When it comes to music from Florida, Sister Hazel’s Jett Beres says you need to flip the map.
“North Florida is like the South and south Florida is like the North,” he explained.
Sister Hazel comes from Gainesville, in north Florida, the same home for the likes of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stephen Stills, the Eagles’ Don Felder, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers.
That puts the band in the company of some serious rockers, country rockers and alt-rockers, bands that also knew how to entertain their audiences.
“We’re part of that,” said Beres, the band’s bassist. “We call it Florida music.”
Sister Hazel, a quintet named after a woman who ran a homeless shelter in Gainesville, brings that rocking, good-timing music to Waco’s The Backyard on Friday night, arriving with some fresh music from a recently released EP.
The EP “Wind,” the second of a planned four-part “Elements” series, hit the top of iTunes’ Country Albums on its release earlier this month. It’s a follow-up to “Water,” the EP that started the current recording cycle earlier this year.
The veteran band, which formed 25 years ago, had nine albums under its belt, but was beginning to feel the pressure of planning for a tenth. “It took us five years to make the last record,” Beres recalled.
Rather than save material for a full album, the band — lead vocalist and guitarist Ken Block, guitarists Ryan Newell and Andrew Copeland, drummer Mark Trojanowski and Beres, with keyboardist Dave LaGrande added on tours — opted to record and release an EP to give fans something new.
Making “Water” and thinking of writing songs that might be related to the title stimulated the creative juices. Sister Hazel’s members found a thematic focus to their writing, with “Wind” following “Water” and “Fire” and “Earth” the next EPs in line.
“For the first time in our career, we have this elemental driving force that gives our songs direction,” he said.
That said, Beres notes that the band’s sound hasn’t changed in the process. It’s still energetic rock and rock ’n’ roll with a strong feel-good vibe. “We go about writing songs and performing shows the same way,” he said. “We dust it with optimism. We’re a pretty positive band.”
That positivity spins off in other long-running band ventures. For the last 15 years, the Florida band has raised a total of nearly $2 million for efforts to stop children’s cancer and support those suffering with it through the band’s Lyrics For Life charity and its Camp Hazelnut.
Sister Hazel also is an established presence on the cruise ship circuit, with its Rock Boat about to reach its 20th year.
What Waco will encounter in person is a hefty dose of music, harmony vocals and energy, Beres said. “We change it up every night. There are 8 to 10 songs we have to play for our fans and we promise a good time,” he said. “We grew up in an area where you had to learn how to play your instrument and we do. We also don’t take ourselves too seriously.”