Doing any job for 25 years is pretty impressive; maintaining a successful band in a fickle music industry for that long is near-miraculous. But that’s what the Gainesville, Florida, quintet Sister Hazel has managed to do. Long after the appealingly rootsy acoustic-electric rock of its biggest hit single, 1997’s “All for You,” drove its album “… Somewhat More Familiar” to platinum status, Sister Hazel has kept on keepin’ on, touring successfully around the world and holding onto a large fanbase long after its late-’90s contemporaries have faded.
The band has even managed to flourish as an independent act without a major label, releasing albums on its own Croakin’ Poets label and making waves on the country charts with its newest EP, “Water,” without significantly changing its sound to fit a format. It’s a rare band that can say it’s just scored a top-10 hit more than two decades into its career, but that’s what Sister Hazel did when “Water” was released in February.
And the band has continued to challenge itself creatively rather than regurgitating the same old hits every night. “Water” is the first step in an ambitious, conceptual plan.
“We’re planning on putting out four EPs back-to-back as a larger project called ‘Elements’,” says Ryan Newell, Sister Hazel’s lead guitarist. “The first one was called ‘Water.’ The next one [which will be released in September] is ‘Wind.’ It’s something we’ve never done before, which is rare when you’ve been in a band for 25 years.”
Newell adds that the ambitious EP plan is an outgrowth of the band’s desire to get more music out more often. “Instead of doing a big record every three years, we just decided to put out the songs we were writing as often as possible. This seemed like the best way to do it,” he says.
“Water” actually hit the top 10 on the Billboard Country Album charts, which might come as a surprise to Sister Hazel fans who have never considered the band country at all. Newell says that the band has always defied easy genre classification and that the country-radio format has simply moved closer to Sister Hazel’s rootsy-rock sound. Of course, if there is a little more twang in the band’s sound lately, its base of operations is in Nashville, Tennessee, now, so that might have helped.
“I don’t think we made a conscious shift,” Newell says. “Everything we’ve done still has the Sister Hazel sound. The main difference is that we started writing with writers in Nashville, and we record our albums there, and you can’t help but be influenced. We’re still being true to ourselves, but the format we were lumped into for years has disappeared, and most of our listeners have kind of moved over to the country genre. If you listen to country music nowadays, it’s what was on rock radio years ago.”
Regardless of which chart it’s on, a top-10 release is still good news, and Newell says that Sister Hazel, which will perform at the Peace Center’s outdoor TD Stage on Friday, can still command those sales because it’s worked hard over the years to maintain a connection with fans.
“When we decided to start doing this on our own, we also decided to be as accessible as possible to our fans,” he says. “We’ve always wanted to do more than put out songs and go out on the road. We wanted the songs to become part of people’s lives. Throughout the years, we’ve done different events like the Hazelnut Hang, where we get together with our fans at the beach and hang out for a long weekend. We’re very involved with our Lyrics for Life charity [which funds cancer research and patient care facilities], which our fans have really gravitated to. And there’s a really big online community that keeps in touch and makes plans to see shows. We try to be the soundtrack to all of these life experiences that they’re going through.”
The Corona Concert Series presents Sister Hazel
WHEN: Friday, Aug. 3, 8 p.m.
WHERE: TD Stage, 300 S. Main St.
TICKETS: $35, $65
INFO: 864-467-3000, https://www.peacecenter.org/