For more than 20 years, Sister Hazel has churned out albums, toured the world, hosted unique events and dented the Billboard charts with their own particular rock ’n’ roll, and all with the same core group of musicians.
They’ll bring the music from throughout the years to Savannah’s Stage on Bay on April 14.
It’s a rare feat in the rock world for a band of musicians to stay together for such a long time, as success (or lack of) often drives wedges in relationships. But the five Gainesville, Fla., boys (Ken Block, Jett Beres, Andrew Copeland, Ryan Newell and Mark Trojanowski) have put in the hard work to ensure a continuing creative process, through mutual respect, collaboration and constant reminders that their job is just a lot of fun.
“There were certainly some growing pains,” Block said. “You’re trying to figure out who you are and where you fit in the band. We had a lot of things we had to navigate with that. At that point, when a lot of bands either implode or explode, we kind of regrouped and refocused on things and developed even more of a respect for each other.”
Sister Hazel earned national acclaim with their second studio album, “Somewhere More Familiar,” which was released in 1997 and garnered them a contract with Universal Records. The band’s most popular single, “All For You,” soared to No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helped turned the album into a platinum-selling record in the U.S.
Since the beginning, though, Sister Hazel’s music has been hard to properly categorize. Influenced heavily by fellow hometown acts Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers Band, Sister Hazel was lumped into the alternative rock genre, although they have always pulled equally from country music influences.
“All For You” became one of those mid-1990s staple songs that along with other Southeastern-based bands, like South Carolina’s Hootie & the Blowfish, Georgia’s Collective Soul and Louisiana’s Better Than Ezra, helped shape college radio at the time.
Over the years, part of the band’s strength in unity has been an increasingly collaborative effort in what Block calls a “five-man democracy.” For their ninth studio album, “Lighter in the Dark,” that collaborative effort took center stage with a more country sound.
“There’s no doubt that we’re one of those bands that’s always blurred the line,” Block said. “It’s always been hard when people ask what kind of band we are. I don’t know, man. We’re a rock band; we have southern, country elements. We try to serve the song. All of those things come really naturally to us. We’ve never forced anything. We just try to make good records.
“This time, we definitely leaned into that side [country] of who we are a little bit. I think if you look at southern rock, country and Americana right now, that lane has gotten a little bit wider. Rock has gotten a little bit narrower.”
From the onset of Sister Hazel, Block typically handled most of the songwriting with the other members writing around him. On their latest effort, though, every member sings lead at some point and several different members have songwriting credits in the liner notes.
“I think with each record, everyone began to write more,” Block said. “I began to let go of some of that. Everyone has come into their own as writers and performers and creative entities. It allowed us to evolve and move forward to where we have sort of a different tone in things and different perspective on things.”
Before they were rock stars, Sister Hazel and other college radio bands would tour the Southeast and play in a lot of the same venues, sometimes together. The bands formed long-lasting friendships, which have turned into outside collaborations.
Darius Rucker, frontman for Hootie & the Blowfish, catapulted back into a national spotlight with 2009’s “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” which debuted at No. 51 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs and eventually earned him a Country Music Association New Artist of the Year award. He became the first African-American to win the award.
Rucker, Barry Dean and Copeland were working on a couple of songs together in Rucker’s Charleston home at one point. Block heard a demo of “Karaoke Song” and immediately wanted to put it on the band’s ninth album. He asked Rucker to join the group for their first in-studio collaboration.
“We’ve been friends since we were all in bands and trailers traveling all over the Southeast, playing together in pubs and coffeehouses,” Block said of Rucker. “We all cut our teeth in the same venues. We were both kind of college bands in the Southeast. It’s really nice to have guys that have been on this journey together.
“We appreciate each other as friends first. Then you look around and say my buddy’s a pretty good songwriter and singer. Perhaps we should collaborate together every once in a while.”
For their stop in Savannah, Sister Hazel will tap into their entire discography, making sure to share the hits, as well as the new material.
“How many people can say they’ve made a living for over two decades doing what they love and making new fans and playing to people that are singing along?” Block asked. “We’re extremely grateful. Our mission every time we play is that people leave there feeling just a little bit better than when they got there.”
IF YOU GO
What: Sister Hazel
When: 7 p.m. April 14
Where: The Stage on Bay, 1200 W. Bay St.