Sister Hazel has made its magic number 20 this year, especially with the release of a live double CD/vinyl LP and DVD to celebrate two decades of making music and memories for fans and themselves.
Fresh off the release this month of its “20 Stages” album and DVD on the Rock Ridge Music label, the pop rock quintet, named in honor of a missionary in their hometown of Gainesville, Fla., will play Friday at House of Blues in North Myrtle Beach.
The lead guitarist, Ryan Newell, called Monday after Sister Hazel’s annual tradition of entertaining at a wine and food festival at Disney’s Epcot Center.
Newell summed up “20 Stages” as “kind of a live show documentary,” with 20 songs recorded from concerts last year in 20 different venues, spanning 10 states as well as Washington, D.C., the Bahamas, Honduras and a cruise ship. The Carolinas cornered three spots on the roster, with “World Inside My Head” from The Windjammer on Isle of Palms, near Mount Pleasant; “Roll on Bye” from Ziggy’s in Winston-Salem, N.C.; and “This Kind of Love,” from the Sarah Graham Kenan Auditorium at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.
Several songs were recorded at every venue, then “we picked one we thought turned out best” from each show. With each number, bandmates took turns in jotting liner notes for the album and DVD.
Newell realized the “mixed opinions” people might have at learning the background of each song, because the roots might take a different direction than the memories fans have bookmarked in their minds for certain melodies. Yet, it helps tell more of the story for each tune for the listener.
“This is definitely a fan-driven album,” Newell said of this grand gift that bassist Jett Beres coordinated. “Jett actually did the lion’s share of editing, and he basically produced the whole thing. I actually mixed it, and he did the video editing.”
Newell also lauded Beres for connecting with GoPro for the cameras and rigging, putting lenses on “our instruments and hanging from the ceilings” in each place, with footage from video camera personnel in various spots.
With the angles afforded by the GoPro lenses, Beres “had the usual manual out, and that’s how it started,” said Newell, who appreciated the “learning process” of mixing the final recordings in the studio, his first time with that task.
The teamwork also included singer Ken Block, guitarist/singer Andrew Copeland and drummer Mark Trojanowski, for the video takes were shown to each person in the group and to other people, Newell said, grateful for the year spent in putting “20 Stages” together.
Newell, who resides in the nation’s capital after 15 years in Atlanta, said the bandmates live “all over the map,” so this project, like the 100 concerts they perform annually, made for more quality time, to reflect and look ahead to new ventures.
“You look at the music industry,” Newell said, “and it’s almost unheard for a band to be together with all the original members, let alone for 20 years.”
The longevity has let the group learn “so much more than what we were taking for granted,” Newell said.
“Writing and playing music you love” have remained “first and foremost” in Sister Hazel’s purpose, he said.
‘We’re like brothers’
“We’re like brothers,” Newell said about always working out obligations and intricacies for harmony and musical translation. “It’s such a cliche, but we’re really married to each other. We know which buttons to push and which buttons not to push. We all share the same sense of humor. We’re like brothers, and we’ve been through a lot.”
The group, which founded Lyrics for Life (203-789-1608 or www.campuscustoms.com) to assist in the battle against pediatric cancer, stays active in charity. This past year with Feed the Children (405-942-0228, 800-627-4556 or www.feedthechildren.org), the band helped raise funds for building a feeding center in a Honduran community and to add the means to supply clean drinking water there.
Sister Hazel also will sail on its 15th Rock Boat cruise, already sold out for late January, welcoming about 30 other acts, including Barenaked Ladies and Michael Franti & Spearhead. Newell said in starting this annual voyage in 2001, Sister Hazel never had heard of another band embarking on this kind of vacation to celebrate with fans.
“We took a big chance,” he said. “We chartered the boat and took the risk. We actually lost money for years on that, but we believed in it. It caught on, and it’s sold out in a week now.
“We bring on tons of good bands, and we always like to say, ‘You’ll find your next favorite bands on the Rock Boats.’”
Besides the showcase for fans, Newell said that “bands sit in with one another.”
Newell said such excursions fill “a void” because fans “want more from their bands.”
“They don’t want to just go to shows,” he said, “where two hours come and go, then they wait for them to come back. They want to be a part of the scene, the lifestyle and the whole vibe.”
‘Feel like family to us’
Newell said making their trails in cities and festivals across the Southeast, “where we came up” and started “in a rented van or trailer, playing clubs way back when, we still see some of the same people who were going to shows all the way back then.”
“It definitely feels like in every town we’ve been playing in for that long,” Newell said, including the Grand Strand, “we’re blessed to have a ton of people who feel like family to us.”
Asked about the frequency of folks and “Hazelnuts” who chronicle their college years with certain Sister Hazel songs such as “All for You” from 1997, Newell said he relates to that pivotal era in a person’s life.
“When you’re in college, you’re making all kinds of life decisions on what to do the rest of your life,” he said, “and you’re starting what you’re going to listen to for the rest of your life.”
Newell said Sister Hazel always has tried “to keep a foot in the door” to resonate with students in “the college scene” and for everyone whom the band has added to “a soundtrack of memories.”
“Age is relative,” he said. “You’re not older, really; just wiser.”