With its sweet melody and sincere lyrics, Sister Hazel’s 1997 hit song “All For You” is an unforgettable tune that makes you smile and sing along every time.

Since then, Sister Hazel has built a catalog of nine studio albums and four live records, each teeming with the group’s honesty in songwriting, polished instrumentation, and harmonies that stick with us. It has been two decades and the band continues to grow its Lyrics For Life charity, host fan gatherings, and tour regularly, with a show at the Chapel in San Francisco on September 7, 2017.

What also persists is an undeniable Sister Hazel sentimentality. Genuine heart and soul spill from this band of friends as seen in their music, live performances, and charitable efforts. It has endeared them to dedicated fans, called the Hazelnuts.

Sister Hazel’s latest album, Lighter In The Dark, released in February 2016, reflects the group’s history together as well as members’ individual life changes.

Lighter in the Dark is about us finding our path after being a band for over 20 years,” said bass player Jett Beres. “It’s not an easy thing to navigate, which is why it took us five years between records. We wanted this record to be a true snapshot of who we are as songwriters, but also as touring musicians, husbands, fathers – basically who the five of us are, both inside and outside of Sister Hazel.”

The 14-track album presents several milestones for Sister Hazel. Recorded in Nashville, it highlights the band’s ties to Music City, which date back to 2005. It was produced by the band’s longtime engineer Chip Matthews, marking his first time in this lead role.

Plus, it includes notable collaborations. Lead single “We Got It All Tonight” was written by Music Row staples Chris Destefano, Ashley Gorley, and 2015 BMI Songwriter of the Year Rodney Clawson.

Lighter In The Dark also embodies the band’s commitment to work together while celebrating individual contributions, as many members have solo songwriting credits. Lead singer and guitarist Ken Block wrote “Kiss Me Without Whiskey,” guitarist Ryan Newell wrote “Thoroughbred Heart,” and Beres wrote “Ten Candle Days.” This tune marks the first time Beres has sung lead vocals on a Sister Hazel track.

“The nice thing about Sister Hazel is that everyone in the band is capable and has written great songs,” Beres said. “There’s never a shortage of material to sift through. We did co-write more on this record than in the past, I think mostly because we wanted to expand our songwriting chops.”

“I’d say our music has evolved in some ways. Our songwriting reflects where we are in our lives which is very different from when we started this train a-rollin’,” Beres explained.

Guitarist Andrew Copeland co-wrote eight songs on Lighter In The Dark.

“Drew got a chance to write with our friend Darius Rucker on a song called ‘Karaoke Song,’ which Darius also sang on. We go way back with the Hootie guys,” Beres said. “We connected with some great writers in Nashville like Billy Montana (on) ‘Run Highway Run’ and Barry Dean (on) ‘Almost Broken,’ who just seemed to be able to fit right in as if we’d been writing together for our whole career.”

Though the band has a distinct sound, Sister Hazel’s music has eluded specific classification. It has been called alternative rock, folk, pop, classic rock, Southern rock, and a fusion of them all. Band members cite backgrounds in jazz and blues and name diverse musical influences from the Allman Brothers to the Indigo Girls to the Eagles.

“I think we went back to our Gainesville roots on this and interestingly enough it landed us in a ‘country crossover’ sound. I don’t think we’ve ever fit neatly into one category, which we’ve come to appreciate through the years, and so have our fans,” Beres said. “We’re always going to sound like Sister Hazel when we get behind our instruments. I think the biggest compliment I get is when someone can’t classify our band and just says, ‘well it just sounds like Sister Hazel.’”

The band formed in Gainesville, Florida in 1993, with its name inspired by Sister Hazel Williams, a Baptist minister known for her humanitarian work in the area.

“We took her name to represent a spirit of giving and unconditional regard with our music,” Beres said. “She requested our presence at a giant Southern Baptist revival so her congregation could meet us. … She gave us her blessing and off we went carrying her name and spirit with us in our music and our philanthropic efforts. It’s a big part of who we are and what we represent.”

Sister Hazel released its debut self-titled album in 1994. Three years later, the group’s second album, …Somewhere More Familiar, came out with the single “All For You,” which hit No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and ultimately got the band signed to Universal Records. Fortress, released in 2000, saw charting hits “Change Your Mind” and “Champagne High.” The band split with Universal by 2003. Sister Hazel went on to release six more studio albums.

Over the years, the band has fostered a lasting connection with loyal listeners, prompting the group to host interactive fan events including the Rock Boat, the Rock Slope, and the Hazelnut Hang.

Following in the philanthropic footsteps of its namesake, the band founded Lyrics For Life in memory of Block’s younger brother Jeffrey, who as a teen lost his four-year battle with cancer. The nonprofit works to make a difference in the fight against pediatric cancer and supports Camp Hazelnut, a safe and uplifting experience for children and families navigating the challenges of a cancer diagnosis.

Catch these alternative radio classics at the Chapel next week.

To enter for a chance to win tickets to see Sister Hazel at the Chapel on September 7, email contest@thebaybridged.com with “Sister Hazel” in the subject line and your full name in the body of the email. A winner will be selected at random and notified via email.

Sister Hazel
The Chapel
September 7, 2017
8:30pm, $23