Text by Kellie Bramlet
Like many small Italian towns, Cagli blooms with evidence of Italy's famed cultural history. It has 15 churches adorned with ancient frescoes, an opera housed in a 19th century theater, and almost non-stop exhibitions of glorious artwork.
But hidden beneath the surface lives a small underground music scene populated with a classic mixture of dreamers. There are Eros Santini, a garage rocker; Licano Daini, an experimenter surfing on the edge of New Age music, and The River Flows, a grunge rock group determined on stardom.
And they are all facing the ultimate rocker's dilemma: Could I make a living at this, or should I just play for fun?
"Maybe it's difficult (to be in a band) if you want to be known by people," says Santini. "But if it's just for fun, maybe it's easier because you can just go play in the neighborhood. It's not difficult to join with friends and put together a band."
By day Santini owns and runs one of the town's tabaccherias, the omnipresent Italian newsstands.
But evidence of his aspirations can be found among the stacks of newspapers in a simple flyer with bold, black writing that shouts: "Roogle." Four mug shots form a line just below that title, resembling an Italian Mount Rushmore comprised of scruffy faces.
"That's me," says Santini, pointing to the second face from the right and explaining with pride that he is the band's rhythm guitar player.
After each long day of selling smokes and magazines, Santini turns off the lights, locks the door, and heads home to his girlfriend and 3-year-old son, Giacomo.
But one night each week the routine changes. Santini leaves his peaceful home life and drives to Piobbico, a 25-minute drive from Cagli where he descends into a basement where Roogle rehearses. Wrapped in layers of the ancient Italian hills, the band can play at full volume without fear of interrupting the quiet lull of the small town.
Santini became a Roogle about a year ago. The other members had been together for 15 years, including vocalist Giovanni Stocchi, bassist Uber Simoncelli, lead guitarist Alessandro Traversi, and drummer Roberto Traversi, Alessandro's brother.
Years before Santini had played in another band, but the group had dissolved for the usual reason that garage bands leave behind the rock'n roll fantasy: real life.
"We grew up," Santini says.
Ten years later, Santini picked up his guitar again and joined Roogle. And while Santini says he loves playing, he isn't looking for his big break. For him, playing in a small town bar is enough.
"It's not a money-making thing. It's just for fun," Santini says, adding he loves rock for its pure sound and its universality.
Roogle's original songs focus on what Cagli residents know - specifically women and cigarettes.
One of Santini's favorite songs is called "Super Garro" (Garro refers to a type of cigarette or cigar), an ironic tune about a man who smokes a lot.
But the band draws inspiration from rock bands of all national backgrounds, from Australian AC/DC to British Judas Priest and American Alice Cooper. As Santini says, "Rock is world wide."
Santini's words ring true for Licano Daini, a Cagli-based musician who dabbles in experimental music, not rock. Daini combines music specific to different locations across the world to create one unique sound. But, like Santini, he doesn't see his music providing a healthy income.
"There's no money in experimental music," he says. "It's not very commercial."
To make ends meet Daini transforms his van into a small flea market on the weekends, selling used books and old records. When he's not collecting used novels, he's gathering African drumbeats and stanzas sung by operatic sopranos. Daini draws sounds from more than 70 instruments, including everything from the violin to Asian drums to pieces of scrap metal, and refines their sounds with electronic elements.
Daini, a native of the northern Italian city of Bolzano, travels to larger cities like Milan to record and compose with other artists. He's recorded with a Spanish opera singer who lives in Cagli and has played alongside the American New Age artist Robert Rich. But he always returns to his house in the hills of Cagli, a peaceful sanctuary where he can write and record his music.
But, like Santini, he doesn't see his music providing a healthy income.
"There's no money in experimental music. It's not very commercial," Daini says.
Meanwhile, the members of the grunge rock group The River Flows want nothing more than to escape. They spend their days working in factories or at odd jobs, but dream of becoming famous rock stars and eventually playing in Seattle, the home of grunge. For now they perform primarily in front of small crowds at Il Chiosco and another bar called House Beer - and struggle with finding their sound.
At a recent Il Chiosco show, new lead-singer Michela was far off the grunge map pounding out the Alana Morisette cover "You Otta Know" during a small show. It wasn't much of a surprise to the rest of the band (Fabrizio, Steffano, and Calva) that their newest member isn't too interested in the type of music they like to play. The rest of Cagli isn't either, says Calva.
"Most people would rather listen to a DJ," he admits. But like Santini and Daini, The River Flows aren't deterred. They will continue to play.
"We're just normal people," Calva said. "But we dream of becoming professional musicians."