It was a sunny afternoon this past Thursday when the tour bus pulled into a loading dock in Chester, PA. The air was crisp and spirits were high as massive guitar rigs, drums (with risers included) and other various pieces of gear were loaded into The Block at Harrah’s, Philly to prepare for what would be a night to remember.
Only about an hour later, the stage was set. Enter Ken Block, Drew Copeland, Jett Beres, Ryan Newell and Ben Jackson (fill-in drummer, for the absent Mark Trojanowski). After getting some much needed R&R after an early morning flight from Atlanta, the band was ready to soundcheck for their performance that would come only hours later. The band, of course, was Sister Hazel, who found fame in the late 90’s with smash hits as, “All For You”, “Happy” and “Champagne High” to name a few.
With their 9th studio album, Lighter In The Dark only a year and a half old, this was sure to be a night of fan-favorites and some deep cuts from throughout the years. The band has been touring for about 20 years, so they are no stranger to Philadelphia. This super fan (or Hazelnut, a self-proclaimed term dubbed by hardcore fans in the early 2000’s) sat and watched as the band sound checked with full songs, like “Your Winter”, and even teasing “Welcome To The Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses to loosen up the vocals and fingers.
After soundcheck, the band went back to the green room to have dinner while 2 floors above them, the venue began bustling before 7 PM. The patient, yet eager crowd started filing in and finding their designated sections and getting their drinks. Gravity Given Productions, who produced the event, had booked a wonderful Americana/Grass Roots local opener called The Quixote Project, who warmed the crowd up while they waited for Sister Hazel to take the stage. After Quixote finished their set, Sister Hazel emerged from the backstage area to do a quick meet & greet with some of their fans. They then proceeded backstage to be presented by Jon Schaeffer (Center Stage Ent.).
As the crowd erupted the guitars kicked into an enormous version of the band’s song “Shame” from the band’s sixth studio album Absolutely. The song is a groovy and exciting alt-rock song with hints of southern rock peppered in. I can best describe it as “great highway driving music”. They then proceeded into “We Got It All Tonight” off their last effort, Lighter In The Dark (a primarily southern/country album featuring “Karaoke Song” feat. Darius Rucker).
A few songs down the line, the crowd was on their feet as the band broke into the latest single from the new album “That Kind Of Beautiful”, an upbeat ballad which compares the beauty of a woman to the wonders of the world. From there, they continued to play song after song that were total crowd pleasers, like “This Kind Of Love”, “Happy”, and their top single “All For You”. The band finished their set with an encore, that the crowd was anxious for. It started with a dynamic building of “Champagne High” as touring saxophone and keyboard player Dave LaGrande opened the song with a beautiful piano rendition of the usual guitar part. Block sang, spotlit with a violet background, the lament about someone attending an ex’s wedding and contemplating how things could have been had they remained together. Copeland calmly walked back on stage and began singing harmonies for the second verse, followed by Newell, Beres, and Jackson to create a four-part harmony chorus. All the guitars proceeded to kick in with the drums building up through the bridge into a guitar solo-led instrumental break. As the song closed the band led right into the closer for the evening “Change Your Mind”, a sing-along from their third album, Fortress about living life in an alternative and improving manner. Newell led an explosive wrap-up of the song that led to the crowd erupting. As the band closed out the show and walked off stage a wave of satisfactory energy floated over the room as folks proceeded to the exits.
The night was an all-around blast. After meeting the band, I must say that they are absolute humbled gentlemen. If you have never seen the band live, do yourself the service of catching them next time they come around. Time and time again, they prove that it truly is, All For Us.
By Saul Dratman