RIDGEFIELD — The Ridgefield Playhouse has been in business for more than 20 years and the theater has never hosted a show on New Year’s Eve. That is going to change this coming Sunday, when the ‘90s alt-rock icons Gin Blossoms perform there to follow up a stellar set at the Sound On Sound Festival in Bridgeport back in September. The show starts at 8 p.m. with the Miami piano rock act The Gabe Dixon Band kicking things off. After the music, there will be an afterparty with a countdown at the ball drop.
I had a chance to talk with vocalist and guitarist Robin Wilson from Gin Blossoms about his thoughts on being part of the event, writing some of the band’s biggest hits, the crappy roads in the Northeast and what he has going on next year.
RD: Gin Blossoms are going to be making a bit of local history by playing the first-ever New Year’s Eve show at the Ridgefield Playhouse, so what are your thoughts going into it?
RW: We’ve played the Ridgefield Playhouse many times and I’ve found that it’s an interesting choice of theirs to have us play there on New Year’s Eve, so I’m glad to be doing it. The first time I played there I was in my other band Gas Giants back in the early 2000s. We were on tour with Kenny Wayne Shepherd and I remember us having a really good set and a really good response from the crowd. We got a standing ovation after playing a few of our tunes so I’ve always been aware of the venue and I have fond memories.
RD: You’ve been involved in the songwriting of some of the band’s biggest hits including “Until I Fall Away”, “Allison Road”, “Til I Hear It From You” and “Follow You Down”. What or who would you say is your biggest inspiration when it comes to your approach and method to writing songs?
RW: I suppose the single biggest inspiration might be Tom Petty as a songwriter and as a lyricist. Also, Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, these are guys that I’ve always tried to emulate but I have a very diverse record collection. I know how to perform hundreds and hundreds of songs, so you can always sort of reach into that grab bag of influences when you’re composing a song or arranging it. It’s easy to reach into that bag of stuff and pull out something similar to the intro of a Cheap Trick song, for example, and use it for the bridge. You can take the energy of the outro from a Beatles song and apply it to the intro for your own song or something like that.
Once you know a whole bunch of songs, it gives you a more diverse tool kit when you’re actually applying it to your own tunes and arrangements.
RD: That’s an intriguing way to describe your songwriting approach. Since the passing of lead singer and guitarist Pat DiNizio in 2017, you’ve filled that role on occasion for the New Jersey rock act The Smithereens. What’s the experience like for you when it comes to performing with that band?
RW: Oh, it’s so much fun. It’s a different experience from being with the Gin Blossoms because I don’t have to carry around any of the baggage that my bandmates in The Smithereens have been carrying around all these years. All of the trials, the successes and all of that. With Gin Blossoms, every moment on stage and every lyric I sing has a memory associated with it. Some of them are painful, some of them are joyous and with The Smithereens it’s just a pure musical experience that allows me to focus on having fun and just being in the moment.
RD: That’s awesome.
RW: Yeah, I’ll look at my bandmates in The Smithereens sometimes and I’ll see the baggage, I’ll see it in their eyes. For me, I’m playing a rock show and it’s easy.
RD: I get what you’re saying. You’ve lived a sort of cross-country life due to being born in Detroit, growing up in Tempe, Arizona and now you’re currently living in Long Island, New York. How would you describe living in the Northeastern United States versus other parts of the country? I know it can get quite hot in Arizona during the summertime, so you must enjoy the cooler temperatures in this region.
RW: Aside from the obvious differences in weather, things like the s****y, ancient roadways and the cramped parking lots of grocery stores in Long Island are a bit contrast to Arizona. I’m always saying to my son, “God, the roads here suck. Wait until you see what it’s like back in Arizona.” The last time we were visiting there, he was driving in our car and all of a sudden he started nodding behind the wheel saying “Yeah, the roads are really wide.” He just never had that experience before.
RD: After the show on New Year’s Eve, what are Gin Blossoms’ plans for 2024?
RW: Wintertime is always the slowest time of year for us. We kind of take it easy and it’s not a very active time in the live music business, so things slow down for us. We only have a handful of shows between now and the spring, so it’s kind of light on our schedule. I’m looking forward to doing some shows with The Smithereens in January. I’m doing four dates with them, including New York City at Sony Hall, and we’re playing in Nashville at the Ryman Auditorium.
RD: Oh, wow. That’s fantastic.
RW: Yeah, I’m looking forward to that. Gin Blossoms have some gigs scattered around, but not too many and it’s all pretty routine in terms of the types of bookings that we’re doing over the next few months. We are looking forward to a big festival in our hometown in Tempe, Arizona that we’re going to be performing at called the Innings Festival that’s happening in February. We’ll be on the bill with Sheryl Crow and the Dave Matthews Band, it’s ballooned into a significant event. We played at the very first one and now it spans two days and they have a lot of major artists.