Between bistro and bayou

Norton Buffalo Sierra Nevada Big Room Sunday, Nov. 23

Walking into the Big Room for an evening with one of the most accomplished harmonica players on the West Coast and seeing the stage covered from side to side with guitars, amplifiers, keyboards and percussion instruments perked me up for the incipient festivities. Things got kicked off to a mellow start by a set from the Norton Buffalo Acoustic Trio, made up of Buffalo and acoustic guitar pickers Lisa Flores and David Aguilar, playing a Latin-flavored ditty called “Buffalo Sambossa” that wrapped an extended harp melody around—you guessed it—a sinuous bossa nova/samba foundation that would soothe a savage bistro.

For me the peak of the acoustic set was reached during the Buffalo original, “One Room Church,” when he sang while doing a vocal impression of Walter Brennan during his The Real McCoys period. Having an artist openly celebrate the corniness factor of his performance is always fun.

The reggae-based antiwar song “One Small World” started to liven up the crowd, which didn’t really get excited until Buffalo’s full electric band The Knockouts took the stage and pumped things up to the point where the dance floor started getting some use.

And when Big Room manager Bob Littell was invited onstage to blow some harp with his hero, things actually got pretty swampy and interesting for a while.

But by 10:30 the crowd was beginning to wilt and filter out, and by the finale of "Can’t Judge a Book (By Looking at the Cover)" got around to quoting Hendrix’s "Third Stone from the Sun," only about half the house was left to appreciate it.