The Hippo


May 25, 2020








Sister Hazel w/ Morgan Myles

When: Friday, Sept. 22, 8 p.m.
Where: Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord
Tickets: $30-$100 at

All for Coach
Monahan Foundation benefit stars Sister Hazel

By Michael Witthaus

 Asking Sister Hazel to headline the upcoming Frank Monahan Foundation benefit show at Concord’s Capitol Center is an apt choice — charity is its namesake. Hazel Williams was a minister and community leader who ran a homeless shelter in their hometown of Gainesville, Florida. They decided to make her known to the world while carrying on in her spirit with efforts like Lyrics for Life, a nonprofit organization fighting pediatric cancer.

Monahan Foundation President Marshall Crane is a Concord native who lived in the South for several years. During that time he met Ryan Newell, Sister Hazel’s guitarist, through mutual friends. 
“We’ve stayed in touch over the years, so when I thought to do a concert for the foundation, my first thought was Sister Hazel,” he said recently. “I love their music, and they are one of the most fun bands to see live.”
The group had a handful of hits in the late 1990s, including “Change Your Mind” and the anthemic “All for You,” before the music business shifted. Chatting during a tour break in early August, Sister Hazel front man Ken Block recalled becoming aware of it at South by Southwest in the early 2000s. 
“I was having dinner at 4 a.m with one of the Napster guys and he told me, ‘You guys are the exact kind of band this is going to impact, and not necessarily in a good way. For all these bands that nobody knows, it’s a platform for them to get heard. Metallica and Madonna, everyone will buy them anyway. But there’s 10 percent ... they know the name, but they’re on the fence about whether to spend the money. That’s where you guys might start to feel it.’ We did, a little bit, but we’ve never railed against progress.”
Instead the band upped its live game and kept making records. The latest is Lighter in the Dark, a solid effort with elements of country, classic rock and, on the de facto title cut, an homage to a fellow Gainesvillian band. Block and his mates came of age on the music of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and later recorded with TPHB’s original drummer Stan Lynch.  
For Block, they’re more than an influence.
“I don’t know that there is anyone in the world that can see or listen to their music and feel it the way we do because we literally cut our teeth in the same county, playing the same parties out in the woods, then the same clubs,” he said. “The legacy that those guys have is just tremendous ... whether we were from Gainesville or not, [he’s the] one artist whose entire body of work resonates with me and our band.” 
One thing their two groups share is longevity. Sister Hazel formed 24 years ago, carrying on without a break since. What’s the secret? 
“We really pick our battles,” Block said. “If something isn’t going to matter in six months — or six minutes — we let it go.”
The journey from a van and trailer to national touring act  wasn’t a smooth, easy ride. 
“That overnight success story took an awfully long time,” Block said with a laugh. “We were just a bunch of college kids, hacking our way and then having our first big platinum record ... but we made it through all that, where most bands either implode or explode. I think we all realized that Sister Hazel’s the mothership.”
One legacy of those heady times is their biggest hit, “All for You,” which they play at every show. Sister Hazel doesn’t mind. 
“Musically, are we getting off on it? Not necessarily,” Block said. “But the idea that we can play that song and light people up no matter where we are in the country or the world, this far after it was released is an absolute gift. Listen, I never forget being a kid on the couch writing songs and dreaming that one day people would sing them back to me; it’s the epitome of that. It has opened so many doors to get people scratching beneath the surface and discovering songs like ‘Champagne High’ or ‘Change Your Mind.’ We’ve got a ton of gratitude ... the love that crowds show to us when we play that song, that’s the show.” 

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