How Sister Hazel Survived the '90s — And Went Country

“We’ve been making music for a very long time,” says Sister Hazel's bassist.
“We’ve been making music for a very long time,” says Sister Hazel's bassist. Brian Hall Photography

Sister Hazel are like a unicorn. While their contemporaries Eagle-Eye Cherry and Fastball couldn’t survive finding chart-topping success in the ’90s, Sister Hazel have stuck it out.

“We’ve been making music for a very long time,” Jett Beres, bassist, says with a chuckle.

Over 20 years, to be exact. Their popular alternative rock with a touch of Southern sound (think Chris Daughtry circa American Idol) manages to keeps the dedicated fans wanting more. And with the recent release of their 13th album, Lighter in the Dark, Sister Hazel are showing no signs of slowing down.

“We constantly want to stretch ourselves musically,” Beres says of their latest album, which is considered straight-up country — something new for the seasoned band. “But at the end of the day, it’s still Sister Hazel.”
And while a deep love of music is what keeps the Gainesville, Florida, band together, Sister Hazel’s secret to their solidified union may lie in their commitment to their fans and charity work.

“We’ve always embraced our fans and realized that they’re more of a community than anything else,” Beres says. “At a certain point, we realized we needed to do more [for them].”

And more is just what Sister Hazel has done and continues to do for their fans, who refer to themselves as “Hazelnuts.”

In 2000, Sister Hazel created a first-of-its-kind fan experience called Rock Boat, a four-day cruise that allows fans to come together and listen to live music.

“Rock Boat was born out of a necessity we saw within our fan community,” Beres says. “It’s four days at sea of pure music.”

Beres notes that the cruise continues to draw attention every year, with bands including the Barenaked Ladies, Zac Brown Band, and Gavin DeGraw all having performed on Rock Boat.

“We love to just sit around and talk with our fans,” Beres says. “If we didn’t have these types of events, we wouldn’t have a chance to hear some of their amazing stories.”

The most amazing stories the band hears, Beres says, are the ones in which fans describe the impact Sister Hazel’s music had made on their lives.

“Music has the unique power to change somebody’s life trajectory for the better,” Beres says. “Those are the stories that really hit home.”

Another way Sister Hazel finds unity as a band and with their fans is through charity work. Recently, the band completed a 100-mile team relay race for charity called the KEYS100 Ultramarathon.

“It was a cool challenge for us,” Beres says. “We’ve done a lot of things to challenge us, both as a band and as individuals, but never something this physical. We’re still seeing the residual rewards from participating in an event like that.”

But at the end of the day, Beres says, the key to the band’s longevity has to do with them as people, just as much as it has to do with the music.

“It’s not just one thing that has kept us together,” Beres says. “We just have the same core values and views on music, which is key. Family comes first in our band, and music is the core.”

And just like a unicorn, Beres acknowledges that Sister Hazel’s staying power also has a little bit to do with magic.

“It may be hard to hear, but honestly, the other key ingredient to having staying power and success as a band is something you can’t control,” Beres says. “It’s called luck.”

Sister Hazel are scheduled to perform at Crescent Ballroom on Saturday, June 17. For tickets ($22) and details about the 21-and-over show, see the Crescent Ballroom website.

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