The California Honeydrops bring the party vibe to SOhO for two nights

The California Honeydrops bring the party, and the swingin' tunes, to SOhO this week. Stuart Levine
The California Honeydrops bring the party, and the swingin’ tunes, to SOhO this week.
Stuart Levine

The California Honeydrops return to SOhO for a two-night stay this weekend. Two nights, because as founding member Ben Malament says, “We can spread about and give people a lot of different music. So people who like us for all different reasons can get their Honeydrops fix.”

Pretty good for a band that started with two guys busking at BART stations around Oakland. Mr. Malament played washtub bass — what they called the “soul tub” — and Polish-born singer Lech Wierzynkski played trumpet. They played everything from the Memphis Jug Band to Wilson Pickett, from Arthur Crudup to Big Bill Broonzy. And that continues to this day, with genre-spanning music that reflects the encyclopedic tastes of its founders and its newest members, with nothing off limits.

The California Honeydrops, pictured at Horning's Hideout in North Plains, Ore. Brian Spady
The California Honeydrops, pictured at Horning’s Hideout in North Plains, Ore.
Brian Spady
Add to that a dedication to creating a party on stage, and infecting audiences with fun, and you have a guaranteed good evening ahead. They’ve gone on tour to Europe nine times, opened for greats like B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Dr. John — who hung backstage with them and made casual conversation with the starstruck band — and are going to see 2014 out with a gig at New Orleans’ famous Tipitina’s.

From the BART beginnings in late 2007, the band added members and started gigging around the Bay Area. “From there we just kept molding our sound to the players who wanted to be a part of it.” Current members include Johnny Bones on tenor sax, Lorenzo Loera on keys, and Beau Bradbury on bass. As they tour they meet musicians along the way who can also show up on stage, especially when the band launches into New Orleans-style second-line, and the more horns the merrier.

Their newest keyboard player brought with him a love of gospel, and that will be apparent on their new album, as yet untitled, coming out in 2015. “But there’s also the reggae influence from me and Lech’s influence of the Grateful Dead, which is a big surprise. I never listened to the Dead, but Lech was in a Dead cover band for a while, and now we play to so many people who were fans of them, it’s coming out.”

Their upcoming trip to New Orleans will be their fourth, and it’s the city that replenishes their artistic batteries.

“It feels like a pilgrimage every time we go down,” Mr. Malament says. “Last time we went down we played a porch party across from the fairgrounds. We set up in the afternoon and played for three-and-a-half hours straight. And in the course of those hours, we must have played to 1,000 people. So now when we travel we meet people who saw us play. And they say that was the highlight of their New Orleans trip.

“We show up with respect and make sure we come correct. The culture is very important to us, and we want to feel like we are contributing to a spirit and a legacy.”

As for the upcoming SOhO gigs, the band is ready to deliver.

“It’s about making sure the people are having a great time for the money,” says Mr. Malament. “People are coming out and spending their time with us and we want that to be a good thing. On the other side, it does depend on the people and what they bring to it. They’re the reason we’re doing this.”

The California Honeydrops
When: 9 p.m. Saturday and 8:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: SOhO Restaurant and Music Club, 1221 State St.
Cost: $15-$18
Information: www.sohosb.com, (805) 962-7776

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