What started as a chance phone call last year led to a nationally televised appearance for country singer Ben Allen, the frontman of the Ben Allen Group and one of the brightest stars in the local music scene currently.
In the past, the 43-year-old had applied to go on NBC’s singing competition show The Voice several times, but nothing had come of it. About a year ago, while scrolling through his phone, he came across the number of the show’s casting director, whom he had interacted with during a previous audition. Allen wasn’t sure the casting director would even remember him, let alone be interested in trying out the Estero performer again, but Allen figured he had nothing to lose and made the call. Impressed by the musician’s tenacity, the director encouraged him to audition one more time for the massively popular program.
Three days later, Allen found himself in North Carolina trying out for the show. He made the cut and was soon on a plane to Los Angeles to begin filming. “It’s just amazing to be able to carry that whole experience around inside of you,” Allen says. “Wherever you go or whatever stage you go on from that point forward, you’ve got that memory and that confidence of believing in yourself with what you want to do.”
The sights and sounds of Hollywood are a far cry from the starting line for Allen, who grew up in rural East Tennessee. As a kid, he participated in choir, but didn’t start taking music seriously until his early 30s. “I had this guitar in my closet that I hadn’t played in years. One day I picked it up and started to learn how to play it,” Allen says. In 2009, he relocated to Florida, where he worked for the Collier County Water Distribution Department. He started playing at bars and open mic nights around town. “Something clicked inside of me—I wanted to be a performer.”
Although Allen didn’t end up with The Voice crown, he was a semifinalist amid fierce competition. He also benefited from coaching by Blake Shelton, one of the show’s judges and a hero of Allen’s—personally and professionally. “His personality is so magnetic. He comes across very honest and real, which means something to me,” Allen says. “Country is about music that speaks to people—there’s a lot of truth in the songs.”
His appearance garnered him plenty of attention around town, too. When he got back to Estero, civic leaders presented him with a key to the city—a gesture of gratitude for the exposure the community received during the time he was on The Voice. “It’s something I will always treasure,” Allen says. “Not exactly sure what the key fits but I’ll keep trying until it unlocks something.” It must have brought him luck, because a few days later he performed to a sellout crowd at Hertz Arena.
Since his time on NBC, Allen has been constantly told to pack his bags and guitar, and head for the bright lights of Nashville. But, the funny thing is, Allen had already done the “Nashville thing,” living and working just north of Music City for a period before moving to Florida. “I love the life that I’ve built in Southwest Florida. This is my base location and it works well for me,” he says.
Being in his 40s while his music career is taking off also allows him some wisdom in his perspective. “I’m not automatically taking everything that gets offered to me, seeing as it could do more harm than good. It’s about doing what feels right and focusing on career longevity,” he says.
So, he works on developing his sound and onstage performance with his four band members. Whether it be gigs around the corner on a neighborhood stage or private affairs for fans, Allen offers a unique brand of modern country music: He possesses that classic vibrato similar to Ronnie Dunn and Craig Morgan, as well as a country twang akin to Randy Houser and Hank Williams Jr.
Now, the phone is ringing and Allen is grateful to answer the call. “To get to a point where people want to book you and know your reputation? It’s a wonderful feeling,” Allen says. “You know, I grew up in a small-town, blue-collar mentality. And down here? It’s still a small town, but it’s more that there is no collar color. You throw the collar away because you’re having a good time, you’re enjoying a lifestyle—and I want to help with that through my music.”
Photography by Erik Kellar