Allen Stone's soulful singer-songwriter stardom was forged in Eastern Washington. Now he's replanted his roots in Spokane as he looks to expand his communal musical journey.

click to enlarge Allen Stone's soulful singer-songwriter stardom was forged in Eastern Washington. Now he's replanted his roots in Spokane as he looks to expand his communal musical journey.
Lonnie Webb photo
Allen Stone has soul, but he's not a soldier.

Music is a realm of subjectivity. Everyone has their own musical tastes, so it's not super often you come across talent that is objectively undeniable.

Allen Stone's voice is undeniable.

Even if the Spokane singer-songwriter's fusion of R&B and soul sound isn't your jam, the pure radiance of vocal cords when they're hitting their peak can send a shiver up almost anyone's spine. Whether plying his trade on national television, a local club stage or merely singing karaoke, when Stone sings, people stop and listen.

That vocal power may not have been present for all of the 35-year-old's life, but singing in one form or another has been a constant.

Allen Stone's musical journey began at church. His father, Danny Stone, was a minister at Addy New Life Christian Center near the family's hometown of Chewelah.

"Anybody who is familiar with church, music and service go hand in hand," Stone says. "That's where I first found a love for singing with other people, which is still sort of where the invigoration of music comes from, for me personally. I love leading people in a musical experience, and if I can get everybody to sing along or everybody to participate, that's when it becomes like a high. That's what I'm going for.

"If you really get into the fine print of American musical lineage," he continues, "the good parts come from African American churches. And then it came into the blues and soul."

His father's ministry led the family to being musical world travelers. Stone not only sang in children's programs at the church but also traveled and performed with his family in churches or even street busker-esque settings in places as far flung as Ukraine.

Stone always leaned more toward the funky side of the musical spectrum rather than sinking his teeth into something like Seattle grunge. His older brother bringing home albums from bands like Cake gave him a glimpse into that world, before a deep dive into Stevie Wonder turned him into a music obsessive.

"My folks let me put in a little tiny studio in my room. I was really into hip-hop, and went through that white boy jam band phase — you know, Dave Matthews and Phish and Jason Mraz," Stone says. "And then (around age 15) when I came upon Stevie and Aretha and Donny Hathaway, it was like, 'Oh, I want to sing.' What a blessing to have found it in that time in my life. I just got so obsessed, man."


A big moment for young Allen's recognition that music could be a viable career path came via his peer group. From a distance, he watched a friend he'd met at missionary school become a teen star in the Christian music scene.

"We're driving down [U.S. Route] 395, and I remember the radio DJ on the local Christian station going, 'And now a new artist out of Seattle, Washington. She's only 13 years old, Stacie Orrico,'" recalls Stone. "And I was just like, 'Wait, what?!' We didn't realize she had gone from singing songs really well in our living room to now she was on the radio? What was that leap? And how did that happen?"

Even when Orrico unsuccessfully attempted to make the nearly impossible crossover from Christian music to mainstream pop, Stone saw it as something to aspire toward.

"I remember sitting in Red Robin down by Riverfront Park, and they had TRL on. And Stacie was on TRL," says Stone. "That was truly the catalyst towards me even having this stupid bonkers dream. I would have never had as much foolish pride and foolish dreaming if it wasn't for seeing somebody who I knew do it. I've just always been such a way bigger dreamer than a realist."

Still, those dreams didn't translate into immediate action for Stone, who admits he was fairly stagnant immediately after high school, half expecting someone to just show up at his Chewelah doorstep with a recording contract. Eventually his parents' prodding to do something led him to relocate to Spokane in 2006.

He first took a half-year recording class at Spokane Falls Community College (one he says he still uses lessons from to this day) before enrolling at Moody Bible Institute. His thought at the time was maybe he'd become a pastor, but he soon moved away from the church, becoming disillusioned with the corporatism of institutional religion.

click to enlarge Allen Stone's soulful singer-songwriter stardom was forged in Eastern Washington. Now he's replanted his roots in Spokane as he looks to expand his communal musical journey.
Courtesy of Allen Stone
Baby Allen with his mom, and Allen (right) with his siblings Kenny and Kaylee.

Instead of poring over Bible verses, he dedicated himself to finding stage time around Spokane, though his songs at the time still had a Christian music feel to them. He frequented the open mic at Rock Coffee and would also play marathon three-hour, cover-heavy sets at Ionic Burrito (both spots are now defunct). It wasn't the glamorous spotlight, but Stone was slowly building up his skill set and on-stage confidence.

