It’s a beautiful Friday night in October in downtown Napa. The smell of freshly harvested grapes wafts from the vineyards to spread and settle over the valley. Locals and tourists are out together in full force, flooding the bars, restaurants, and sidewalks with an unspoken camaraderie and enthusiasm that local business owners could only imagine 10 years ago. The street lights switch on and the traffic signals illuminate the intersections in a rhythmic cadence.
Admittedly I’m not sure what precise timing they’re set to change, but after the concert I witnessed that night I could have been convinced that they were programmed to the captivating beat of Allen Stone’s funk and soul music pulsing from the sold out JaM Cellars Ballroom.
Outside the building, a line of eager fans awaiting entry runs halfway up the block, and I’m reminded of the nickname my father sometimes calls our town: “Disneyland North.”
Once inside the venue, I walk up a spiraling flight of plush carpeted stairs, grab a beer and settle myself in with a group of friends in the balcony to get the best view of the stage I can. Below and all around me, several hundred people chat amongst themselves in eager anticipation of the performance to come.
The stage is dressed out with huge pastel colored rose blossoms and three large LED panels along the back curtain. Suddenly, the house lights dim and the LED panels are illuminated in a pattern of bright colors. A chopped up vocal sample rings out over the house speakers and repeats as Stone’s guitarist, bassist, drummer, and two keyboardists take to the stage and begin playing the funky, uplifting introduction to Stone’s newest single, “Brown Eyed Lover.”
Soon after, the soul singer himself emerges on stage garbed in corduroy trousers and a vivid floral shirt, dancing along to the beat with a passionate, albeit slightly goofy, lilt to his step. His long, wavy blond hair falls from beneath his orange knitted beanie and dances across his shoulders to the sway of his steps.
His face is framed by over-sized spectacles, and he engages the crowd with a soft smile and friendly look in his eyes before singing his opening lines. The audience, a very diverse lot in terms of age and appearance, drink in his words with a thirst that could be satiated only by Stone’s bright and infectious melodies.
I had seen Stone perform once before at this year’s BottleRock Napa Valley Music Festival. While I had been impressed then, his performance at the JaM Cellars Ballroom displays a whole other level of musicality and showmanship that had only been teased at during his festival set. At the Ballroom, it’s clear that Stone has both the time and the space to really thrive in his own element. His passion exudes through both his music and his stage presence, and he pulls in the crowd occasionally to tell personal stories or spread positive messages.
About halfway through the set, Stone plays his single “Love” off his 2016 self-titled album and crafts a medley through the bridge of the song that includes the choruses of “Killing Me Softly” and “I Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd. A few songs later, his band exits the stage leaving Stone to play a solo medley of his original songs including “Love Where You’re At,” “Million,” “Circle” and “Bed I Made.” The lack of bandmates doesn’t seem to affect the singer’s enthusiasm one bit.
The band rejoins Stone on stage for another handful of songs and showcases a jovial musical duel between the band’s two keyboardists. Stone wraps up his main set with another new single, “Unaware,” a slow and soulful ballad, and walks off for what might have been the quickest encore I’ve seen.
When Stone returns to the stage, he is now clad in a pair of loose-fitting grey coveralls, and he and the band jump into a solid cover of “Message In A Bottle” by The Police. Stones closes out the night with his 2017 single “Warriors” and leaves his crowd jubilant and satisfied.
Stone’s performance, combined with the packed crowd’s reaction further reinforces my opinion that Napa is seeing a real musical renaissance, the likes of which I’m seeing for the first time in my 25 years of life. As a local musician and a kid growing up in a musical scene that was once dominated by cover bands, it’s refreshing to see a scene that is now focusing on quality, original entertainment sponsored through organizations like Lo*Cal Productions and BottleRock Presents. After witnessing shows like this one, it’s hard not to be optimistic about the future of live entertainment in Napa.