Allen Stone’s Hippie Soul
Most of the artists who have headlined the Wheeler Opera House lately have been, in music-industry lingo, “heritage acts.” Truth be told, that’s kind of a nice way of saying “old guys.”
There is, no doubt, an overwhelming audience pleasure in seeing a musical giant of the ’60s or ’70s perform live in 2014, looking back on their decades of creative output, and it’s surely a feather in the cap of the Wheeler to book the likes of Jon Anderson and Jean-Luc Ponty or the folk legend Tom Paxton (who plays the historic theater on Oct. 19).
But it’s something else entirely to see a young artist on the rise, in thrall to his or her art, with the kind of talent and on-stage energy that — who knows? — might lead them to break some new ground and, 40 years from now, be one of those nostalgia-fueled heritage acts.
Such is the case with Allen Stone, a 27-year-old singer from Washington state who is coming off of a breakthrough summer of festival gigs and a fast-growing national following for his energetic take on soul music. Stone makes his Aspen debut on Oct. 21 with a show at the Wheeler with special guests the BGP.
A preacher’s son who has performed since he was a teenager, Stone has self-released two records and toured incessantly — including 600 shows over a two-year span — since 2011. The self-described “hippie with soul” blends smart, socially conscious lyrics with the old-school R&B style of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.
In Wonder and Gaye’s tradition, he uses his silky, powerful voice to address some of the thornier issues of our time. “Everyday,” for instance, is an aching, blue-eyed soul tune that takes on the post-recession struggles of the middle class, opening, “Every day the deficit grows / You spend more than you own.” A YouTube clip of the song has garnered 3.4 million views.
His second album, 2011’s “Allen Stone,” became a bona fide hit and began winning him a national fan base and live spots on “Conan,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “The Ellen Degeneres Show.”
But most pop-music fans still probably recognize him best from his guest spot on rapper (and fellow Washingtonian) Macklemore’s “Neon Cathedral” from the ubiquitous, Grammy-winning 2012 album “The Heist.” Stone’s the guy playing keys and singing the chorus, “Underneath this fragile frame / Lives a battle between pride and shame / But I’ve misplaced that sense of fright / This crown of thorns is perched atop my spine.”
Earlier this year he took a break from the road and spent some time writing in a cabin in his hometown, Chewelah, Washington, and then paired up with Swedish producer and singer-songwriter Magnus Tingsek to record a new album for Capitol Records, Stone’s first with a major label.
It’s due out by the end of the year, but he’s released a three-song EP preview that’s available only to fans at pre-show meet-and-greet sessions with Stone (you can sign up for the Wheeler pre-party at http://www.allenstone.com). And this spring he released the single “Million,” an easygoing, stripped-down soul song recorded in his cabin in Chewelah.
His analog tools and simple, old-school approach — and the way it’s been embraced by young music fans — should give hope to the doomsayers who fear that button-pushing DJs and their laptops are going to take over music or destroy it entirely. With a talent like Stone carrying on the soul tradition, it seems safe from extinction.
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The Aspen Filmfest program, which opens Tuesday night with the Jessica Chastain-led drama “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” is a tribute to the founder, Ellen Kohner Hunt. The festival will also recognize the memory of Hunt with “Ellenfest” on Thursday.