middle-class’ character. And which I liked: the organization was perfect and the feared apocalypse that might have happened before, during and after the show vanished with the morning light. Handling 250.000 ‘invaders’ is not an easy task but Modena showed its best in efficiency and capability, overturning the (true) image of a marvelous malfunctioning country, which is Italy’s personal card. With the machine running smoothly there was time for relaxation and to enjoy the show with its mega stage and mega effects. It was just beautiful and the word ‘pacchiano’ – a quasi-synonym for ‘grezzo’ we use for things – is out of place this time. Vasco performed at his best, his rough voice (and his rough vintage clothes) still running on high at 65, backed by a great band with a refined rock sound. 220.000 people singing most of his songs in unison with the rocker is a show that captured even my Woodstock heart of stone. I felt a little proud of my town, of my people, of our pop culture. Have I aged more than Vasco or is Vasco getting better as he grows old, like good Lambrusco? Have I left the snobbish attitude behind, at least for one time? Do I have more things in common with my singing along mother and daughter than I thought of? Have I stepped of my boots and gone back to my neglected roots? Whatever it is, grazie Modena Park, grazie Vasco. Keep on rocking in a free world. Now it is the time for a swim and a seafood dinner in the fresh evening breeze: also this is what Italy is all about.



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