When The California Honeydrops co-founders Lech Wierzynski and Ben Malament first got together, they wandered innocently down into the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station in San Francisco and started to make live music for the people.
Sept. 1 | Foam Fest | Village at Squaw
“We learned a lot busking in the BART back in the day,” says the drummer, Malament. “We still pretty much adhere to the fact that you have to play to your audience. If people are hustling and bustling every day and they see you playing, you need to connect with them directly through whatever kind of instrument you are playing. As long as you’re there and present in the moment, you can make a special experience wherever it is.”
Ten years later, these two wild souls recently released their seventh studio album, a double-LP entitled, “Call It Home: Vol. 1 & 2.”
“A short attention span is pretty prevalent in music these days,” says Malament. “But Lech was writing his ass off and we just had a ton of material. I think this album portrays all the different styles we’ve come from. We share many musical interests, but it all comes from the same place. For this album, we dug in deep into history and tradition and we love how it all came together.”
The Honeydrops are like a 1930s jug band transported into the future. Known for the high-energy, lay-it-all-out-there zaniness of their live performances, they never fail to whip an audience in a tizzy of positive vibes and jubilation. When they performed at High Sierra Music Festival in July, they wore matching overalls on the main stage and zebra costumes late night just for fun.
“We feed into each other and the audience when we’re on stage,” says Malament. “We make it clear that it’s not just a show; it’s about everyone in the crowd, too.”
Although making music may be a way of life for these East Bay minstrels, it’s the connections they form with people on the road that make it all worth it.
“It’s awesome to show up somewhere where people don’t know who we are and they feel like they found something new they are into, something they really like, something special,” says Malament. “It’s that feeling of knowing that people are getting something out of it — that all of our energy is being put to good use.”
A good amount of The Honeydrops’ charm comes from the splendid integration of an assorted gamut of American-roots music traditions spanning back through 1970s R&B, Motown funk, Southern soul, Delta blues, New Orleans second-line and Appalachian folk. It’s easy to imagine all seven musicians marching down Bourbon Street in an jazz funeral, lighting up the neighborhood with supernatural harmonies as they pass on by.
“Part of our appeal is that we don’t try to do anything too fancy,” says Malament. “In this day in age, it’s really easy to find the cookie-cutter musical events with laser shows and super-loud volumes. We get beat in the head every minute of every day with pop culture and what’s supposed to be cool. We’ve started to go against that grain and I think people appreciate that.”
The band members don’t make a set list before shows or cut off at a certain time. Every time they take the stage, they play to the masses and work hard to make each show a special experience.
“A lot of it is based off the basic music of communication,” says Malament. “We go for the room. We go for the moment. We play from the heart and the gut and I think that is what really hits. The energy we give is real. That’s what resonates with people and keeps bringing them back.”
Having just returned from a summer cross-country tour, they’ve been laying low in the Bay for the past few weeks before a handful of California shows lead them to Colorado for performances at Telluride Blues & Brews Festival and Red Rocks Amphitheatre in support of Greensky Bluegrass.
“A huge goal for us is just to keep making the music better, keep being creative and open with our live shows and to not get musically lazy,” says Malament. “We want to keep expanding and working with other musicians that we love, having fun and bringing good live music to the people. You can’t do the same show night after night and expect to sustain the energy and the spirit. It’s an accomplishment if we feel like we’ve done something new each night.”
The California Honeydrops will be performing at the 29th annual Foam Fest on Sept. 1 at the Village at Squaw Valley. | squawalpine.com