Hazelnut Hang Sister Hazel celebrates 20 years with the Hazelnuts

Sister Hazel

Few bands can boast of two decades of existence, much less continuity with no hiatuses or temporary breaks.

Sister Hazel, formed in 1993 at the University of Florida, will celebrate its 20th year with its most rabid fans, dubbed Hazelnuts, at the eighth annual Hazelnut Hang this weekend at The Windjammer on the Isle of Palms.

Sister Hazel released a concert and behind-the-scenes DVD in its 10th year.

For the 20th anniversary, beginning earlier this year in Athens, Ga., the band is filming shows at its 20 favorite venues, and the DVD will feature 20 songs.

As the DVD will be fan-oriented, the band will highlight the Hazelnut Hang weekend.

Bassist Jett Beres calls the Hazelnut Hang the band’s annual vacation weekend where they still get to play music for the fans.

Held every year at The Windjammer, the event evolved naturally as the band built up a following in Charleston and already was performing three days of shows; the members wanted to do something more intimate than their Rockboat event, which includes numerous bands.

“It goes back to our van-with-a-trailer days when we toured as far as we could afford the gas. Charleston was at the edge of this range. We couldn’t secure a gig, but an opening band canceled and we knew the headline act. We fell for the city and have loved playing here ever since,” Beres said.

With prior themes of birds, Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors” album and last year’s ’70s focus, the band named this year’s VIP set “Double Wide — Southern Fired.”

And fear not Carolina Gamecock and Georgia Bulldog fans, Molly Hatchet’s “Gator Country” is not on the playlist, as the set will consist exclusively of Lynyrd Skynyrd songs.

Beres jokingly bemoaned, “Come on, ‘Gator in the bushes, he’s calling my name,’ gotta love it,” but said it was “just awesome to learn the Skynyrd songs and licks. “We look forward to the unique set each year. It is one and done as we retire it and won’t play it again.”

As the Hazelnut Hang is not simply a music fest, the band participates in numerous interactive events with fans. Though this year, the members decided to take a break from prior year’s popular sand castle competition, replacing it with a belly-flop contest.

Among the band members, Beres predicts an upset with lead singer Ken Block’s enthusiasm and determination overcoming guitarist Andrew Copeland’s size advantage.

Also new this year is a swap meet for Friday’s Sound Check party. Fans can trade Sister Hazel memorabilia, and Beres hinted the band will be bringing new and unusual items.

At this time last year, the band was in the process of deciding whether to sign with a major record label. While progress has been made, the process continues.

According to Beres, there is a good chance Sister Hazel will sign with a major label, but he also hedges that there are other avenues if it does not.

“We’ve seen behind the curtain and we know what works and what doesn’t for a seasoned band,” he said, adding, “The labels are enthusiastic and they see a void that our songs fill, but it’s also not a perfect fit for either party and we are who we are and we’re not going to change.”

Beres stated they are beyond ready to release a new album. “Our writing has stepped up, and we are excited to cross over. Our music touches numerous genres: Americana, pop, country, college, adult and alternative.”

The band has worked up more than 70 songs during the past two years, regularly playing eight live.

They were recently in Los Angeles recording a few tracks with a producer “who gets us and can take the reins.”

The band expects everything will fall into place shortly, which will lead the band and music to a new level while still remaining distinctively Sister Hazel.

Now with families, the band members are more aware of their time away from home and consciously limit their show dates to 85 to 100 per year.

“If we do sign with a major record label, we realize there will need to be increased promotion efforts and more sacrifices to cover the country, not to mention we haven’t traveled abroad extensively in a long time,” Beres said.

While the members have a plethora of material for their upcoming album, and they have continued to write among themselves and with collaborations outside the band, they plan a beach-writing session in Florida later this year.

“We’ll be in lockdown, and I’m really excited. We’ll come in with blank sheets of paper. ... We haven’t done this in a long time,” he said.

The band’s name is eponymous with philanthropy as it is named after Sister Hazel Williams, a nun who ran a homeless shelter in Gainesville, Fla.

This year, in addition to Block’s Lyrics for Life charity for pediatric cancer, the band is focusing on Feed the Children’s Be the One initiative.

The band members traveled to Honduras and met their own sponsored kids and are challenging fans and the Hazelnuts to sponsor the rest of the 350 kids in the Los Laureles community.

Once accomplished, the band plans to go with a handful of fans to establish a water supply for the village.

“After seeing the conditions firsthand and meeting the individual children, it wasn’t a matter of deciding whether or not to get involved. It was something we had to do,” said Copeland.

“We wanted to make a meaningful difference into a specific cause and focus our efforts,” Beres added.