The Gin Blossoms singer/guitarist Robin Wilson says the “Follow You Down” band usually stays away from politics.
“I got in trouble with a couple of my bandmates because I put up a political post on our Instagram page last year,” says Wilson, who has lived in Valley Stream for nearly two decades, even though the band is still linked to Arizona. “It was a quote from the senator of Arizona, Senator John McCain, and he was railing about President Trump in Helsinki… And I thought I could put up something that I agreed with that was coming from a real credible Republican source. But a couple of my bandmates just flipped out and were very upset. They just don't feel that we should get involved with that… So that's kind of a rule we have. We don't really touch politics generally.”
However, the Gin Blossoms have no problem with headlining the first Mayday Music Festival at Southaven County Park in Yaphank on Saturday, May 11, an event sponsored by the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees created to let people get more information about unions and see how many of their neighbors are union members.
“I think unions in general are a pretty good idea,” says Wilson, adding that he thinks using music to help inform people about social issues can also be helpful.
Dan Levler, president of Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees, says that idea also appealed to the union, which represents about 10,000 active and retired workers.
“We've been working with the Long Island Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO for a while now, talking about a way to open the doors to the public to what the union experience is actually like,” Levler says. “The stuff that grabs attention, it tends to be the conflicts, when a labor union isn't getting along with a contract or management for some reason. That's the stuff the world hears about. But there's also a better, beautiful community inside of the labor movement on a day-to-day basis – people taking care of people, educating each other and working together to get things done.”
Levler says the focus of the Mayday Music Festival will be the music, with Steve Earle, The Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon, and Jesse Malin also on the bill with Gin Blossoms. And the union will subsidize the festival to keep ticket prices low and also to help raise money for scholarships for union members and their families, as well as Long Island Cares.
“I think this is going to be a good show across the board,” says Levler, adding that the union hopes to make this an annual event. “And we've got a lot of our members in a bunch of these bands. We've got an AME member playing in one band. We've got an AME member's son playing in another.”
Wilson says the Gin Blossoms are looking forward to the show, playing hits from its smash “New Miserable Experience” album and last year’s “Mixed Reality” album. “I’ve always enjoyed playing the hits,” he says. “That's never really gotten old for me. But it's exciting to share the new material. Audiences are just never going to react with the same enthusiasm to a new song, though, no matter how good it is – even if they're familiar with it. They're not going to react with the same enthusiasm that you're going to get from ‘Found Out About You’ and ‘Hey Jealousy.’ We start those songs and all of a sudden there's a hundred phones in the air and you can see the tangible reaction and connection to people have to those songs.”
Wilson says he is still hopeful that people will connect to songs from “Mixed Reality,” which the band recorded with the great Don Dixon and Mitch Easter, best known for their work on the early R.E.M. albums. But even if “Face the Dark” or “Break” don’t match the chart success of “Follow You Down” or other Gin Blossoms hits, he is still happy with them. “Even if nobody had ever heard the record, I still would have been like, ‘Holy (expletive), we really pulled this off’,” Wilson says. “We made a great record that holds up to anything we've ever done in the past. And you know, most groups at this stage in their career don't generally cough up their best album. I was super proud of it. I was hoping that it would achieve a lot commercially, but we're just living in a different time where people don't really buy records.”
In a way, that sentiment fits in well with the theme of the Mayday Music Festival. “Working is an aspect of your life and part of who you are,” says Levler, explaining why the festival was named after the worker’s holiday. “So setting aside a day to say, ‘Hey, we're workers’ is important. We should be proud of ourselves. We should be proud of what we've done for our town or county or state or country. All of that adds up. It makes a difference.”
WHAT Mayday Music Festival
WHEN|WHERE Noon Saturday, May 11, Southaven County Park, Yaphank
INFO $35; 631-589-8400, maydaymusicfestival.com
Making local artists part of the Mayday Music Festival was important to The Suffolk Association of Municipal Employees. Not only are Soundswell, Miles to Dayton and Quarter Horse set to play on the main stage, but there will also be a local stage featuring:
His Boy Elroy (12 p.m.): The New Hyde Park-based party band plays everything from Motown to metal.
Funkin’ A (1:10 p.m.): The horn-driven funk band from Patchogue made its mark with its “Generation Zombie” album.
Martini Garden (2:20 p.m.): Jim and Christine LoPiano lead the blues band from Miller Place are promoting their “Give a Little Love” album.
Cassandra House (3:30 p.m.): The singer-songwriter from Patchogue brings her original take on Americana, including songs from her album “The Roam.”
Easy Chief (4:40 p.m.): The Americana band, including Falco Brothers’ Tom and Pat, have been fixtures on the Long Island scene for years. -- GLENN GAMBOA