Interview, Preview

Ben Malament, The California Honeydrops 2023 DelFest Preview

Photo by Deborah Wilson

By Kevin Alan Lamb

Imagine living in Oakland, CA circa 2007, catching a train after an especially shitty day at the office. It’s probably raining, you’re at odds with your partner, and heck – even your dog is probably sick (not to mention it’s obviously Monday). You’re making your way through a BART station, breathing deep, exercising everything within your power not to flip out on the fella who refused to give up his seat to the sweet old lady (probably named Eileen). 

You exit the train, and suddenly everything changes with the sweet sound and serenade echoing through the tunnel’s chambers for the delight of evening commuters. You probably didn’t know it at the time, but it was your introduction to Ben Malament, Lech Wierzynski, and The California Honeydrops. Malament had made his way to the station after another day of substitute teaching in Oakland Unified School District, intent on busking because “when Ben is behind the drums, you will feel good, you will move your body, and you will come back for another night of dancing, sweating, smiling, and good times.”

Drawing exuberance and inspiration from the soul and rhythms of New Orleans R&B, and the undeniable force that is the New Orleans Brass Band sound, Malament was working overtime to cook up some sugar and spice, and everything nice. He and Wierzynski knew in their hearts that even the worst of days could be sweetened with a little honey, and the magic in their veins could help alleviate your pain. 

Since that Monday in a BART Station in 2007, Malament, Wierzynski, and The Honeydrops have been “Spreadin’ Honey” across North America, Europe, and Australia, giving people a reason to dance in the rain, selling out major tours while sharing the stage with bonafide legends such as Dr. John, Bonnie Raitt, Allen Touissant, B.B. King, and Del McCoury. Drawing on musical influences ranging from Bay Area R&B, Funk, Southern soul, Delta blues, and New Orleans second-line, The Honeydrops bring vibrant energy and infectious dance-party vibes to their shows. Intent on “erasing the boundaries between the crowd and us”, The Honeydrops fountain of youth is the reciprocal, shared exaltation amongst each and every heartbeat in the room. It feeds the band and makes the Honeydrops who they are. 

All about love, good lovin’, and other things that matter, since 2019 the band has used its “Spreadin’ Honey Project” to partner with local nonprofits in each city they visit on tour, raising awareness and funds for causes such as food banks, homeless shelters, youth centers, disaster relief efforts, and social justice initiatives. More like parties than traditional concerts, their shows feature extensive off-stage jamming and crowd interaction, reminding us all that we are better together, and how quickly everything can suddenly change with a little love and sweetness. 

The Del McCoury Band has been a long time musical hero of The Honeydrops, which makes their 2023 DelFest appearance extra sweet. It was a dream come true for the band when they heard that Del and the boys recorded “Other Shore” and it was going to be on his latest album Almost Proud.

With nods to Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and Louis Armstrong, The Honeydrops are intimate, organic, and sweaty with a street-level feel. Here’s my conversation with Ben Malament ahead of The California Honeydrops 2023 DelFest dance party extravaganza. 

Last year you released Soft Spot: A record all about love, good lovin’, and other things that matter. What ingredients fill your soft spot? 

Getting outside and moving my body. Relaxing on the couch and listening to records and not moving my body. Sugar and spice and everything nice. Nice. Yeah, compassion and niceness really helps fill up that soft spot. 

What happens when you neglect to feed yourself these ingredients? 

OOF. It doesn’t feel very good, I’ll tell ya that. It’s easy to fake it till you make it, but eventually the body and mind tells you to take a break and feed yourself the good stuff. Take a moment, check in, breathe, and then move forward, It’s all about taking time in the transitions. 

If you could add one more song to Covers from the Cove (2022), what is a favorite that you love to play? 

Good question… we have a few in the bank waiting to finish and release, including a second line version of “Before I Let You Go” by Frankie Beverly and Maze. I love to play that one. Killer energy and lots of horns! 

If you could spend two months on a ship collaborating with another artist (living or dead), who would it be, where would you travel, and why? 

Oh man, another scorcher. Well, I think Toots Hibbert would have been awesome because you can tell he loves a lot of different music but reggae/rocksteady/ska is his thing which is also a love interest of mine. So I think that would be so fun. 

Tell us something about your first headlining date at Red Rocks that we probably don’t know. 

Did you know that a raccoon lives somewhere in the venue, and everyone who works there knows the little fella, and after the show someone will leave a slice of pizza on a chair or something, and the raccoon will come right up next to the stage and eat it, chomping away, not paying anyone else any mind?

What does MoTown mean to you? 

The word makes me think of a funky sound. Jamerson bass, poppin drums and joyful cymbals, and a lot of strong amazing singing and endless songs. It means history and a unique American sound. 

Elaborate on the magic produced when you “…erase the boundaries between the crowd and us.” 

It’s the source! It’s what feeds our band and makes the Honeydrops who we are. For real, anyone that comes to our shows will tell you the same. It’s the Honeydrops fountain of youth! 

Name an artist or artists on the DelFest lineup that you share a particularly strong bond/chemistry/history with. 

Well, Del himself is a legend, and the fact that he’s covered two of Lech’s songs is pretty incredible! I mean, whoa! But we share a special bond with Lindsay Lou for sure, so so so many magical musical moments with her. What a gem! And we’ve toured with both AJ Lee and Chris Jacobs bands, and their music and friendship means a lot to us. 

Who would you be most excited to see at DelFest ’23? 


Who are some people in your life who helped you subscribe to our own magic that you’d like to thank? 

Well, my father, the late Bruce Malament, also a professional musician (piano, keys, composing, arranging) would tell me a lot that what makes you a special musician is bringing your own unique magic to the music. He would say that. Magic. So I’m gonna thank my pops. 

What’s the last song you want to hear before you die? 

I don’t care, as long as it’s not on one of the planes I take for these shows! 

Sorry I missed your Detroit (Ferndale) debut at The Magic Bag, how was it? 

That crowd was great. We are so lucky to play in towns we’ve rarely or never visited and have such an awesome response. 

Perhaps we could all learn a lesson from The Honeydrops, erase the boundaries between us, let love in, and spread some honey. Just in case you were listening for one, This is a Good Sound. 

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