After putting a couple songs up on his MySpace page, Stone was contacted by Seattle-based producer Brandon Bee, who wanted Stone to cross the Cascades to cut a record. Once there he met Derek Hoiem, another Seattle Christian music industry person, who had started a studio in his backyard. Hoiem hired Stone to do busy work at the studio (cleaning, making coffees, etc.), but granted Stone studio time in the evenings. It was a boon for an aspiring artist like Allen, who often stayed there till 11 or 12 at night just making music.

Stone got a "gross" apartment in Lynnwood with his now-best friend Julian Gavilanes. The pair connected via a friend from Allen's youth who'd moved to the Seattle area, but they didn't meet until Stone took a trip to the West Side right after high school. While the two were somewhat of a clash — Stone the good Christian boy and Gavilanes a crazy punk kid — their differences melted away over music as soon as Allen sat down at Gavilanes' dad's piano and started playing.

"I'd never heard somebody that was the same age as me be so talented at something," says Gavilanes. "I had never been in the presence of something like that. And I just remember hearing him play, I was like, 'This is insane.'"

While Stone was moving away from faith-based music in his early 20s, he got busy hustling for stage time around Seattle. He started out primarily playing the Q Cafe near Seattle Pacific University, but kept busting his ass to take the next marginal step up the ladder: The Q led to a gig at the High Dive bar; success there meant maybe a gig at the Crocodile; a good night at the Croc could lead to enough money to drive to Portland and play a show there; eventually he could travel down the West Coast and play a small gigs in LA. The grind isn't glamorous, but it showcased how badly Stone wanted a musical career.

Those close to him could see the evolution of a creative spirit before their eyes.

"I remember early on he was doing these shows at coffee shops and stuff, and he would sit down and he would take himself really seriously," Gavilanes says. "He would try to do all these runs and be super, super impressive with his vocals. But he already was, he didn't need to do any of that stuff.

"And I remember being like, 'Allen, you got to create some kind of stage presence. Like, get up out of your seat. Dance! Get people energized!' And he started kind of grooving more and dancing and becoming more of like a stage performer. He totally just found this voice within himself, and he stopped caring so much about how he looked on stage. And everything changed."

click to enlarge Allen Stone's soulful singer-songwriter stardom was forged in Eastern Washington. Now he's replanted his roots in Spokane as he looks to expand his communal musical journey.
Courtesy of Julian Gavilanes
Stone's pal Julian Gavilanes (right) gets a doppelgänger laugh.


In a not-too-unfamiliar story in our modern times, Stone's big break came via the power of the internet.

On May 17, 2011, Stone posted a live performance video of his song "Unaware" to YouTube. Set in his mother's living room, there's nothing overly remarkable about the video — except for Stone's voice. Colloquially known as the "high note" video, the R&B song peaks almost four minutes in when the singer attacks the post-bridge chorus with an absolutely stunning falsetto vocal performance. It's goosebump-inducing stuff.

"I put it up on YouTube. And like, overnight it had, like 250,000 views," Stone says. "And I was like, 'What is this? This is insane.' That was really the thing that opened up so many doors for me and got me on the road into venues that I would have never been able to get into. I don't know, I've been doing that ever since, just trying to get bodies into venues, trying to sing in front of people."

Once "Unaware" put Stone on the map (the video currently sits at nearly 15 million views), his career momentum snowballed, getting bigger and bigger at a breakneck clip. He found himself crooning on the talk show circuit (Conan, Letterman, Kimmel, Ellen), playing gigs at the ESPYs or the Getty Museum, opening up for Dave Matthews Band, and more. He became a true local star in Seattle, regularly selling out the city's large theaters.

For those who'd been along for each step of the journey, seeing Stone break out and establish himself as a true professional musician was a joy that bordered on an emotionally overwhelming experience.

"I used to cry [when] I'd go and watch him," says Gavilanes. "I'd see the growth, and it would just move me to tears because I would be so proud to know that he has tapped into this level of himself."

Even in the face of all of Stone's musical prowess, it's notable that the people around him seem as enthusiastic to chat about Stone the person over Stone the talent.

"He's such a fun-loving, carefree goofball," Gavilanes says. "He doesn't regard himself as the musician that he is. It's really cool to see him just interact with the world and interact with his close friends as kind of just this silly, joy-filled, laughable idiot."

The word "generosity" came up in literally every interview conducted for this story, which is more than a little telling.

