Bring the Joy

I may never have heard of Carlos Reyes if it hadn’t been for my all-too-brief friendship with Norton Buffalo. Buffalo was the harmonica virtuoso who lived out his last days up in Paradise, where he brightened things for a few years by bringing so many of his musician pals to play before cancer took him by surprise, stealing his energy from a community where he’d shared his talents so generously.

Carlos Reyes, for those who haven’t had the distinct pleasure of seeing him perform, is a big bouncing bundle of feel-good in the flesh. If you go to a Carlos Reyes show and leave without a smile on your face, something’s probably seriously wrong with you because Señor Reyes brings the joy, sparing no energies to take his audience to some soulful and happy places.

A native of Paraguay, Reyes plays the Paraguayan harp, a formidable instrument that looks as though it would be exceedingly difficult to master. He also plays violin, keyboards, guitar and mandolin. On all those instruments, he makes the mastery look effortless. And when he’s not taking his audience higher, he can break their hearts with the soulfulness of a violin solo. He is playing the Sierra Nevada Big Room on June 11th, and that will easily be the hottest time to be had on a Tuesday night between San Francisco and the Oregon border.

Reyes has shared the stage with some pretty big names, adding a soupçon of world music to genres from rock to bluegrass, from blues to jazz. He’s lent his considerable chops in support of artists like jazz giant Bill Evans, rock star Steve Miller, and rapper M.C. Hammer.

“I look forward to playing in Chico again,” Carlos Reyes told me in a recent phone conversation. “I knew Norton Buffalo from the time I was 15, and when he told me I’d like it up there, I trusted him. And he was right. Playing in Butte County feels like home, like family: warm and welcoming.”

Still, life is short, and if you’ve really suffered from too much exposure to Paraguayan-born harp and fiddle maestros, you may want to pass on seeing Carlos Reyes when he blows into town Tuesday. But if you’ve been spending the normal amount of time dealing with the rather cranky and anxious zeitgeist that constitutes the times we’re living in, then you could do little better than to suck up a little of the aural joy Carlos Reyes generates whenever he’s doing the thing he does so well. He’s not only a top flight musician, but he’s a born showman. I can’t wait to see him again, and I know his old bandmate and friend, Norton Buffalo, will be present in spirit.

Carlos Reyes performs at Sierra Nevada’s Big Room on June 11th. Tickets are $20