STAMFORD, Conn. — In a little town beside the Apennine mountains in west-central Italy, more than 4,000 miles away, you will find a whole bunch of Stamford people next month.
The occasion is an age-old festival in Settefrati, a town that in the last century sent more people to Stamford than it kept for itself. The population of Settefrati now is less than 800, and the number of Stamford residents descended from Settefratesi is more than 3,000.
At this year’s event, you’ll find on a stage in the piazza — where orchestras typically play Mozart and Puccini — a Stamford band playing Springsteen, The Doors and Grand Funk Railroad.
The performance is a lifelong dream of drummer Mario Socci and his late friend, singer Sal Cucco — sons of Stamford and grandsons of Settefrati, long ago designated sister cities.
“The idea goes back to 1983, when Sal said he wanted to bring a band to Settefrati to play Italian standards — and Elvis,” Socci said of his friend, who died in 2013 after a long illness.
Socci’s family has visited Settefrati annually since he was a boy, often with Nick Casinelli, whose family also originates there.
“In August you’ll walk into the square in Settefrati and see all these Stamford people,” said Casinelli, who will sing and manage the band. “It’s so many, you wouldn’t believe it.”
“It’s beautiful there,” Socci said of the town, built among ancient Roman ruins. “It has an aura.”
“A thing,” Casinelli said.
Last summer villagers in Settefrati asked Socci to bring his band this year. But Socci, like many musicians in Stamford, belongs to several bands. So he assembled one they’ve named Eight-Track Playback just for the trip.
“You want to do something like this with people you care about, and who care about you,” Socci said. “They care enough about me to pay their way to Italy to make my dream come true. I love all of them.”
That doesn’t mean they don’t engage in what is known in Italian-American lingo as scorching.
“A few years ago, Mario said, ‘Let’s go to Italy,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, sure,’ because I never thought he’d do it,” said singer and keyboardist Michael Giordano, whose Italian roots trace back to Bari, to the east of Settefrati on the Adriatic Sea. “Then one day he said, ‘We’re going.’ I said, ‘We are?'”
Singer Rosie Burgos is of mostly Spanish origin with some Italian, though her mother once visited Settefrati with Socci’s mother.
“I’m only going for the gnocchi,” Burgos said. “They told me I had to sing for my supper and I said, ‘OK, gnocchi and maybe a little dessert, maybe a little gelato.'”
Bass player Allan Tepper, who worked as an executive in the music industry, said he’s a Jewish guy from Queens, N.Y.
“I never heard of this town until I moved to Stamford in 1994 and met these guys,” Tepper said. “But I fully expect to come back Italian.”
Tepper helped assemble the playlist by researching hits that were popular in Italy in the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. He found Italians were huge fans of Pink Floyd, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Tina Turner, Lenny Kravitz and Billy Joel.
They also like Joe Cocker, which is why the band is bringing singer Milo Fuscaldo, known for his rendition of Cocker’s 1969 hit, “Feelin’ All Right.”
“There’s an Italian artist named Zucchero who’s a clone of Joe Cocker. He has that same raspy voice. He’s huge in Italy,” Casinelli said. “They’re going to love Milo.”
The four-day Feast of the Madonna di Canneto attracts thousands of people drawn by the story of a long-ago girl named Silvana, who was grazing her sheep on a mountainside when she came upon a beautiful woman. The woman told Silvana to go to the priest at Settefrati and ask him to build a church dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus.
Silvana refused, saying her sheep needed water. The woman then put her hand on a rock and a spring gushed forth. Silvana ran to Settefrati to tell the townspeople, who returned to find a statue by the spring.
A statue of the Madonna is kept in a church in Settefrati and walked up the mountain by throngs of believers each August.
Because the festival is religious, band members have their doubts about two songs Socci insists they play — “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones and “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC.
“Why, Mario?” Giordano said. “They’re going to throw tomatoes at us.”
“Do you see how people get up and dance when we play those songs?” Socci said. “That’s why.”
In Italy, live music is treasured, he said.
“It’s always a friendly crowd there because they are open to anything new,” Socci said. “The musicians there are killer. They will play a song exactly like the original. We have a different feel. We have an authenticity.”
It’s a quality brought by his nephew, guitarist Anthony Socci, who, at 30, is the youngest member of Eight-Track Playback. He’s been immersed in rock since he was a boy.
“I grew up listening to my father’s music and picked it up,” Anthony Socci said.
In Settefrati, where rock bands sing in English with an Italian accent, musicians like American pronunciation, Mario Socci said. He once heard a rendition of the Stones’ “Under My Thumb” that came out “Under My Tongue.”
But accents don’t apply just to words, percussionist Gerard Diacri said.
“Like language, music has dialects. It’s interpreted by who’s playing it,” Diacri said. “We’re coming from New York-based rock bands. We get the sound firsthand. They get it second-hand. It’s very different.”
And yet the same, Mario Socci said.
“There’s something sacred about playing music for people,” he said. “If we do it right, it’s like the band becomes one body, with arms and legs and head working together. Nothing’s clumsy. When we’re in the groove, you look out there and people are happy.”
Information from: The Advocate, http://www.stamfordadvocate.com