Sister Hazel's Drew Copeland on Hank Williams Jr., Disney, and Beerfest

​Sister Hazel's 1997 hit "All for You" is still reverberating in the back corners of our collective consciousness. For many folks, though, that's where ties to the band end. What those folks may not be aware of is that the Gainesville product is a very different creature than that poppy anthem lets on. The guys tour constantly and have released nine albums since their rock radio breakthrough in the '90s, including a pair in the past three years -- 2009's Release and 2010's Heartland Highway.

Today's Sister Hazel features more of a Southern, jam-band vibe with a legion of devoted fans called "Hazelnuts" who pay attention to set lists, trade bootlegged recordings, and flock to see the band on land and sea. They play festivals -- their own is called "Hazelnut Hang"-- and for 12 years running, they've hosted Rock Boat, which was one of the pioneer "floating festival" music cruises.

Recently, when many NFL fans tuned into Monday Night Football expecting to hear Hank Williams Jr. belt out his signature "Are you ready for some football?" line, they instead were treated to Sister Hazel's Ken Block and Andrew Copeland singing the national anthem. ESPN had pulled Williams' intro -- and broke ties with him permanently -- after he made a comment comparing Barak Obama to Adolf Hitler on Fox News.

Sister Hazel headlines the 14th running of New Times' Beerfest on Saturday. Ahead of that gig, we chatted with Copeland about cruising, singing for 16 million people, and potentially playing a Disney-hosted magic mushroom festival in the future. 

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County Grind: Hey man, so you're coming to play Fort Lauderdale, where people love cruises. You have one, eh?

Drew Copeland: We've been doing our floating music festival, called the Rock Boat, for 12 years now. Back when we started ours, Andy Levine was our manager. After a few years of doing the cruises, he came to us and said, "I kinda want to turn the management side of things over to someone and just run the event." Since then, he's turned it into the floating festivals. He's done Kid Rock, Kiss, 311...

How important is it for a band to have their own cruise in this day and age?

Umm, it all depends on your fan base. If you've got a fan base that is turned on by something
like that, it can be a good thing. But sometimes you find out that even bands with the most hard-core fans in the world... they're just not the kind of fans who like to go on a cruise.

It seems like bands who are having cruises are already pretty established. I wonder if it might be an interesting strategy for unknown bands to go ahead and get a cruise and try to break it big that way.

Well, that's a heck of a risk. That's a lot of money to put up. They don't just hand out boats to anybody.

Maybe that would be a move for a band with very rich parents.

[laughs] Yeah, exactly!

So, you all have released lots of music recently. Where is all this music coming from?

All of us have continued to grow as writers, and we're all writing more and more music, and when we went independent, when we left Universal, we were given the freedom to put out records as often as we wanted to. Now, it's a tough balance because you don't want to saturate the market, and... just because I wrote a song doesn't mean it's a good one. So you kind of have to be a filter for yourself.

You all recently played Epcot's Beer and Wine fest, and now you're coming down here to play New Times' Beerfest. Do you guys like beer?

Yeah, man! We do all the beer fests around the country. October is a big touring month for Sister Hazel.

Would you say that beer is the drug of choice for a Sister Hazel concert?

[laughs] Probably. I know for sure on the Rock Boat there is quite a bit of consumption of beer.

Now, Sister Hazel came up as an alternative band in the '90s, but it kind of looks like a jam band in the way that it operates and the way that the fan base is. Have you all consciously adopted the jam-band model at all?

You know, it's funny, because the song that got us noted was "All for You," which is kind of a poppy song.

Yeah, we still have that one stuck in our heads.

Yeah, that song was the most played song in '97 and '98. I had a friend who was living in California at the time, and he told me "Man, I gotta tell you. I really love you, and I'm happy for your success, but if I hear that song one more time, I'm going to shoot myself in the face." Man, that is the ultimate compliment, when you've got friends from the other coast saying they are tired of hearing your song.

Yeah, you definitely got in there with that one.

But the truth is, the core of the band has always had more of a Southern-rock, jam-band feel. If you've ever seen us live, then you'd know that "All for You" is not necessarily indicative of our music.

So, if Epcot ever put on a festival to appeal to the jam-band crowd, like if they were to put on a magic mushroom festival instead of a beer and wine fest, would you guys like to play that?

[laughs] Absolutely. One-hundred percent.


Awesome. Can I make a request for the Beer Fest set?

Absolutely. What do you got?

"All My Rowdy Friends" by Hank Williams Jr.

[laughs] All right, all right. I will see if we can't work that one up.

Did you know that your performance was going to be broadcast live before you went out to sing?

Not until 6 o'clock that night. We were told that "ESPN is pulling Hank Williams' intro to Monday Night Football, so we're going to air you guys live." I gotta tell you, man, for the most part we're too dumb to be nervous, but when we found that out, it was like [groan]. 'Cause the national anthem just by itself is a tough gig. It's hard to do because it's so highly scrutinized. And so when we found out that it was going to be available to every individual's DVR across the country, that was pretty nerve-racking. But I think we did OK. It was a safe anthem for us.
Nothing spectacular. We didn't pull a Whitney Houston, but we certainly didn't pull a Rosanne Barr. You know what I mean? So it was good.

How many people were watching that?

I think it was somewhere between 16 [million] and 18 million.

And most of them were probably expecting Hank Williams Jr. to pop up with "Are you ready for some football?!" and instead it's... Sister Hazel to sing the national anthem. That is trippy, man.

It was very trippy. And not only that but the next day to see our band's name in the same headline as Hank Williams Jr.

Hank Williams Jr., Barack Obama, Monday Night Football, and Adolf Hitler.

[laughs] Yeah, exactly! Yeah, that's crazy that people could've Googled Hitler, Sister Hazel, or Hank Williams Jr. and they could've gotten one article.

New Times Beerfest featuring Sister Hazel. With Bobby Lee Rogers. 7 p.m. Saturday, November 12, at Esplanade Park, 20 N. New River Drive, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $30 to $70. Click here

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