By Mat Weir
Oakland’s California Honeydrops aren’t your typical band.
They cross genre lines blending soul, New Orleans jazz, folk, funk, and everything in-between into an audible sauce as flavorful as it is addictive. A single album can take the listener from 1930’s Delta blues to Motown in a matter of minutes and their live shows tend to keep the party going until the early hours.
Their line-up is as fluid as their music–with life shows sometimes including additional friends on various instruments–but their core consists of Lech Wierzynski (vocals/guitar), Johnny Bones (tenor sax/clarinet), Ben Malamat (drums/percussion), Beau Bradbury (bass/percussion) and Lorenzo Loera (keys).
So it only makes sense that a band so unique would handle ending the year on their own terms. To close out the second weirdest year in memory second only to 2020, the California Honeydrops are playing three consecutive nights in Santa Cruz County. They kick off the stint Wednesday the 29th with Taliana and the Treetop Band and then Thursday the 30th (which is already sold out for you last minute planners) with Papiba and Friends–both at Felton Music Hall. They keep the good times rolling with a blow-out bash on New Year’s Eve at the Catalyst.
“Santa Cruz is one of the best, funnest crowds in the country,” Wierzynski says. “It embodies a lot of the things the Bay Area used to embody: people want to dance and have a good time.”
And if there’s one thing the Honeydrops know how to do, it’s have a good time. They cross the performer/audience line just as easily as they do genres, known to lead audiences in New Orleans-style parades out of venues and down the street, not keeping structured setlists while frequently taking requests and busking as often as possible.
“We almost got our instruments confiscated while trying to busk in Spain,” Bones recalls, explaining the band was playing on a city street at night and local authorities weren’t having it.
“They were pretty harsh but let us off with a warning.”
“We might have given them some weed or something,” Wierzynski exclaims, making Bones laugh in a way that one wonders if it’s a joke or absolute truth.
In preparation for their three night tryst, they say the band has dug deep into their repertoire, practicing a large supply of songs to avoid repetition. To make the pot even sweeter, they’ll perform as an eight piece and have several cover songs planned, dipping into fan favorites along with the new covers they’ve released in the last year. Sam Cooke, Don William, Bobby Bland and the Grateful Dead are just a few of the acts they pay homage to in their Covers From The Cave series.
Originally released as singles on Spotify, Wierzynski says they will be compiled as a full album sometime in January. Of course, when they cover a song, they do it the only way they know how: the California Honeydrops way.
“One criteria for covering a song is if we can find a way to do it significantly different than the original,” he explains, like their reggae-inspired, rock steady version of Cooke’s “That’s Where It’s At.”
The idea spawned from last year’s shutdown when they–and practically every musician on the planet–relied on playing via livestream from the comfort of their own homes, sometimes only as a trio. However, the shutdown also allowed audiences to search out the band, creating tons of new fans along the way.
“There’s more people coming out than ever,” reflects Bones. “[Pre-pandemic] when we were in Bend, Oregon, there might have been 300 or less people.”
“Oh no, I think there was like 70 people there,” Wierzynski interjects.
“Right? There was so many less,” Bones continues. “But this year we went on a Friday night and it was sold-out with 1000 people raging.”
It looks like 2022 is already shaping up to be a prosperous year for the California Honeydrops. For starters, they are currently finishing the recordings for a new studio album they aim to release in the fall. Until then theu’ll continue touring in short bursts, like the upcoming four date California stint in the second week of January, or festivals like Joshua Tree Music Fest in May.
With the Covid-19 Omnicron variant raging throughout most of the United States, many musicians across the country have had to cancel tour dates, sometimes while in the middle of them. It’s something the California Honeydrops don’t want, saying it’s “demoralizing” for both them and audiences, so for now these small runs will have to do.
“We’re definitely not fully back,” Bones says. “But it’s a way for us to check in with some of our fanbase.”
However, they say there are a few ways fans can support the group as the entertainment industry continues to get back on its feet.
“If people want to support us they can buy the albums and merch,” Wierzynski states before adding with a laugh, “Or they can throw money at us any way they want.”
You can get your dance on and throw money at the California Honeydrops on Wednesday & Thursday, 12/29-12/30 at Felton Music Hall ($44adv/$49door) and Friday, 12/31 at the Catalyst Club ($59adv/$64/door/$99VIP balcony).
Check out a video The California Honeydrops made last year in support of those effected by the Santa Cruz fires ⬇︎