6 Questions with LEAF performers California Honeydrops

California Honeydrops, photo courtesy of the band
California Honeydrops, photo courtesy of the band

In advance of this season’s LEAF, the 41st bi-annual iteration of the festival, we’re talking to performing artists from the LEAF lineup about the festival’s New Orleans-meets-WNC theme. LEAF takes place Thursday to Sunday, Oct. 15-18, at Camp Rockmont.

“The California Honeydrops don’t just play music—they throw parties,” says the website for the San Francisco Bay area band. Ben Malament, drummer and co-founder, confirms the sentiment, below. And though frontman Lech Wierzynski was born in Poland, the group’s sound taps American music traditions like jazz, funk and soul. As part of their LEAF performance, the band will share the stage with students from the LEAF Schools & Streets program.

The California Honeydrops play on The Lakeside Stage Friday, Oct. 16, at 6:15 p.m., and in Eden Hall, at 9:15 p.m.

Xpress: Tell us a little bit about the performance you have planned for this season’s LEAF.

Ben Malament: We plan on having fun. We don’t make set lists, we just play to the crowd. There will be a lot of original and new material, plus a collaboration with the local high school marching band who we’ll be doing workshops with all week.

What role does New Orleans play in your sound?

We draw a lot of our sound from the playful, funky and irresistible music of New Orleans. Lech is one of the only guys I know who knows how to invoke the tones and rhythms of Louis Armstrong through the horn today. We love brass band music and the spirit of the street music. You’ll hear some Rebirth Brass Band tributes in our set for sure. But the great songwriting and the simple-yet-supermemorable and danceable tunes that poured out of New Orleans 50 years ago continue to inspire us daily.

Lech mentions in the Meet the California Honeydrops video that people from jazz, r&b, indie, hippie and burner crowds all show up at your shows. What do you think is the common denominator or draw?

Like I said, we just try to play for the crowd. Lech writes great songs and we play covers that work for us. No Top-40 music, just fun, good tunes. And we use the music to make a party and make the show more of an experience for everyone together, trying to break down the wall of fancy lights and ear-piercing volumes to just make it a good, memorable time for all us crazy humans. No age, color, dietary preferences or beards are discriminated against in this production.

How do your busking roots still inform your sound?

Playing on the street was great for learning what worked and what didn’t work to get people drawn in and eventually give you money. Ha ha. It was great for improvising and figuring out arrangements and, again, just getting closer to the people you’re playing for. We still play on the street sometimes. In fact, we might have to get down into the crowd during our show to prove we can still do it!

You started this tour with a return visit to “A Prairie Home Companion.” What’s it like to be on that broadcast?

It’s supercool be a part of such a fine-tuned machine of a production that can still keep the format loose for improvising! It’s amazing that [host] Garrison [Keillor] writes all that stuff, and the staff is mellow and knows that really anything can happen. The live, nerve-racking, radio stage certainly isn’t our forté, but it’s great training for our musicianship and confidence as a band.

If you could collaborate with any other performer at this month’s LEAF, who would it be?

Oh man, the lineup is killing! Rebirth [Brass Band] is like our favorite entity on this planet, so you know we’re always down to play with them! And Preservation Hall Jazz Band really helped lift my spirits when I needed it, so it’d be an honor to play next to them, too. In fact, I snuck on the stage sidelines with them once and jangled the tambourine. Hey man, I needed it!

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts writer and editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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