+ By Desiree Smith-Daughety + Photos by Alison Harbaugh

Flight EMT and med-tech in the Air Force. Emergency room nurse. Hospice nurse. Songwriter. Acoustic guitarist. Silversmith. Each of these describes the professional facets of one person. Kristi Allen is a study in how dreams and life paths evolve. She has moved with the currents of opportunity as they appear and set undercurrents in motion as she puts herself in their path.
Allen always had dreams of singing and started out in choirs as a child but had terrible stage fright, her voice cracking under pressure. That young girl never could have imagined that one day, she’d command the stage as a solo performer with only her voice and her guitar, an instrument she didn’t pick up until she was 23. Having that instrument in hand changed her musical trajectory. “The stage fright disappeared because I was concentrating on playing the guitar and the voice became the easy part,” she explains.
Allen began taking guitar lessons while living in Charleston, South Carolina. A friend coaxed her out to an open mic night at a bar and tackle shop, which she describes as “a little rough around the edges.” She played three songs to positive reception. The manager approached her with a Tuesday opening gig, but she only knew those three songs. “I thought, ‘This is too easy,’” she says, and she took the next several months to learn enough songs to fill a three-hour slot. Within a year, she had paying gigs.
She learned what a competitive music scene Charleston was when, as a newcomer, she submitted demo music for its 1998 Charleston Music Showcase and was one of three solo/songwriter performers selected. “I heard that local musicians were a little miffed,” she says.

Allen in her home music studio in Annapolis. Photo by Alison Harbaugh.

“At 25, I told myself I’d give until I was 30 and then be over this nonsense,” says Allen, at the time figuring that this was just a phase. Instead, she continued performing and learning her craft, one gig at a time, refining her acoustic style of chords and fingerpicking. Songwriting was a different skill that she pursued, and she found that it came naturally. “I’ve always been good at ruminating,” she says. “While that can drive you crazy, it can also make you a good songwriter.” Her writing process sometimes begins with something that irritated her—she’ll mull it over, then wonder what would happen if that scenario happened to someone else. From there, the idea may evolve into a song.
After the birth of her daughter, Rachel, Allen divorced her husband. She relied on music to work through the negative experience, to pay her bills, and for the boost gained from receiving positive feedback for her efforts. She relocated to Wilmington, North Carolina, and, needing more stable work than what her music provided, pursued a degree in nursing because she was drawn to helping people. She paid her way through school with gig earnings. Allen subsequently worked in a hospital emergency room, then provided hospice nursing, and then worked briefly as a rehab nurse before returning to the emergency room.
She recalls her ritual of morning meditation beach rock hunts prior to her 12-hour shifts—she had relocated to Maryland and was living south of Chesapeake Beach. Over time, she had quite a collection of stones, and she wondered what to do with them. These stones, which she calls her little rock stars, led to her learning how to silversmith via YouTube tutorial videos. “It crept up on me—it was incremental,” she says. Soon, her home had the accoutrements for making jewelry; her twin sister, Kathy Kappa, a potter, calls the space “Geppetto’s workbench.” “We’re descendants of Dad’s philosophy of dabbling in everything you can,” says Allen. She sells her jewelry through her website, Stone & Zen, and at First Sunday Arts Festivals in Annapolis.

Allen shows off a variety of natural stone and sterling silver rings that she’s designed and handcrafted. Photo by Alison Harbaugh.

After many years of intense nursing work, she began experiencing her own health struggles, first with thyroiditis and later with a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis. Pain from the latter led to her dropping down to just two work shifts. A further twist in her path occurred when she shattered her left leg; it took a year for her to learn to walk again. She also had to quit nursing.
Allen recalls playing a gig at Galway Bay on December 23, 2018, still using crutches and wearing an orthopedic boot. Her father had suddenly died that day. She considered canceling the gig, but her partner, Charles Lawrance, and her daughter, her sister, and her sister’s four children had planned to attend. “I went through with the gig because there was nothing more I wanted to do than play music and soothe my soul,” she says. “I played songs that meant something to me.”
While having been a member of two bands, in her quest to eliminate stress from her life, Allen prefers being a solo performer. It also gives her a purpose. “You’re the only one performing, so there’s pressure to be good at what you’re doing and to represent womankind, which keeps me going,” she says. She describes her musical style as Americana (old country and bluegrass), with songwriters from the 1970s whom she describes as being the “pinnacle of songwriting” and whose styles she infuses in her own writing. Her favorite songwriter is Jim Croce, and she considers his song “Operator” to be a perfectly written song.

Natural stone and sterling silver rings designed and handcrafted by Allen.

She’s counted only a handful of solo female performers in Charleston. “An amazing part of Annapolis is that there’s a good amount of talented women and great representation,” she says. “It’s a totally different scene from Charleston—people want to help each other here.” She likes that little girls are seeing women onstage, something she never saw while growing up, and she had no idea it was something that could be done until she saw more women onstage in the 1980s. She has even been met with misperceptions that, because she’s a woman, she might not be able to handle a bar crowd.
“When I was younger, women in the bars looked at me as if I was competition for the male attention span,” she says. “But as I’ve grown older, a beautiful camaraderie has developed. I get looks from my women contemporaries like ‘We’ve been through some shit, haven’t we?’ and ‘Thanks for what you’re doing and being here.’ That means something to me, holding it down for our gender!” 

For more information, visit
kristiallenmusic.com and