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The California Honeydrops Sweeten Up Santa Barbara Polo & Wine Festival

Bay Area R&B Act Joins ZZ Ward, Booker T. Jones, and More


Editor’s Note: Due to unforeseen circumstances, the second annual Santa Barbara Polo & Wine Festival is cancelled. Find more information here.

In a world saturated with music festivals, the Santa Barbara Polo & Wine Festival has quickly stood out since its inauguration last year as one of the state’s most unique — and delightful. Combining contemporary spins on R&B, blues, soul, and jazz music with the luxury of California varietals and the excitement of polo, it’ll be a feast for the senses.

This year, the soulful, Bay Area–based The California Honeydrops are one of the acts to check out, alongside big names like ZZ Ward and Booker T. Jones. From their beginnings as a BART station busking act, they’ve risen to be an internationally renowned soul group who have collaborated with the likes of Bonnie Raitt and Nick Otis. I spoke with drummer Ben Malament about wine, the new album, and the idea of home.

How are you feeling about the upcoming festival?

I think it’s gonna be a lovely day; it’s gonna be really sweet.

Since it’s a Polo and Wine Festival — what role has wine played in the band’s creative process?

You know, our manager, Heather [Newman] at Feather Ventures, is a wine connoisseur, and she’s helped broaden my palette. I prefer the drier wine, personally. I would say a glass of wine in our business meetings helps things go down easier sometimes.

Your new album, Call It Home, explores the theme of home. How has that theme changed for you, personally, since the album’s release?

The concept of home, especially from where we’re coming from going all over the world as our daily job, knowing so many people that take us in — it really does change the concept of home, all the time. We filmed the “Call It Home” video in our old neighborhood, and where we used to busk in the BART— in 20 minutes, we saw so many people we hadn’t seen in a long time. It felt really good playing in the street again, playing for people, seeing folks; it was nice to be reminded of where we’re coming from. There are cats still supporting us at home and all around the world, on the road, and we’re lucky to be able to call different places home.

Do you miss those days, the busking phase of the band?

Yeah, man. Now we’re older, and the hustle’s different, and I’ve got a kid and got to put food on the table. When we used to busk in Bay Area, we used to buy a burrito and a milkshake, and we’d be cool. I feel sorry for buskers in the Bay Area now. It’s a different environment; it’s a different jungle, a different beast, with all the people that live here now, and the price of living has pretty much quadrupled. It’s pretty sad to think it’s basically impossible to start up the way we started it in this area.

I get a Shuggie Otis vibe on some of the new songs, and Shuggie’s brother Nick played on the new album. How did your collaborators influence the creative process?

The album itself has a ton of guests on it — people we’ve gotten to know better as musicians, and their friends, too, and that comes through our connection with them letting them do what they do on the songs. That includes people like Nick Otis, Kid Andersen, and Bonnie Raitt. We’d have an arrangement, and there’d be parts that we knew would just sound better if certain people played them. We had extra percussion on every track just to bring in a different energy. Nick Otis is a really fun guy to have in the studio. Kid Andersen is a killer guitarist and a killer bass player, and getting to lay down a shuffle with him was so fun and so inspiring. It was very easy to do different takes, let’s put it that way.

Anything else you’d like to say?

Just to tell the people of S.B. to come out and party with us!

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The California Honeydrops play Saturday, September 8, 2 p.m., at the Santa Barbara Polo & Wine Festival (3300 Via Real, Carpinteria).

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