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Allen Stone: Love Where You’re At

It’s true: the only one who could ever reach me was the son of a preacher man. Meet Allen Stone, a musician who never falls flat.

I was first introduced to Allen Stone in September 2012. A trendy, always in-the-know coworker approached me during lunch and bluntly stated, “Listen, my friend just bailed, so I have an extra ticket to see this dude Allen Stone tonight at the Highline Ballroom in Chelsea.” She either safely assumed I’d never heard of him or accurately interpreted my facial cues before continuing: “He’s a soul singer; covers Bob Marley; and is friends with Macklemore and Ryan. The ticket is only $20 … want to grab a drink after work and join me?”

Hip-hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis had released Thrift Shop a few weeks prior, and it was off the charts worldwide. If Allen Stone was friends with the most desirable and sought-after artists of the time, he had to be something special. Plus, $20 in New York City was pocket change: One subpar cocktail disguised in a pretty glass costs $20, and let’s be real, I’d never ordered just one drink after a long day at work. I immediately accepted the office social queen’s candid yet compelling invite as her back-up plan.

Although I’m not a fan of surprises (who doesn’t scrutinize a menu before hitting the restaurant?), the workday flew by, and I didn’t have a chance to Google “Allen Stone” or listen to any of his music. This was a true blind date, albeit with some preconceived notions and expectations based on my coworker’s description… soul singer, friends with popular hip-hop artists, covers Bob Marley. Got it.

Blue-Eyed Soul

The crowd at Highline Ballroom was relatively intimate – a couple hundred young, laid-back attendees surrounded us on the standing-room-only floor. As the lights dimmed and the audience responded in anticipation, we made our way close to the stage. A full band entered, and at last, a tall, hipster-looking guy appeared in the spotlight.

“This must be another opener, right?” I asked my coworker, slightly perplexed. “Nope, that’s Allen! You’re in for a treat,” she exclaimed with a clever smile, as if she’d been strategically setting me up for this reaction.

My first thought was that Allen Stone resembled Andy Samberg’s “Shy Ronnie” character on Saturday Night Live. He wore large, framed glasses atop his big, blue eyes; a wide-brimmed hat with long, blonde, curly hair flowing beneath; and a bohemian, knit poncho featuring an earthy, tribal pattern. Not quite what I initially visualized, but hey, valuable lesson learned on typecasting.

Allen Stone and his band dove right into a funky song called What I’ve Seen, and from the second he opened his mouth, I was completely taken aback. Utterly mesmerized. A 2011 New York Times review said it best: “The look says one thing. The voice says something else.”

He had a nostalgic, soulful sound resembling my all-time-favorite Stevie Wonder, delivering pitch-perfect note after note. Hearing his songs and gospel-like sound without initial research was a true blessing. Every song hit me harder than the last, including his epic cover of Bob Marley’s Is This Love (yes, Allen, I believe it was love that I was feeling).

Most notably, this wasn’t just a one-way performance. Allen Stone conducted energy and had infectious enthusiasm, turning the concert into a mandatory dance party led by his charmingly awkward moves. He exuded a genuine, humble vibe, encouraging kindness, love and gratitude throughout the 90-minute set. As it turns out, preaching was in his blood (we’ll get there).

My coworker and I waited at the merch table post-show to snag a picture and share our sentiments (long live the days when he was still relatively unknown). I left completely inspired and moved by both his music and presence — a feeling that would never, ever leave my soul.

And so began my fascination with Allen Stone.

A Genre All His Own

I needed to learn more. Where did he come from? How did he begin? Who inspired him? When was his next concert? Where had he been the past 24 years of my life?! I downloaded every song, read every interview, and sang his praises to anyone and everyone who made eye contact with me … taxi drivers, Starbucks baristas, subway commuters. Here’s what I learned…

Allen Stone grew up in the small, remote town of Chewelah, Washington. His parents were ministers, and by 13, he was leading worship and singing in church. That’s right, the son of a preacher (man). I’d like to think the gospel roots helped shape his appreciation of music and passionate performance skills.

Throughout his childhood, he was confined to a narrow scope of Christian music — musically isolated, if you will — until his older brother started sneaking home records, giving him his first taste of secular music. Allen Stone became a connoisseur of R&B as a teenager, falling in love with 60s and 70s-era funk and soul music.

At around 17, he heard Stevie Wonder for the first time (Innervisions, 1973), sparking inspiration, joy and hunger. “I want to sing like that guy. That’s the most powerful voice I’ve ever heard,” he noted in an interview with Kritical Kane. While driving 30 minutes every day to see his girlfriend, Allen Stone would practice emulating the way Stevie Wonder sounded, adding his own little twist.

By 18, Allen Stone decided he wanted to become a music pastor, so he attended the Moody Bible Institute in Spokane. Yet, midway through the semester, he realized he didn’t believe in it anymore; as many do at a crossroads, he became bitter. In a moment of desperation, he told the crowd at a TedXUniversityofNevada, “I decided I wanted to become a famous musician. I wanted to show my folks and my church and my friends that I could make it in the secular world. So I started pickin’ and grinnin’ wherever I could.”

Climbing to the Top

A famous musician, indeed.

We’ve been privileged with three albums (and another on the way!); consistent tour dates year over year; quality social media content to fill the gaps between live shows; and career-defining television appearances, including American Idol and the 2018 Special Olympics opening ceremony. Media outlets frequently compare Allen Stone to his own musical heroes, including The New York Times: “If You Like Stevie Wonder…Listen to Allen Stone.” Can you imagine?!

When I saw Allen Stone in 2012 — unbeknownst to me — he was amid paying off about $400,000 in debt to a deceitful music manager, a seemingly impossible sum for an artist attempting to get off the ground. Despite the energy and positivity I witnessed, he admits he was “locked in a selfish black hole” at the time. “All the imagination and creativity and joy I experienced throughout my life took a back seat. All I could focus on was bitterness.”

Eventually, gratitude yielded joy, and Allen Stone has come to appreciate his journey — and his career and personal life have thrived in the process. Plus, through the experience, Allen Stone conceived my favorite song to date, Love Where You’re At.

Spreading the Love

For the past seven years, I’ve cheered on Allen Stone’s successes and followed him around the country at every opportunity — from Boston to South Florida, Nashville, and Napa Valley, at intimate gatherings and large music festivals.

It’s even become a family affair — my music-loving-father is Allen Stone’s number one (well, number two) fan; my sisters have brought countless friends to see him live in their respective hometowns; my in-laws don’t ever miss a local performance; and most importantly, my husband and I play his music to our first baby in the womb, who will be home with us by the time this is published. He is destined to be Allen Stone’s littlest biggest fan.

Learn more about Allen Stone here.