By Mark A. Leon
There is a very human side of music built on the relationship between musician and fan. When the symmetry of musical appreciation, art, emotion and genuine admiration come together you have the 23-year career of one of the most respected Southern bands of the modern musical genre, Sister Hazel. From the most recognizable song nationally with “All for You” to pioneering annual rock cruises, Sister Hazel continues to reinvent themselves with the sole purpose of giving back to the fans.
This weekend, The Windjammer will be hosting Sister Hazel as they perform three shows and a series of special VIP events for the loyal Hazelnuts and Lowcountry fans performing songs from an over two-decade musical library.
Sister Hazel holds a very close personal relationship with Charleston. Playing gigs at the Music Farm and The Windjammer early in their career and harnessing brotherly relationships with Darius and the Hootie boys, NeedtoBreathe and Edwin McCain, Drew describes the Lowcountry as a second home. “Bobby Ross has always been very kind to us.” (The Windjammer). We have known Hootie from back in the early 90’s. We all came up in the same circles. Those guys are like brothers. We have stayed close for 20 plus years. There was never any competition between us. The memories we have built coming through Charleston and the way the fans in the Carolinas treat us has made this a second home for us. It is very familiar to us. We are treated like family.”
I had a chance to sit down with founding member Andrew “Drew” Copeland about their career, importance of the fans and their upcoming weekend in Charleston.
CD: 23 Years Together: What have you learned from one another about life, music, family and fan loyalty?
AC: I’ll tell ya. The lessons from being in a band with four other guys for this long and the tools you gain are immeasurable. There is no hierarchy. We all respect each other. We all have an equal say. Over time, we have had the ability to prioritize things and determine what is important in life. If someone is passionate about something, we take it seriously. This has affected how we make business and life decisions over the 23 years together. No one can appreciate all you have been through more than the four guys you have spent so many years with. We have had a crazy life. In fact, Ken and I have been performing together for 26 years now. We have been co-dependent on each other. There is no closer definition of brotherhood.
CD: Dr. Hazel K. Williams, the woman behind your namesake passed away last year at age 91. What did she mean to you all you.
AC: She was a female minister who dedicated her life to the ministries that reached out to the less fortunate. She reached out to all that needed help regardless of race, religion or background. Ken spoke at her funeral and over the years we always donated money to her causes. She was special and selfless.
When the band formed, we were looking for a name. Ken felt Hazel represented acceptance of all and that is what he wanted the music to be. Ken wanted to create songs that all music fans could relate to and appreciate and she was the embodiment of that.
When she returned from missionary work in Belize and Haiti, she saw our name on billboards in Gainesville and reached out to us. After speaking to us, she said, if you accept all and don’t speak ill of anyone, I am happy to let you use my name for the band. To this day, it has stuck.
CD: Tell me more about the Rock Cruises from concept to reality and what do you want the fans to take away from the experience?
AC: Way back, about 18 years ago, we wanted to find a way to thank our fans for being so supportive. We wanted to give them special shows and spent time with them and what better way than a cruise with live music and interaction. In our first year, we reserved only 200 cabins, not even the whole boat. It went so well, we chartered the entire ship the next year. For the first few years, I was even writing checks after we docked to cover some of the costs. Our former manager, Andrew Levine spearheaded these cruises and since then, Sixth Man Productions, led by Andrew has coordinated similar cruises for Zach Brown, Kid Rock and Kiss.
Over the years, we have played with Collective Soul, Gavin Rossdale, Tonic and NeedtoBreathe to name just a few. In a way, we pioneered a genre of music and fan appreciation.
CD: I understand you perform barefoot. Is that a lifestyle choice or just a little bit about your attitude about life?
AC: I think it is both. I grew up in Florida. I was one of many kids that loved walking around barefoot. When Ken and I started out playing together we played beach clubs and patio bars. We would show up in shorts, t-shirts and flip flops. We kicked off our flip flops and played. When the band started to take off with more success, I just kept doing it. It felt good and it was a bit of a superstition.
CD: How was it superstitious?
AC: In 1993 we formed the band, in 1996, we signed with our first major label and then after that, I felt like things couldn’t change.
CD: Hazelnuts: Tell me more about the origins of this following? (For those that do not know, the Hazelnuts are the true, unconditional, devoted fan base of Sister Hazel. Much like the “Parrotheads” and “Deadheads”, these fans are dedicated to the love of the music and the band)
AC: They are self-dubbed fans. Super loyal fans. They have come together for the love of music. They are passionate about the band and all music. For that we are indebted. These fans love music and everything about it.
CD: I have some personal favorites including “Champagne High” and “Right One for Me”. What are Andrew’s top 5 Sister Hazel songs?
AC: Those can vary from night to night depending on the mood, but I will always be thankful for “All for You.” I have nothing but love for the song and all that it has given us over the years. It is still such an important part of who we are and what we have become.
CD: Being born and bred in the area that gave us Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, what has contributed to your longevity and the relationship you have built with your fans?
AC: I think it is that we are appreciative. We don’t feel entitled. We have been surrounded by good people in our lives that has kept us grounded. We take a lot of pride in the accessibility of our fans being able to connect to us and the music.
CD: Has the induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame crossed your minds now that you are 2 years away from eligibility?
AC: No, we haven’t thought about it, but that would be the most incredible thing to ever happen to us. That is mind numbing to even think about. I have never considered it as an option for us, but it would be remarkable if it did.
What started as two guys playing guitar and singing a few riffs of The Eagles during a 1991 tailgate party before a Florida Tennessee Football game have become a 26-year journey filled with heart, dedication and musical poetry. Exposing the vulnerability of relationships and love and celebrating life has been the cornerstone of a career that is showing no signs of slowing down.
“And for the million hours that we were
Well I’ll smile and remember it all
Then I’ll turn and go
While your story’s completed mine is a long way from done.” – Champagne High
We look forward to the next million hours together.
As you watch Ken, Andrew, Ryan, Jett and Mark perform some of their classic hits and new songs, you will see a level of brotherhood you rarely find in life and that bond has extended to fans around the world.
Welcome back to Charleston.