Sweetly Smiling Sister

Sister Hazel's faith in eventual success reflects that of the band's namesake, a Gainesville religious leader whom a young Block used to see on television. Copeland: "Sister Hazel was a nun here in town who ran a mission, and she's still around. In fact, two weekends ago we went to a service that she was giving at Williams Temple and sat there with her. She's a super lady. She's always stood for unconditional regard for others and trying to help people who are down, and that's something that we all have in common and we all believe in. Giving everybody a fair shot and treating everybody equally. And it shows in some of our songwriting.

"If we're fortunate enough in this crazy business to actually make it, then we have to be able to take advantage of the position that we're put in and further other things besides just our music career -- help out different charities and programs that we believe in." (A list of such groups, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the American Foundation for AIDS Research, is included in Somewhere's CD booklet, with the chirpy exclamation "Everyone Can Make a Difference!!")

That charitable spirit, however, doesn't mean Sister Hazel is looking for a spot on the Christian-alternative train currently peopled by the likes of Jars of Clay. "I think that we all have a spiritual side to us," Copeland admits. "We're not all the same religion, and none of us is extremely religious, but it is a general feeling of goodness. It almost sounds cheesy when I talk about it, but it's true. Race, color, religious belief and all that aside, we're all human beings, and we can help each other out if that's what we decide to do."

Copeland says the listeners packing Sister Hazel's gigs these days have picked up on the positivity that infuses the group's music and attitude. "There are people from all kinds of backgrounds you see out in the crowd, and they're all there enjoying one thing. They're there in unity supporting one thing, and it kind of draws people together. Some of the biggest compliments we get from people, through our e-mail or wherever, is that they may have been having a bad day, and they leave work and they get in their car and they pop in our CD, and by the time they get home they're in a great mood. That's what we're about. We want to be bigger than just the songs. We want to send a bigger message."

Sister Hazel performs tonight, March 27, at Stella Blue, 1661 Meridian Ave, Miami Beach; 532-4788. Showtime is midnight. Cover charge is $3.

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