"He would do anything for his friends," says Laura Jawer, Stone's tour manager early in his career. "And then he's just so genuine to anyone he meets. He's really amazing at just looking them in the eyes, giving them a really dedicated genuine conversation."

click to enlarge Allen Stone's soulful singer-songwriter stardom was forged in Eastern Washington. Now he's replanted his roots in Spokane as he looks to expand his communal musical journey.
Young Kwak photo
Stone is most alive and thriving when he takes the stage.


While Allen's career was thriving and Seattle had embraced him as one of its soulful sons, the hectic cycle of going out on the road constantly started to drain him after a few years.

"I remember we were in Dublin, we were sitting down at a cafe eating, and I looked at my calendar. I had been home for three days that year, like maybe a week in total. My life was going so fast, which was amazing. But... I would go on the road for six months and then I would come back to Seattle, and all I wanted to do was go out every night and see all these people that had really helped me cultivate this career," Stone says. "Then I go back on the road, and I'd live in a van for six months. And my body was just like, 'This is not maintainable.' If I'm going to pound this pavement like I feel like I need to for the next 15 to 20 years, then when I'm off the road, I gotta chill the f—- out. I gotta recharge."

Stone had an epiphany one night in 2013 (with the aid of some mushrooms) that he needed to move to Chewelah, set up a studio and make his next record back home. He rented out his parents' cabin at nearby Waitts Lake and focused on making new music and generally slowing down.

This simpler life was just what Stone was seeking. But a funny thing called love got in the way. While on tour in Australia in 2014, he met his future wife, Tara Lawson.

"I moved up there, and then I met my wife when I was on tour in Australia. And I sort of kidnapped her and brought her up to Chewelah," Stone says. "Bless her heart, man. She's from Melbourne, one of the greatest cities in the world. And I brought her up to f—-ing Chewelah, Washington. I was like, 'In order for us to have a relationship, we gotta be in the same place. You should come move to Chewelah.' And then I got her there and was like, 'I gotta go on tour! Sorry!' [laughs] She's just so patient and understanding and cool and such a badass.

"And then in 2017, I could kind of sense the itch and scratch of my wife, like, 'You gotta get me where there's f—ing the internet. We need running water. I can't be out here.'"

And that's how Stone ended up back in Spokane. One of Stone's buddies, Dan Spalding, had bought a property on Liberty Lake called Zephyr Lodge. Formerly a church camp, the spot needed some serious renovation, so Spalding hired Lawson to spruce up the place. The commute from Chewelah to Liberty Lake was a hassle, so eventually Stone and Lawson started searching for a spot in Spokane. They soon found a dream home and relocated to the Lilac City.

"Allen is a rare, rare human being who can wear a lot of hats and wear them really well. He really shines with some of the stuff kind of behind the scenes that no one will ever probably be aware of, and I think that's one of his greatest strengths," Spalding says. "Typically, a lot of entertainers I've known, they're artists. They're usually kind of good at one or two things — creating art — but they often aren't that good at being human beings. Sometimes they're not good at business, sometimes they're not good at empathy. A lot of creatives tend to be rather myopic. But Allen just seems to be the rare guy who not only has a beautiful spirit in the creative world, but he's also able to navigate the business world and kind of has a practical side to him."

While Stone might not be hitting up the open mic scene on the regular like he did during his prior Spokane days, he's still finding ways to be involved in the music scene. He's mostly tied into the happenings around Lucky You Lounge, having become friends with the venue's musician owners, Karli and Caleb Ingersoll, in 2018. To celebrate the release of his most recent, stripped-down album Apart, Stone held a four-night residency at Lucky You. According to Karli Ingersoll, Stone's fluid creative energy has been a boon for the local music scene, especially during COVID times.

"Through the pandemic, we did a livestream series here at Lucky You," says Ingersoll. "And each time we did that, we borrowed his cameras, and he helped me learn how to do that whole setup, because he had already been doing [his own livestreams]. And I think that was just really reflective of his generosity. He just likes to help out and do stuff."

Stone's polymath focus on things like visual design and video production came in handy, especially when he's willing to roll up his sleeves and help out in ways that star talent rarely would even consider.

"Our Christmas concert we did during the pandemic, he came in and helped us run cameras. He's just that type of a person," Ingersoll says. "He doesn't have a huge ego and just wants to hang out and participate in stuff. He just came and helped us set up, then hopped on stage and sang a song, and then went back offstage and ran a camera. That's very Allen to me.

"I think it just adds a nice sense of hometown pride to have someone like him planting roots here," she adds.


