Hazelnut Hang looks back to the past

Sister Hazel

Sister Hazel appears to be at a proverbial fork in the road.

After leaving the Universal label in 2003, the band is contemplating a return to a major label, and at a recent show in Nashville, Tenn., the head of their management company called them “the next great country band.”

This weekend, however, the band and fans will mostly live in the past.

Sister Hazel’s annual Hazelnut Hang kicks off Friday at The Windjammer on the Isle of Palms. As in previous years, the band has planned fun and interactive festivities in addition to a plethora of music, but with a twist this time: the entire weekend will have a ’70s theme, including a disco costume party for the Sound Check Party and the VIP set.

While they play around 100 concerts per year all across the country, the band said the annual Hazelnut Hang at The Windjammer is the highlight of the year.

Jett Beres, the band’s bass player, told Charleston Scene the event is “a weekend vacation where we get to play music rather than it being a job.”

As in previous years, Sister Hazel will play an acoustic set Sunday. For the VIP set, the band will play seven classic songs from the ’70s, such as the Bee Gee’s “Staying Alive” and The Knack’s “My Sharona.” The band also plans to preview seven songs from its upcoming album.

Sister Hazel hopes to release a new album this year, and Beres said they could start recording over the summer.

The band quickly released two albums back to back in 2009 and 2010. Beres said, “We had creative overflow and kept writing through the production of the albums and on tour. For this one, we wanted to take our time and hunker down and explore new things.”

As with “Heartland Highway,” band members continued to write with outside songwriters and musicians.

“We don’t want to be stagnant ... We’re blessed that we have our own sound and no matter what style or groove, it’s still distinctly Sister Hazel” Beres said.

“We’ll have a full spectrum of new material, and the grouping of songs will depend on the band’s label decision,” Beres added.

If the band chooses the major-label route, Beres said, in contrast to their recent self-produced albums, they will actively pursue an outside producer, as they want to break new ground sonically, and “it would be fun to have someone take the reigns.”

Beres, however, was emphatic in stating, “Integrity is No. 1, and this has sustained and protected the band for 15 years, and the label won’t change this. We will have to see the end-game before signing any contract. We don’t live and die by a label or radio, but if right, it can be big for the band and we are fortunate to be able to pick and choose.”

He said the band has been on both sides and seen it all, but for national support and radio potential, major-label support is required.

As for the band’s management “country band” comment, Beres said, “We’ve been a band without genre or creative limits, and our last two albums reflected our Southern rock roots with early (Tom) Petty, early Eagles and Allman Brothers and a vibe of country intertwined. As the country and pop worlds increasingly overlap, Sister Hazel is a band that can exist in both worlds. So we’re open to crossing over to country radio without losing our heritage.”

Don’t get too distressed. The new songs previewed at the recent Nashville concert reflect more of an evolution forward from the last two albums rather than any extreme country-music transformation. New songs include “Karaoke,” a Jimmy Buffett-like fun song brought about by the crew joking with lead singer Ken Block, volunteering him to sing “All for You” at a karaoke bar. “Almost Broken” is a ballad on not wanting to say goodbye. Four of the songs do have a more country vibe: “Whirlwind Girl”; “The Prettiest Girl,” where Ryan Newell plays the lead flat on his lap like a steel guitar; and “Take it With Me” and “Roll on By” include a banjo. The Eagles influence is heard on “This Kind of Love” and the Beres-written song, “The Road,” which opens a cappella and includes four-part harmonies.

The Hazelnut Hang event is not all music, and other weekend activities with the band include a Q&A session, cornhole, a “Price Is Right” game, board games such as Connect Four and Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots, a barbecue, a sandcastle-building contest and more.