California Honeydrops’ sweet sendoff into the New Year

Tahoe Onstage

Full powers of Lech Wierzynski and the California Honeydrops on full display at Crystal Bay Casino.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Michael Smyth

The California Honeydrops kicked off their sold-out, two-night New Year’s Eve run in the Crystal Bay Casino’s Crown Room Sunday. If that was the preview, then here’s a spoiler if you’re going to ring in 2019 with them tonight: You are going to have fun.

“The whole point is to erase the boundaries between the crowd and us. We don’t make set lists. We want requests. We want crowd involvement, to make people become a part of the whole thing by dancing along, singing, picking the songs and generally coming out of their shells.” – Lech Wierzynski

Sometimes what you read on a band’s website is just marketing hype and wishful thinking about how a band would like to be perceived. The Honeydrops are everything lead singer Wierzynski claims above. Stay Tuned.

Tahoe Onstage

Ziek McCarter of Con Brio is dressed for the occasion.

The evening opened with another high-energy Bay Area band, Con Brio. With the funky horns of saxophonist Marcus Stevens and Brendan Liu on trumpet, splashes of Ben Andrews’ edgy rock guitar, and frontman Ziek McCarter dripping with soul and brash dance moves the tone was immediately set.

McCarter’s struts and spins pair beautifully with his engaging smile and hot falsetto. You hate to drop such a big name to live up to, but it’s impossible to miss the onus to Michael Jackson and James Brown in his stage presence. When the band dropped “Kiss The Sun” from its 2015 EP, its full powers were on display and the Crown Room was loving it. The only quibble was a shortish 45-minute set, when Con Brio is worthy of at least an hour.

Now, about that Honeydrops set. If grooving with 700 gleeful partygoers in a sea of New Orleans soul, Delta blues with sprinkles of funk and R&B is your thing, then this band is for you.

Whether he was crooning, busting riffs on trumpet or supplying rhythm guitar, Lech Wierzynski is what being a frontman is all about. He’s in constant charismatic motion, cajoling and engaging individuals in the crowd and on stage while drawing everyone into what feels more like a house party than a concert.

Wierzynski had them singing, he had them calling out requests. He pointed out the crazy girls and the spirit animals. He mocked the new stage barrier at CBC because he wanted people closer and even more involved. He got the whole crowd to dance, crouched down low, after having already danced for hours, all the way back to the folks by Blake’s tree. Once he let them back up, Wierzynski decided to divide the room into a full-on freak out a dance contest. He had every soul in the room in the palm of his hand, and it was impossible to extract yourself from his tractor-beam of get-down.

But he doesn’t do it alone.

The Honeydrops are an extremely tight outfit on stage, and it all starts with Ben Malament on drums and Beau Bradbury on bass. Lorenzo Loera supplies the keyboard melodies that most of the tunes live on, while Johnny Bones seems to be always having fun. Whether he’s dropping animated solos on sax or clarinet, alongside Leon Cotter, they make a hell of a brass duo playing off one another. Everyone gets his turn to take solos, and everyone gets his turn to command the party.

The California Honeydrops might be the perfect New Year’s Eve band. Feast beforehand, you’ll need the energy. They’ll be no escaping the drinking and being merry as you welcome 2019.

— Michael Smyth

Michael Smyth / Tahoe Onstage

The California Honeydrops close 2018 with two sellout shows in the Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room.

About Michael Smyth

Michael Smyth moved to Reno in 2007 after living more than 40 years in the Bay Area. In addition to going to live shows, he enjoys golf, skiing and fly-fishing. Check out his website

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