On the road to Aspen again with The California Honeydrops | AspenTimes.com

On the road to Aspen again with The California Honeydrops

R&B act headlines Belly Up on Monday

Shannon Asher
Special to the Aspen Times
The California Honeydrops will return to Belly Up Aspen on Monday night. Courtesy photo

Who: California Honeydrops

Where: Belly Up Aspen

When: Monday, Aug. 30, 8 p.m.

How much: $38-$75

Tickets: Belly Up box office; bellyupaspen.com

More info: Belly Up now requires proof of full COVID-19 vaccination at least 14 days prior to show date; negative tests are no longer accepted for entry.

It started as just two guys busking in a subway station in Oakland, California in 2007 and has since turned into a wildly successful five-piece American blues and R&B band.

Returning for their fourth performance at Belly Up Aspen, The California Honeydrops will take the stage on Monday with their diverse musical blend of Bay Area R&B, funk, Southern soul, Delta blues, and New Orleans second line jazz.

“We love Aspen, and we’ve always had a great experience at the Belly Up,” drummer and co-founder Ben Malament said in a recent phone interview from his home in El Sobrante, California.

When the group first signed with a booking agency and started touring in 2012, their first gig was opening for Buddy Guy here at the club.

“That was huge for us on a lot of levels,” Malament said. “Being able to come back and do our own shows there over and over and filling them out, that feels great. We love the Belly Up. They’re good people.”

The band is getting back into performance shape this summer after the extended pandemic shutdown of the concert industry.

“The live music muscles are slowly getting used again,” Malament says. “I think it’s just getting them worked out more and getting back on the road and back on the grind. The crowds are hungry, and everything is different with a new energy.”

He continues, “There’s still all these uncertainties and questions with the pandemic. Some people feel this way, some people feel that way, but everyone is just excited to have live music back. It’s just this whole mix of really intense energy, and it’s about navigating that.”

The California Honeydrops photographed at Cervantes in Denver. Jolly Mule/Courtesy photo

Malament thinks life will continue in this way for a while with everyone taking a reset and figuring out what’s next.

It’s been one hell of a year both mentally and physically,” he says, “But we’re ready to be back.”

Fifteen years in, California Honey Drops are still refining their sound.

“We’re about trying to find the line between a festival band and a party, bar band and a jazz club band,” Malament said. “We just want to have something for everyone. If everyone’s down to just bring a good energy, the band will keep evolving through those energies.”

Malament tries to explain the group’s sound by saying they are “something like Ray Charles meets Sam Cook meets the Rebirth Brass Band meets a party in the Caribbean islands,” he says. “The music in New Orleans is our heaviest influence. Whether it’s New Orleans R&B, the brass bands, or the old jazz (Louis Armstrong) kind of stuff.”

In addition to their own extensive touring, the Honeydrops were honored to support Bonnie Rait throughout her 2016-17 North American tour.

The California Honeydrops photographed at Cervantes in Denver. Jolly Mule/Courtesy photo

“This tour was another major stepping stone for us,” Malament said. “Bonnie took us under her wing. Her support and energy gave us a lot of confidence and a grand new experience of a professional touring band. It was our first tour that we got a tour bus on.”

“The whole experience was just loaded with gems and the greatest thing I think from that has been being able to call Bonnie a friend and gaining her friendship,” Malament said. “It’s just a gift to see people that are so successful, so talented, so professional and so down to earth and real, like in-your-face real people, good people, supportive people. It’s a real treasure.”

Malament previews the band’s return to Aspen by promising what anyone who has seen the band already knows: “expect a damn good time,” he says.

“We’re going to lay it on you and we’re going to make it an event where all of us are going to be a part of it,” he said. “We’ll play a lot of new stuff that we’ve been working on throughout this last year and we’ll also play the hits. It’s going to be great.”

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