Whether busking in The Bay Area, sharing the stage with Buddy Guy or entertaining party goers at international fests and venues, The California Honeydrops know how to get a crowd on their feet and that’s exactly what they did at the ornate Chicago Theater, March 22. Fresh off the heels of their Downhome Tour across California and Oregon, they shifted gears to become support act for superstar singer/guitarist Bonnie Raitt on her Bonnie Live in 2016 Tour in support of her new release, Dig In Deep (the final performance will be at the iconic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville).
This year, the Honeydrops will also hit Washington D.C., Boston, Brooklyn and more, mixing up club dates with charity events and festivals and ultimately an R & B cruise which will ring in the new year.
The ensemble first began to take shape when vocalist/trumpeter Lech Wierzynkski and drummer Ban Malament began busking at Oakland, California’s BART station. It wasn’t long before Johnny Bones (tenor sax, clarinet), Lorenzo Loera (keyboardist) and bassist Beau Bradbury joined forces. Prolific songwriters, the group now boasts four studio and one live album, Honeydrops Live.
The excitement began the minute they walked onstage. Lech gazed into the sold out crowd and asked, “What’s up, Chicago? This is like my hometown.” The set list featured striking vocal and instrumental hooks, sweeping harmonies and gospel-tinged melodies. They opened with “Up Above My Head” (Honeydrop Live). The audience reacted warmly to the slow burning build and catchy, positive lyrics–“I believe there is a joy somewhere.” A fusion of funky sax/trombone/trumpet took it back home with help from the spot on rhythm section
Another treat was “Long Way” which is the last song on their new album, A River’s Invitation. The blistering brass intro. was smartly echoed by Loera’s riffs. Bones added warm accents with his effusive sax and in minutes the pace quickened and the audience was invited to partake in a clever call and response. “Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool ‘Ya” (Honeydrops Live) was another upbeat party tune with a heartwarming story: “Girl, try to remember when we didn’t have no shoes / we stuck together just me and you…”
Through out the set, Lech’s fluid style and sincere testimonials often brought to mind legends like Sam Cooke, while the instrumental breaks conjured up images of New Orleans jazz. That said, there’s an unbeatable chemistry between the players that really shines through when they harmonize or trade riffs. “
“Pumpkin Pie” (Spreadin’ Honey) featured a fantastic washboard solo and lots of down-to-earth clapping and stomping. Pianist Mike Finnegan, of the Bonnie Raitt touring band, came onstage for the Ray Charles cover, “Drowning In My Own Tears.” His sophisticated arrangement sounded superb. The slide trombone added another kind of elegant flair. “Just Because” (Like You Mean It) is from their earlier days, but the relatable lyrics and Lech’s vocal innuendo and commanding presence made it feel like it was brand new.