California Honeydrops bring their dance party back to Asheville

REVISIT AND REVISE: "I love old music, and I respect it a lot," says vocalist and trumpet player Lech Wierzynski. "But I always think, 'Hey, I'm probably going to do it a slightly different way.'" Photo courtesy of the band

Vintage soul and R&B songs, despite their quintessentially American origins, embody a sort of universality. If music is the universal language, these genres might be the Rosetta stone. “The feeling of that music is a very upbeat feeling,” says Lech Wierzynski, vocalist and trumpet player of the California Honeydrops. “In rhythm and blues and New Orleans music, people hear something like the traditional second line, and everyone knows what it’s for right away. They hear it, and it sounds like fun.”

That encapsulated sense of happiness — an open invitation to the party — is at the heart of a Honeydrops show. Following an enthusiastic reception at LEAF last fall, the Oakland, Calif.-based band returns to Asheville for a show at Isis Restaurant & Music Hall on Friday, May 6.

But Wierzynski, who came to the U.S. as a young child, is well-versed in the genre’s cross-cultural power. His dad, a political refugee from Poland, had discovered soul and R&B when he was growing up, though those records were banned in his home country. “For him, it was the ultimate rebel music,” says Wierzynski. “For me and my brother, it was the building block of how to be American.”

That joy of discovery — of sharing favorite records and bedroom dance parties — is felt at a Honeydrops show. The band feeds off of the energy of its audience, playing in the crowd and encouraging singalongs. The musicians (co-founder Ben Malament on percussion and washboard, Johnny Bones on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Lorenzo Loera on keyboard and melodica and Beau Bradbury on bass and percussion) never make setlists, Wierzynski says. They know what songs to lead with (originals like the brassy, cheeky “When It Was Wrong” are at home next to covers like Wilson Picket’s “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You”), “but we’re usually open to go with the flow,” says Wierzynski. “And we try to get the audience to go with the flow and make something different happen that day.”

While the Honeydrops play most of their shows in intimate venues (at LEAF, the band performed on the main Lakeside stage — along with kids they’d worked with as part of a LEAF Schools & Streets program — and inside Eden Hall), lately they’ve been on much bigger stages as openers for Bonnie Raitt. The famed blues songstress plays for a lot of sit-down crowds, Wierzynski points out, “but she has great fans. Her fans are music people.” The difference, he says, is a nice balance, allowing his band to “just focus on the music and focus on what we do.”

He continues, “Seeing her perform has been an amazing experience, too, watching her put herself into her songs night after night.” Raitt is a consummate artist but Wierzynski — though looser in his delivery — also pours soul into each performance. Though the musician describes himself as shy, onstage he’s wide open. His intuitive horn solos are well-matched with his bandmates’ deep grooves and addictive rhythms. The Honeydrops play with something close to telepathy, each instrument a separate limb of a single organism. And Wierzynski’s voice, lithe and emotive, is as responsive and adventurous as his trumpet.

Despite a hectic touring schedule (since LEAF, the Honeydrops have been to Australia, and between dates with Raitt they’ve been lining up their own headlining appearances), Wierzynski says the band is working on a follow-up to last year’s release, A River’s Invitation. The new record “will probably be a step backwards,” he says, to “rootsy, folky and blues elements that were not as prevalent on the last record.”

The Honeydrops are interested in the vintage recording equipment and techniques that help to capture that of-an-era sound, but the band is no revivalist project. “I don’t believe in evolution so much,” Wierzynski says. “I believe in things kind of cycling. We’re revisiting them at a different time.”

The band leader also believes in “pushing it one step further onstage, and I encourage the audience to do the same thing.” Sing along, dance harder or, heck, dance for the first time.

“When I see a really stiff crowd turn by the end of the night,” Wierzynski says, “that’s an amazing feeling.”

WHO: California Honeydrops

WHERE: Isis Restaurant & Music Hall,

WHEN: Friday, May 6, 9 p.m. $12 advance/$15 day of show


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.