By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Gilbert High School graduate Ricky Woolstenhulme Jr. could be his hometown’s biggest fan.

The drummer for the multiplatinum band Lifehouse spent years away from the East Valley, living in Los Angeles, until last year when he returned to Gilbert.

“It’s super awesome,” Woolstenhulme said via telephone from a tour stop in Chicago. “I’m a fan. I literally live a mile from my high school.”

Woolstenhulme and his bandmates – singer/guitarist Jason Wade and bassist/vocalist Bryce Soderberg – are coming to the Valley on Thursday, Sept. 7, to play The Van Buren with Switchfoot. The tour supports “Lifehouse: Greatest Hits,” which hit stores July 14.

The 18-track album includes a variety of hits, “You and Me,” “First Time,” “Halfway Gone,” “Hurricane” and “Hanging by a Moment,” which was the most-played radio track of 2001. Since 2000, Lifehouse has released seven albums that have cumulatively sold 15 million units around the world.

After the U.S. tour wraps up on Sept. 10, Lifehouse will head to Australia to play a handful of shows with the recently reunited Live.

Woolstenhulme has thought about life beyond Lifehouse, however.

“My plan in the next little while is to open my own cocktail bar with a small menu in Gilbert,” Woolstenhulme said. “I’m working on that now, but I have to wrap the tour up before I move into food and drink.

“Gilbert is my favorite. I was so surprised when I moved back. When I left, it was all farmland. When I moved back, I was like, ‘Wow.’ Downtown Gilbert has transformed, and so many cool things are going on.”

When he talks about the Valley, he sounds like a food and drink aficionado.

“I’m super, super into food, beer and cocktails,” he said. “I love downtown Gilbert. Liberty Market is a great spot to have wine and food. Crudo in Phoenix and Beckett’s Table are my other favorites. If we’re talking cocktails, Undertow is great. It’s an underground hidden cocktail bar where you feel like you’re in a 10-seater pirate ship.”

When he’s not on tour, he’s honing his F&B chops with James Johnston as a prep chef for Fire and Brimstone at Barnone.

“I figured if I was going to open a spot, I should learn from the best,” he said. “Just being a cook at home is one thing, but doing it on a grand scale is definitely different. It’s an amazing experience. James is great for letting this rock drummer come in and cut stuff.”

Owning a restaurant/cocktail bar wasn’t Woolstenhulme’s only dream. He thanks his parents for letting him play the drums “all day in my house” while growing up in Gilbert.

He took private lessons throughout his time at Gilbert High, and decided to pursue entertainment at the Los Angeles Music Academy after graduating in 1998. He met Wade while in Los Angeles nearly 18 years ago.

“We’ve been making records and touring the world since,” he said. “And we’re still able to do it currently.”

Woolstenhulme admitted he’s amazed at his band’s success. He loves to hear stories from fans about how Lifehouse’s songs have moved them, or that “You and Me” was their wedding song.

“The goal is to be able to make music that somehow connects with people,” he said. “Luckily, we have a handful of songs that make that thing happen. We’re very, very fortunate and happy that we do this for a living. It’s definitely a blast and we’re having a great time doing it.”