The Rock Boat XVII sets sail Feb. 10-15, 2017 from Tampa to Belize and Mexico. Sister Hazel will be hosting the festivities onboard and performing with other headliners including Andy Grammer, Ben Rector and Better Than Ezra. AXS caught up with Andrew Copeland of Sister Hazel to discuss what fans can look forward to onboard the ship and what is next for the band in 2017. There is limited space to get onboard the ship so don’t miss this opportunity to join the party with some of your favorite bands on the high seas.
AXS: You are the original host of The Rock Boat?
Andrew Copeland: Yes we are.
AXS: What is your favorite Rock Boat memory over the years?
AC: Seventeen years we have been doing this. Like you said, we were one of the first ones to do one of these music cruises and we took one band out with us the first time we did this. Now we take multiple bands every year. There have been a lot of really memorable moments. The collaborations we get to have with other artists turn out to be a lot of fun. This year is going to be really funny. I would have to say one of my favorite Rock Boat memories, Ken and I, the other singer in the band, we always do a "Ken and Andrew" set. That’s how we started, Ken and I were a duo way back when we were in college and we used to do two sets. On Rock Boat, every year we do a "Ken and Andrew" set and it can be anything. One year we decided to try to change things up and we did a puppet show. We set up a black curtain on a rod across a couple chairs and he and I sat behind these curtains with these puppets and we interviewed other artists. One was a giraffe and the other was a bear or something like that. You can ask anyone that has been around about the puppet show and they will tell you it is one of the most hilarious things we have done on the boat. It started out behind the curtain and I said I wanted to keep this clean, let’s keep this above board. It went downhill very quickly, it really did. I think we interviewed Emerson Hart, the lead singer for Tonic and Pat McGee and a couple artists, but it was a lot of fun. That is a pretty good moment from Rock Boat.
AXS: Can we could expect any collaborations on board with Sister Hazel?
AC: For sure. That is one of the things we look forward to the most on Rock Boat is that bands get together and play. You will always have friends sit in. Unlike being out touring where you rarely see your friends in other bands, you are stuck on a boat for a few days so you can work some stuff up and get up on stage and play together. We are really looking forward to that.
AXS: Who are you most excited to see this time?
AC: It is pretty exciting to have Ben Rector on board. We are looking forward to that.
AXS: Your fans are called HazelNuts. Tell me about how you stay connected to them throughout the year.
AC: We do VIP events at every show. It is kind of an opportunity for those that have not been at the Rock Boat or the Hazelnut Hang, which is another event we do. It is a chance to get a smaller taste of what those events are like. On the road, fans can buy tickets and come to sound check and at sound check we will answer some questions then play three or four songs acoustically that we usually don’t play. It gives us a chance to stay in touch, answer questions and to be accessible to the people that are helping us keep our careers on track. That is a pretty cool way to keep in touch with the fans.
AXS: The band has recently crossed over into the Country charts. Has that changed your fan base? Has that changed the show at all?
AC: No, not at all. We are actually in Nashville right now doing some rehearsing. I think people who are fans of the band were nervous before they bought the new record because of all the talk about it. Once they got the record, they realized this is another Sister Hazel record and it didn’t take the huge left turn they were talking about. It’s been a really good thing for us. We have had management in Nashville forever and we get to collaborate with a bunch of great writers in town. We are fortunate Country music is now accepting us into the expanding genre. We are really happy about it. Hopefully we can make some new fans and I know for sure we have not let down our old ones.
AXS: Tell me about Lyrics for Life.
AC: Lyrics for Life is a charity we put together years ago. Everyone in the band has been affected by cancer in one way or another. My dad had cancer when I was younger. Ken lost his little brother to the disease. When we started talking about trying to start something to make a difference, this was something Ken felt very passionately about as well as the rest of us. The way it started was for people to write lyrics on any kind of object and we would auction them for the charity. I remember Edwin McCain wrote the lyrics to “I’ll Be” on a propeller and Ken wrote “Change Your Mind” on a surfboard. We put together these shows people come to with these artists and we collaborate with them. It has been a really good thing. I think we have raised over a million dollars for childhood cancer, kids with cancer in the years we have been doing this.
AXS: You are about to release Unplugged at Daryl’s House. Can you tell me a fun story about that recording process?
AC: The venue was awesome and the people who ran it were so kind to let us have access to all that material. It turned out so good and we didn’t really know what we were going to do with it. We all watched it and decided it was killer and everybody needed to see this. We pulled some of the stuff we felt best about and put together this DVD. I am really excited about it and can’t wait for people to see it. I can’t tell you anything about Daryl since he was not there that day, but I can tell you Ken, our bass player has the best fashion sense in the band. So Ken was taking a step out, he was taking a risk that day we recorded. He had this sweater and scarf on when we filmed this and before we even got back to the bus someone had put up a comparison of him and Gru from Despicable Me and he was a dead ringer. We don’t let him forget it. It was very funny.
AXS: Are there any new bands you are watching right now?
AC: Maybe not new, I really enjoy Blackberry Smoke. I am also a really big fan of Needtobreathe. Those guys are great and really talented. We have had them on the Rock Boat a couple of times. They are great people and a great band.
AXS: What’s next for you guys in 2017 after Rock Boat?
AC: We are already back to writing and trying to get material collected for our next recording session. We will keep touring really hard. We have a pretty full schedule of touring ahead of us. Between tour dates, we are going to try to get back in the studio and write more songs and put out more music.