The California Honeydrops and The Coffis Brothers & The Mountain Men delivered a special night of music Friday, Dec. 15, filling the Crystal Bay Casino with two sets of love.
The Crystal Bay Casino was absolutely packed, the first big showcase of the winter season. A sold-out crowd was hustling and bustling and ready to release a week’s worth of tension in a three-hour sing and dance affair. A tiny pennant with “Weekend” on it bobbed above the crowd all night as if it was leading everyone into battle, though instead of guns and grenades there were beers and joints and the tactical missions included maneuvering with four beers at once and infiltrating the railing.
The Coffis Brothers & The Mountain Men opened the show and primed the crowd with a charged set of breezy, California rock and roll. You could feel the sunswept mountains and salty, coastal air emanating from the speakers as the Santa Cruz natives rolled through their warm set. The band pulled a decent amount of material from its latest album, “Roll With It,” and charmed the shit out of the crowd with its spirited, Tom Petty-inspired sound. Much like the night’s headliner’s situation three or four years ago, The Coffis Brothers & The Mountain Men are a budding regional outfit that has the talent and drive to bloom into something real special. Hopefully, they’ll find their names on the Crystal Bay Casino’s marquee in the coming years.
But the name up in lights was The California Honeydrops. The band has become one of Tahoe’s most-adored acts and the night’s overflowing turnout was a testament to how much they’ve become a must-see in the area. The members strutted onstage with down-to-earth coolness, lead singer Lech Wierzynski taking the cake in his beaming smile and matching powder-blue slacks and cap. Before they even played a note, the musicians had more than 700 people wrapped around their little fingers, waiting for the show to begin, an impressive feat that set the tone for the whole concert.
If there was one word to describe the vibe of the night it was love. Onstage and in the crowd, love was expressed in so many genuine ways. The band always has been a dazzling presence and one of the biggest reasons is because you can see and feel their love and enthusiasm for what they do. Wierzynski was the always effervescent frontman and the soul of the band poured out of him effortlessly in his singing, dancing and playing, especially when he was doing all three in the same song, such as on the bouncing “Like This, Like That.” Sax man Johnny Bones was also a pleasure to watch as he bobbed and weaved with the music and got all he could out of every note of his instrument.
The music itself is the natural byproduct of a band that has the utmost love and respect of the musical legacy it is building upon. The Honeydrops are steeped in that rich blues, Delta R&B and New Orleans sound and they execute it masterfully. Wierzynski will wow every time with his angelic falsetto, but his jumping off point is always the smooth, understated strength of drummer Ben Malament and bassist Beau Bradbury’s rhythm section and Lorenzo Loera’s complimentary playing on keys. Whether it was debuting a bubbly, new song that had Wierzynski singing “living for today, singing for tomorrow,” with old-school R&B vibes or blazing through a smoky “Yes We Can” by New Orleans icon Lee Dorsey, the music moved through the band wonderfully.
But the biggest love story of the night was between band and crowd. You could tell the band was just beloved by everyone in attendance and the Honeydrops reciprocated with a joyous, uplifting set and genuine gratitude extended in between songs. Fan favorite “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You,” which could be considered an anthem for the group, was an extended celebration that featured numerous solos, breakdowns and call-and-response, a laid-back, backyard party fit into seven minutes of bliss.
When The California Honeydrops hit the song’s last note, the crowd erupted into one of the most genuine, warm rounds of applause the Crystal Bay Casino probably has ever experienced. It was enough to make the hairs stand up on the top of people’s arms and necks. It was a truly special moment that epitomized the night’s vibe and expressed just how much The California Honeydrops mean to the people of Tahoe. What a great start to winter.