In 1997, a five-piece college band from Gainesville named Sister Hazel released the hit single “All For You.” Today, it remains one of the most successful pop-rock songs of all time.
Fast-forward two decades and the band has put out nearly a dozen albums and has performed thousands of shows, the guys are still going strong.
Comprised of original members Ken Block, Jett Beres, Andrew Copeland, Ryan Newell and Mark Trojanowski, Sister Hazel makes its way back to the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall Saturday night to play their old hits and some new tunes.
Compass caught up with Block as he was in Northern Virginia to chat about his Florida roots, more than 20 years on the road and connecting with fans. Here’s part of that conversation.
Compass: The band formed in Gainesville in 1993 while you were all at the University of Florida. Did you get over to this neck of the woods often?
Ken Block: Yeah. When I was a kid, my parents bought a little beach house over in Crescent Beach. We spent a lot of time there. That was my stomping grounds and [its] really where I got the bug to play. My dad was a musician and a phenomenal keyboard player. There were a couple of guys — Pat Murphy, who is a guitar player over in St. Augustine — that showed me my first chords. We’d have these potluck dinners and if anyone had an instrument, they brought it: fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin — anything. I was mesmerized by the singer-songwriters and storytellers, and the way music brought everyone together.
Compass: Sister Hazel still has all five of its original members, which is pretty unique for a band with more than 20 years on the road. What do you attribute that to?
K.B.: I’ve got to tell you, it’s one of the things that I’m most proud of in life. If you think about it, we’re a true five-man democracy. Everyone’s got a say and we talk everything through. It’s not always easy, but it’s what’s worked for us. We had to learn a few things. We were a college band. We were on the road 250-300 days a year traveling around in a van and trailer. We were on the road so much — and that’s where a band either implodes or explodes — and we made it through that time. We love each other. We’re brothers.
Compass: I read that all of the band members share songwriting responsibilities. Tell me a bit about that.
K.B.: We’re a bit old school when it comes to that. We all write. It started out where I was writing the lion’s share, then Drew started writing and, now, all of the guys in the band have become really good writers. There are only so many things you can write about, but we all take different approaches and color it differently. All of us have a slightly different way we write. We write together, we write with friends and we write with outside writers sometimes.
Compass: You have a new EP coming out in February of 2018. What can you tell me about it?
K.B.: We’re basically done with it. We have four [EPs] already mapped out, because we don’t want to wait so long between records like we’d have to with full-length albums. We’re like, “Let’s go in, let’s record, let’s get them out there and show people the music that we’re excited about right now.”
Compass: Do you ever get tired of playing your older hits?
K.B.: We’re one of those bands where people know that we have a bunch of songs and we have a really passionate fan base — they call themselves the “Hazelnuts” — and so, when we play, I always try and look at it from a fan’s perspective, there are eight or nine songs that we have to play. But that still gives us room for half a set or more of songs that we can fill in.
Compass: You are all heavily interactive with your fans on social media and at charity events. Why is that so important to Sister Hazel?
K.B.: When we started the band, we had a couple of things that we felt like we could control: that was, “Try and write songs that you’re proud of, try and put on powerful live shows where people felt that it was money well spent and take care of those people who are coming out and supporting your band.” So we have always been at that front edge of tearing down that wall between artist and fan and making it more of a community.
Sister Hazel will perform with guest Emerson Hart at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, 1050 State Road A1A N., Ponte Vedra Beach. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $32 in advance and $35 the day of the show.
For information, go to pvconcerthall.com.