California Honeydrops w/Sam Grisman Project
November 10, 2023
On the last night of their 2023 "Bye, Bye, Baby" tour, The California Honeydrops gave a stellar performance at the grand Mission Ballroom last Friday. The only glitch in the show was the oddly placed opening act, the Sam Grisman Project, a tightly huddled quartet of acoustic bluegrass players, not really the right choice for a packed and noisy crowd ready to dance, groove, and party to a hot horn band.
The California Honeydrops' (CHD) music is a spicy blend of Southern-style soul, R&B, and funk with a modern pop twist to jazz music. A concertgoer behind me described one of the band's mellower songs as a "Sunday morning walk in New Orleans."
Founding member and frontman Lech Wierzynski
explained CHD's humble musical roots began a little over 15 years ago as a jug band in an Oakland
subway station, busking for spare change as commuters headed to work.
"It was a rootsy little trio with bass tub, washboard, and guitar," Wierzynski recalled in our interview. "Eventually, we started playing daytime gigs at a pizza parlor in Berkeley called The Cheeseboard."
The band eventually expanded to a quintet, and with the proceeds from their tip jar and a community fundraiser, they cut their first record. The band has toured internationally and opened for icons B.B. King
, Allen Toussaint
, Buddy Guy
, and Dr. John
The "Honeydrops" part of their name was influenced by a 1930s string band called The Tennessee Chocolate Drops. CHD's multi-genre set reflects this period, with traditional Southern stomps, Delta blues rags, and the music you might hear blaring out of a Beale Street club in New Orleans
"My dad was deep into New Orleans music, and as a kid, I started playing jazz trumpet," Wierzynski recalled. "Over time, our band began playing a mishmash of all of those different styles."
CHD is a tight-knit group with Wierzynski calling the shots while handling vocals, trumpet, and guitar. Drummer Ben Malament
did an excellent job keeping a steady groove throughout the evening. The band honored him with a funky version of "Happy Birthday" in their set.
The vibrant horn section ("the Honey Horns") features Yanos Lustig
on sax, Oliver Tuttle
on trombone, Leon Cotter on sax, and Miles Lyons on sousaphone. Lorenzo Loera
was on keys, and Beau Bradbury
played bass. Occasionally, band members switched instruments, which was not only fun to watch, but showed band members proficiency with all of them.
"Let's do this!" shouted Wierzynski as he banged a tambourine and shuffled across the stage with Lyons, who created a Mardi Gras vibe on his sousaphone for the opener "Grazing in the Grass."
The rocking and responsive crowd (nearly 4,000 by some estimates) was filled with faithful fans, illuminated by the fantastic and ever-changing stage lighting. One lady in the front held up a sign saying, "Pocket Chicken," a request for their 2020 song. Many groups of women wore sequin jackets, dresses, and pants to the show (leftovers from the recent Taylor Swift concert?), while clusters of guys sported tye-dyed t-shirts. Whatever your fashion sense was, a sweet and funky time was had by all.
Grazing In The Grass; Tulsa Time; Hotel Happiness; Here Comes Love; Tumblin'; Only Home I've Ever Known; Take it Or Leave It; Just One More; A Higher Degree; I Miss You Baby/Happy Birthday/Inspiration Information.
Pumpkin Pie; All, All Night, Birthday Suit Song; In My Baby's Arms; Bye, Bye, Baby; Bloodshot Eyes; Brokedown.
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