Concert Preview: Sister Hazel Opening Premier Series At Wall Street Theater
NORWALK — After 25 years, a lot of bands — including those with a litany of hits — tend to lose a member or two, or may break up completely. Some even break up and eventually regroup, with or without some or all of their founding players.
But Sister Hazel, whose infectious 1997 hit "All For You," has endured.
The five founding members — Ken Block, Jett Beres, Andrew Copeland, Ryan Newell, and Mark Trojanowski — continue to enjoy a successful career, a loyal if not rabid following of so-called "Hazelnuts," and are still creating great music on their own terms according to drummer Trojanowski, who recently called in to The Newtown Bee to chat about the band and their latest work.
Sister Hazel will be featured as the opening show of what Connecticut-based Premier Concerts believes will be a long and fruitful series of shows being staged at the beautifully renovated Wall Street Theater in Norwalk on September 27.
Premier Founder Keith Mahler has been involved promoting concerts since 1972, and said he is excited to be bringing acts back to Norwalk after putting much energy into reopening and attracting a huge catalog of shows to New Haven's College Street Music Hall — formerly the New Haven Palace Theater.
"We love the Wall Street venue for a number of reasons," Mahler told The Bee this week. "It's literally half the size of College Street in terms of mixed and general admission seating capacity, with a max of 1,100 patrons. It's got a portable seat arrangement like College Street for orchestra-level patrons with a fixed seat balcony and opera boxes."
Mahler said the former Globe Theater was known in its day as a proverbial hard rock and heavy metal venue, and the theater's complete restoration has returned the venue to its original glory.
"It's absolutely state of the art now," he said. "The audio is, once again, a baby version of what we have at College Street, the same great acoustics, and sound gear. Wall Street was laid out not just as a rock room, but with an eye on doing theatrical presentations as well.
"We absolutely love the location because it's in the heart of Fairfield County, and accessible to all those surrounding communities," Mahler continued. "And you can get to it from most of those communities without even getting on a highway. You can get to it on a number of the surface streets coming into Norwalk."
Mahler is also taking advantage of the distinct followings that already patronize College Street to build a similar following at the Wall Street Theater — even booking the same artists in both halls back-to-back when the opportunity presents. His first foray into that situation involves Grammy winner Lucinda Williams, who will mark the 20th anniversary of her album Car Wheels on November 9 the New Haven venue, before rolling down the road to Norwalk on November 10.
Other Premier shows confirmed at the Wall Street Theater include:
*Veteran classic rockers Blue Oyster Cult on Halloween night, October 31;
*A jam band extravaganza November 2 with Live Dead & Riders ‘69: Electric Harvest Tour featuring original Grateful Dead pianist Tom Constanten; Mark Karan, guitarist with Bob Weir’s Rat Dog, The Other Ones, and Phil & Friends; guitarist Slick Aguilar who played with Starship and David Crosby; Rat Dog bassist Robin Sylvester; Phil & Friends keyboardist Scott Guberman; and Joe Chirco, drummer with Donna Jean Godchaux; and
*The Wall Live Extravaganza featuring material from Pink Floyd on Friday, February 1.
Keeping It Together
Sister Hazel's Trojanowski told The Bee that keeping the band together is much easier with a quarter century of tours, marriages, kids, and maturing behind them.
"I think we were just able kind of to weather the storm way back in the beginning," he said. "We were doing a bunch of stuff on our own, touring around in a minivan pulling a trailer, and I don't think there are a lot of bands still around today that went out like we did pounding the road before getting our first record deal."
Trojanowski said once that elusive record deal was inked, there were the temptations and excesses that spurred "growing pains" among Sister Hazel's members, but through it all the band has remained a democracy.
"We were certainly a band of five different opinions coming from five different perspectives, but as time passed we just came to understand each other's role, and appreciate what each of us brought to the table, and that's how it's been for the last 20 years or so," he said. "We always put family first. And since we all have kids and our own families now, I think that's also been the glue that's held us together. And we all agree that if something is going on in the family, that gets top priority, even over anything having to do with the band."
Family demands also mean Sister Hazel plays a lot fewer gigs — all the more reason to catch their set at Wall Street. That plus a selection of brand new material the band is metering out in a set of EPs loosely themed after the elements.
To date, Sister Hazel has released Water, back in early February, with Wind scheduled to drop September 7, and will also draw set list material from their nine previous projects.
"This elements concept sort of came out after it took so many years between making Lighter In The Dark  and Heartland Highway ," Trojanowski said. "Nobody wanted to do that again, and we already had some new songs ready.
"We always had a mantra about putting out more music sooner for the fans, so we sat down and said we've got three songs we just knocked out — why don't we get together in a couple weeks and do another three," he continued. "This was also great because now that we were all writing, it provided a way for all of us to get our songs on a record. We didn't have to conform to making a 12 song record every 24 months, we were going to make four six song records in 24 months!"
Spinning back in time a bit further to the making of Heartland Highway — which was conceived and produced for the country music market — Trojanowski said that marketing venture is something he and his mates are asked about a lot.
"You know there were a lot of factors involved in that time period," he said. "We went through some management changes, but we actually put out the previous three records before Heartland Highway in Nashville. We had a home studio base and a producer in Nashville, and [Andrew Copeland] and our band had writing and publishing deals in Nashville. So there was already all this going on in the background."
Trojanowski said at the same time, on the commercial front, a lot of the Rock, "Hot AC," and adult contemporary radio station formats that supported Sister Hazel through its first decade and a half were changing formats — or were not playing "new" Sister hazel material.
"So we found ourselves in a situation where nobody was really playing the music of the genre Sister Hazel was making," he said. "At the same time there were other bands doing what we did that were getting classified as country format, like Zac Brown. I don't even think Zac had an idea what was going on. So we had this base in Nashville, and when the record was happening, everyone started saying we need to market it to country.
"The market was looking for acoustic-driven, big harmony acts. And that's what Sister Hazel has always been," Trojanowski said. "I mean if you go put ...Somewhere More Familiar on, which was our second and by far biggest record, it doesn't sound much different than what is on the most recent material we're doing."
Trojanowski said Sister Hazel has always kept things fresh by approaching their own music from different performance platforms, in particular, releasing several all acoustic live albums as well as an all acoustic version of 2004's Lift, a "hybrid" album entitled BAM! Volume 1 that contains B-sides from the Absolutely recording sessions, and a holiday-themed Santa's Playlist in 2007.
"There's so much acoustic stuff going all the way back to our first album, that's really the root of the band, Kenny and Drew [Copeland] used to do an acoustic duo together, and we've played so many unplugged shows for radio stations, we were very comfortable putting out acoustic albums," he said. "It's not only kind of fun, but you get to focus a lot more on the intimacy and lyric of the songs while at the same time for Ryan [Newell] and I, we get to play some different instruments. He'll play dobro or banjo, and I'll play some kind of trap kit concoction."
Trojanowski would not reveal whether there would be a break out acoustic set planned for the Wall Street Theater show, but he guaranteed that fans and casual listeners who may only know Sister Hazel from their huge hit single, single "All For You" will thoroughly enjoy the show.
For advance tickets, visit https://www.ticketfly.com/purchase/event/1748779?utm_medium=459899
To learn more about the Wall Street Theater, go to https://wallstreettheater.com/
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