Earlier this year, Stone once again had the national spotlight shining on him. He was tabbed as Washington state's representative in NBC's reality singing competition answer to the Eurovision Song Contest, American Song Contest. Once again, Allen's voice and songcraft wowed judges and audiences, eventually making it to the show's final round with his tune "A Bit of Both." Despite ranking No. 1 according to the show's judges, Stone ended up finishing fifth due to lack of fan voting.

click to enlarge Allen Stone's soulful singer-songwriter stardom was forged in Eastern Washington. Now he's replanted his roots in Spokane as he looks to expand his communal musical journey.
Lonnie Webb photo
Allen Stone is finally finding a sense of home again.

Stone isn't sweating the "loss" at all, instead keeping himself busy with loads of other projects. Despite the bravado he might display on stage, there's still an apprehensive part of him that fears that it could all dissipate at any moment, which is a scary prospect for a man with a young family.

"If I'm being honest with you, I'm terrified every day that there's not going to be another gig," says Stone.

The most pressing project for the troubadour is this weekend's Stone Family Field Trip. Located at the aforementioned Zephyr Lodge, the sold-out July 29-31 event is in some ways the lowest-key music festival imaginable. It's really almost more of a group hang at a lodge with Stone and a crew of his musical pals like Teddy Swims and Mac Ayres — like if you rented a lakeside cabin with your old college buddies and one of them happened to be Allen Stone. This year marks the fifth edition of the Family Field Trip after Stone and Zephyr Lodge owner Spalding first put on a version of the event in 2016.

In September, Stone will play some East Coast dates (including a sold-out gig at Radio City Music Hall with Lake Street Drive), and in the winter he'll return to his wife's neck of the woods for a tour across Australia and New Zealand.

Sandwiched between those jaunts, Stone and his best bud Gavilanes will embark on a unique "Karaoke Extravaganza" tour. They first did a version of this tour in 2019 as a way for Stone to connect with his fans on a more intimate level. It sprang somewhat out of interactions at regular Stone concerts.

"If I'm being honest with you, I'm terrified every day that there's not going to be another gig."

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"Allen does a lot of these like VIP meet-and-greet situations at shows. And a lot of people always approach him and at those at those and they're like, 'Hey, man, can I sing for you?'" explains Gavilanes. "Allen fosters a lot of fans that are really good singers. I think it's like good singers beget good singers."

During the karaoke extravaganza, Gavilanes acts as sort of the overenthusiastic hype man to help disarm the audience from being intimidated by singing with someone the caliber of Stone. Before the show, audience members are able to sign up for certain songs (just like standard karaoke) and a select number will be chosen to join Stone on stage to belt out the jams. The night basically becomes one big party filled with games, music and more. According to Gavilanes, this year's version will have a "Boogie Nights meets The Price is Right" retro theme.

Stone is also hard at work on his next full-length album. He's in the "assembly stage," sorting through bits of 25 to 30 song demos and figuring out what will work best. After COVID put a kibosh on touring in support of his late 2019's record Building Balance, Stone is itching to have a new album ready so he and his band can hit the road in a serious way in 2023.

"We canceled my headline Building Balance tour on my birthday, March 13 of 2020," Stone says, adding with sarcastic disgust, "It was the greatest birthday present ever.

"So I always feel like I didn't get to share that record the way I really would have loved to share it, which is in front of an audience. And so I'm super stoked to get new music out there and to get it in front of an audience and just sing live," he continues. "That's still, to this day, my favorite thing to do — get in front of people and sing to them live."

In some ways, Stone's journey has come full circle. He's back in Eastern Washington. And in some ways, he's taken up an offshoot of the family business. Allen Stone has his father's preacher blood in him, even if he's trying to unite people under the banner of music as opposed to a religious denomination.

"It's funny how similar but yet different my life and my dad's life turned out to be," says Allen. "His is so much about community and bringing people together and attempting to lead people in a positive direction. Our doctrines might be a little different, but the destination is still relatively similar."

Papa Stone concurs.

"I think there's a part of each one of us that wants to connect with people, and there are certain people that are able to do that with a group of people," says Allen's father, Danny Stone. "And I think [Allen is] gifted in that way. I'm not sure he has even experienced the fullness of what he's capable of doing in just bringing people together and loving them from the stage, having them experience that distant care and concern that sometimes they don't get in their personal experiences."

The Gospel of Allen Stone is one built on musical camaraderie and generosity. And he's not about to stop singing its soulful hymns from his pulpit anytime soon. ♦

About The Author

Seth Sommerfeld

Seth Sommerfeld is the Music Editor for The Inlander, and an alumnus of Gonzaga University and Syracuse University. He has written for The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Fox Sports, SPIN, Collider, and many other outlets. He also hosts the podcast, Everyone is Wrong...

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