The platinum-selling alternative rock band Sister Hazel will perform at The Arts Campus at Willits (TACAW) on Friday, Nov. 3.
In a recent telephone interview with The Sopris Sun, Ryan Newell, Sister Hazel’s long-time rhythm and slide guitarist, said their current U.S. tour is “upwards of about 100 shows.”
The band, founded in 1993 by lead vocalist and guitarist Ken Block, met while attending the University of Florida in Gainesville. While all band members have college degrees, “Being members of Sister Hazel is the only, quote-unquote, real job that all of us have ever had,” Newell said with a laugh.
The band’s namesake — Dr. Hazel K. Williams, known as “Sister Hazel” — founded Angel of Mercy ministry in Gainesville and advocated for the homeless and poor until she died in 2016 at 91.
In 2002, Block and bandmates founded Sister Hazel’s Lyrics for Life Foundation, a pediatric cancer charity created in memory of Block’s younger brother, Jeffrey, who, after a four-year battle with cancer, died at age 18.
The nonprofit organization collaborates with the Gainesville-based Stop Children’s Cancer, Inc., for which Lyrics’ events “have raised a million dollars,” Newell stated.
“An Evening of Making Music Matter” is an annual benefit fundraiser that has featured performances from musical guests, including Darius Rucker, Edward McCain and Emerson Hart of the band Tonic. The band also hosts an annual three-day “Camp Hazelnut” event for kids and families navigating the challenges of a cancer diagnosis.
Following in the footsteps of the inspirational Sister Hazel Williams, Newell said, “It feels great when we can give back. We finally are lucky enough to have a platform to make a difference, and if we didn’t do it we’d feel like it’d be a wasted opportunity.”
When asked about the band’s longevity in today’s trend-driven music industry, Newell explained, “First and foremost, luck was involved because we like each other and are genuinely friends. We like to hang out with one another. It’s more than just that we make a good sound together. I know a lot of bands where the musical chemistry is there, but they don’t like each other.”
Another factor Newell cites is that they respect one another’s opinions. “It’s just like a marriage — you have to learn how to pick your battles. When we were younger, we used to fight over everything, and sometimes over ridiculous things, because we were so passionate. But through the years, we realized when to sit out, like, ‘I’m gonna sit this one out, because someone else in the band seems passionate about it. I’m just gonna let them run with it.’ We give everyone their moment.”
The most revelatory moment in the interview came when Newell talked about the humor bandmates share.
“This almost sounds silly, but one of the biggest reasons we’ve stayed together for so long is we all share the same sense of humor. We laugh at the same things, and there’s a lot of humor in this band, and we’re laughing all the time … I laugh a certain way with these guys in the band that I don’t laugh [like] in any other part of my life. There’s a lot of laughter — It’s like my therapy.”
At TACAW, you can expect to hear some new Sister Hazel music from an upcoming album, including the recently released single, “Coconut Trees.”
Newell said the new album will take listeners back to the immersive listening experience that has become somewhat lost in today’s land of playlists.
“Today, a lot of people don’t listen to music, from an album perspective, from beginning to end, but we still very much try to make records that make sense from song to song and an album that you can play all the way to the end and it actually makes sense — it takes you on a journey,” Newell said.
Doors open at 7pm, and performances begin at 8pm for the standing-room, 21-plus show with opening act, and Colorado-raised country artist, Buckstein. Tickets can be purchased at www.tacaw.org