It was 25 years ago when two friends from Gainesville, Fla.—Drew Copeland and Ken Block—decided to start a rock band called Sister Hazel, named after a local nun who ran a homeless shelter. They soon added lead guitarist Ryan Newell, bassist Jett Beres and drummer Mark Trojanowski and set off on the road to live their dream.
Sister Hazel has gone on to sell more than 2 million albums and has produced six top 30 singles, including “Change Your Mind,” “Happy” and “Champagne High.”
“We didn’t think we were going to become big stars and make a lot of money; we were in it for the love of the music and have been fortunate to have a career as long as we have had,” says Copeland. “In the early days, I was voted the accountant, and we would hit the road for a couple of weeks and I remember very vividly writing checks for $5 for each band member once the expenses were paid.”
Those checks became a lot bigger as the years went on. Sister Hazel earned a platinum disc with 1997’s “Somewhere More Familiar” and a gold with the follow-up “Fortress.” The band really hit it big and became radio mainstays with their No. 1 song, “All For You,” 20 years ago.
Although the band is still together, Block and Copeland are taking a little break from their bandmates and are touring as a duo in a series of intimate, ‘miss it and miss out’ acoustic shows, called ‘The Ken and Drew Show.’ These are reminiscent of their earlier performance days when they canvassed the club and coffee shop circuit as a duo just starting out.
The pair will be headed to Jammin’ Java on Oct. 26, playing acoustically all the Sister Hazel songs fans have come to love as well as a few “B sides” and deep cuts. There was also new music thrown in.
“Our recordings are kind of snapshots of where we are in life at that time. I think that’s something that people gravitate towards,” Copeland says. “When you go out and try to fill a void and not stay true to yourself, I think people see through that and that can be a turn off. For this band, it’s all about being honest and writing from the heart and that’s how we connect with people and stay relevant.”
Sister Hazel still performs nearly 100 shows each year, although things in the band haven’t always been rosy. Copeland admits that it’s seen its share of conflicts and turmoil.
“I’m not sure how we managed to get through it but we did. Ken and I are the most dominant personalities of the band, and we went through a couple of years that were really rough, but we managed to keep it together and make it through that, and now we are closer than we’ve ever been,” he says. “Four of the five of us are married and have kids and we love what we are doing for a living. If you can make it through that tumultuous time period, it’s very sweet on the other side.”
Copeland credits a big reason for the band’s success is that their songwriting continues to grow and that they stay away from trying to write ‘the flavor of the month song,’ and stay true to themselves. Plus, they make sure to give their fans something special every night they are on stage.
“We love playing live. Those two hours every night on the road is our favorite part of what we do,” he says. “You can always expect an energetic show with a lot of songs that you know and maybe some obscure songs off the different records.”
Sister Hazel is known for their personal approachability and fan-friendly events including being Co-Founders of The Rock Boat, founders of the annual Hazelnut Hang, and for starting their own ‘Lyrics for Life’ charity and raising nearly $1 million for childhood cancer research and family support programs.