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Sister Hazel

It only makes sense that a band with a name like Sister Hazel would consider its fans one big happy family.

The group emerged from the college scene in Gainesville, Fla., in the late '90s with the alt-rock hits "All For You," "Change Your Mind" and "Champagne High."

Since then, the band has kept its loyal fans happy by touring constantly and building a community complete with annual reunions.

The group played the sold-out B93.1 FM Acoustic Christmas concert in December and, by the accounts of several people in attendance, stole the show.

Next up, Sister Hazel will play its own show Tuesday at the Fat Cat Music House & Lounge.

For the past decade, vocalist Ken Block, bassist Jett Beres, rhythm guitarist Drew Copeland, lead guitarist Ryan Newell and drummer Mark Trojanowski have played some 150 dates a year.

"Touring is our lifeblood. It always has been," Newell said in a recent phone interview. "We got into the business in the first place because we enjoy playing in front of people. Our live show is where we shine. It's imperative that we get out there. Radio is so hard to get on these days, unless you're on a major label and have all kinds of support in that arena. We just go out there and try to give the fans the music directly."

Taking their music to the people means the members of Sister Hazel have founded annual events for fans. These include Rock the Boat, a music festival on a cruise ship, which has sold out all seven years of its existence, and Rock Slope, a music festival at a ski resort.

The festivals include other bands, including past performers Gavin DeGraw, Better Than Ezra and Collective Soul. Rock the Boat has grown to feature 30 bands and sells out an entire Carnival cruise ship with 2,500 guests.

"We're trying to create a lifestyle and a community of people that are music fans and want to do more than go to the shows," Newell said. "They want to join in on the lifestyle, and we hope to be the soundtrack to their lifestyle. It's really important to us to interact with fans."

That interaction became even more crucial when Sister Hazel began releasing its albums independently. The group broke out on Universal with 1997's platinum-selling "Somewhere More Familiar." The follow-up, "Fortress," went gold, then the band parted ways with the label. The group's latest album, "Absolutely," came out in October on Croakin' Poets/Adrenaline records.

Newell said the switch from the big leagues to more independent pastures increased the band's productivity.

"We put records out quicker. We're just more efficient in putting out albums and touring," he said. "On a major label, there was so much money behind everything you did, there was a level of fear to put things out — they wanted to be absolutely sure it would be a 100 percent success. We don't operate in fear of not having a radio hit."

Newell said that puts more pressure on the band, but in a good way. "If things go right, it's because of us. If things go wrong, it's because of us," he said. "We love the creative freedom to be able to do what we want."

Doing what they want includes helping others. Vocalist Block started Lyrics for Life, a nonprofit group that raises money for children with cancer. The group raises funds by auctioning off handwritten lyrics from musicians and celebrities. Past participants have included Elton John, John Mayer and Mötley Crüe.

Newell said giving back — to fans and charities — is part of the group's philosophy. And that positive energy, he said, is one of the reasons for the band's success.

"I think in general, our music is a positive experience, we try to put people in a better place. And when people leave our shows, they feel lifted, that's why a lot of people come to our shows" he said. "It's almost like therapy. We know how to have a good time."

WHAT: Sister Hazel with Aaron Durr

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesday

WHERE: Fat Cat Music House & Lounge, 930 11th St., Modesto


CALL: 524-1400