The first time I saw funk and soul singer Allen Stone live, I braved scorching heat in downtown Las Vegas. It was the inaugural Life is Beautiful Festival in 2013, and the pale-skinned Stone drew a very early-afternoon set time.
You could tell most of the crowd had gone too hard the first day of the festival. Before Allen Stone came onto the stage, they were hating themselves for being back at noon. It only took a couple songs for the crowd to forget all of that and soon they were clapping along with him. By the end of the set, he had some new fans — including myself. When I moved to LA the next year, Allen Stone was one of the first shows I ever saw. He’s the kind of act you see at a festival and it makes you want to get to every festival early in order not to miss someone that talented.
“I love playing music in those situations because I’ve kind of had a career based upon people not expecting much from me,” Stone told Pass The Aux over the phone. “The way that I look versus the way that I sound has always been the dichotomy that draws people in.”
I’ve caught Allen Stone a couple of times at festivals. They always seem to put him early in the day, like when I saw him at Bonnaroo 2016. Perhaps the festival organizers believe he’s the kind of performer that will get a festival attendee to drag themselves out of their tent or hotel earlier than they’d like. Stone wonders if they’re just sadists.
“For how pale I am and how much my skin hates the sun, you’d think they would have mercy on me every once in a while at those festivals and put me maybe at 7 PM or maybe 6 PM or something — not right when the sun is at its peak and it is the hottest,” Stone joked. “I feel like they look at the list of artists coming to their festival and they find the guy whose skin is see through and glows in the dark and goes, ‘Let’s just torture this guy a little bit.'”
The Washington native has been dropping new songs here and there this year as he prepares to release his third album. The record is still unnamed and with a date to be determined, though early next year is when I’ve been told to expect it. “Brown Eyed Lover” immediately caught my attention with its funky uptempo feel. Stone’s swagger is more apparent on this track than almost any other in his catalog.
“Brown Eyed Lover” has a much different feel than “Unaware” — the first song I ever heard from him. That song would fit alongside the best ’90s R&B slow-burners despite its political bent. “Brown Eyed Lover” has a funkier groove and really moves. Stone promises there are downtempo ballads on his new record despite the singles being the opposite so far.
“I don’t think I approached this record really any differently than the last one,” Stone said of the process. “The tools were just different that I had to use.”
For this record, Stone worked with Jamie Lidell at his studio in Nashville. His last record Radius from 2016 was recorded in Sweden with Tingsek. Stone explained that each producer had a different set of tools and that he likes mixing it up from record to record.
“I had my band there [in Nashville],” Stone said. “We played the majority of it live. I think that sort of lends itself to the record feeling really different than previous records. I really like that. I don’t want people to hear my records back-to-back and really feel any through line besides my voice. ”
I asked Allen Stone if he had to pair this new record with an adult beverage, what would be the perfect pairing.
“I’d have to say champagne,” Stone said after thinking it over. “I think this record is definitely a party. It’s a fun record. I think it’s a good evolution towards joy. I kind of just always equate champagne to enjoying yourself. I just got married literally two weeks ago and it was the best party of my life and it was just champagne all around.”
“I feel like I’m more of a hospital than I am a therapist nowadays. I’m more of a clinic than I am a minister.”
One of the singles the newlywed dropped this year is “Warriors”. It’s a song that will undoubtedly soundtrack sports montages for years — if not decades — to come. The singer had an opportunity to play it this year at the Special Olympics USA opening ceremony in Seattle, not far from where he grew up.
Watching the video gave me the same kind of joy that an Allen Stone show will give you. The athletes are completely enthralled as Stone makes his way down the steps to dance and high-five them. Watch below, if your face doesn’t hurt from smiling then you might not be human.
“That performance was easily the best thing I’ve ever done in music before, for sure,” Stone said. “I’ve dissected it since and have a couple ideas as to why.”
“For one, the people in this community of having adult disabilities don’t seem to possess this unfortunate characteristic that many people that don’t have disabilities have, and that characteristic is the fear of expressing joy. Part of me feels like humans struggle with expressing joy, with expressing having a good time. You see the vast majority of people who we would categorize as cool currently to seem not like you’re having a good time is like the best way to react to any situation. Which seems so corny.”
Stone told me how about a week before the Special Olympics performance, he was on tour in Florida and a girl reached out to him on Instagram. She happened to work for an adult disabilities home and asked if he would come sing some songs for them. His touring schedule was lax enough that he said sure, why not.
“I showed up and there was about 300 of them, and they could not be more excited,” Stone warmly remembers. “I started playing one of my songs and they right away started clapping and laughing and getting excited. This is amazing. I haven’t done anything yet. I haven’t hit the high note. Lightning hasn’t shot out of my belt buckle yet.I don’t think it’s necessarily them being impressed I just think it’s them not having that fear of enjoying and expressing that joy. Those athletes and that community of adults with disabilities seem to not have that fear. So when you perform for them it’s just pure joy. There’s no people standing with their arms crossed dissecting you. There’s no people standing in the back. Everybody is so amped to hear music and to be there.”
In my experience, Allen Stone has always done a good job at getting crowds to show joy. He has a pair of shows at the Fonda Theatre on Wednesday, Oct. 17 and Thursday, Oct. 18 with R&B-jazz favorite Nick Waterhouse as support. It’s quite a perfect pairing. Both guys know how to get a crowd moving.
Stone has shifted away from the politically-tinged tunes like “Unaware”. He sounds more focused on just providing people with an escape from all the horrifying things happening in the world.
“To me it seems like the best tool that I have to utilize for bringing about actual change is allowing people to take a breath from [what’s happening],” Stone said. “I feel like I’m more of a hospital than I am a therapist nowadays. I’m more of a clinic than I am a minister. I used to think, ‘Oh I got the mic I better say something!’ I really just want people to come to my shows and have a release and for an hour of half just forget that a celebrity reality-TV star is the most powerful person in the world.”
Come escape at the Fonda Theatre on Oct. 17 and Oct. 18 with Allen Stone and Nick Waterhouse. Tickets are still available! Looking for date-night ideas? This show certainly fits. Check out our guide to things to eat and drink around the Fonda Theatre here.
Photos by Tim Aarons