During a trip to the Creston Farmers’ Market last summer, one 7-year-old boy picked up more than the tomatoes he and his grandfather had set out to get. He discovered his love and gift of playing music.
Karter James Allen, 7, of Creston, had accompanied his grandfather Tom Day to the farmers’ market one day last summer to get tomatoes and a few other items. As the band Beards of a Feather started to perform, Day felt his hand being pulled in their direction.
“Do you like that?” Day asked.
“He was just dumbstruck. He was just dialed in. Nothing could have taken his attention away,” said Day.
Allen not only liked the sound of the band, he started tapping along. Guitarist Bryan Spencer took notice of the child and handed him a pick, allowing Allen to strum along.
“I love interacting with kids and music, because that one little impression, a lot of the time, sticks. And boy, that seed that I planted really took off. He naturally had focus and picked it up,” said Spencer. “After I learned of his special qualities, it made perfect sense.”
When Allen was born, his family noticed immediately something was different about him.
“Not looking at you. Not smiling, No eye contact. He wasn’t turning over,” said Allen’s grandmother Tami Day, about the early signs of autism she observed. “Sometimes you just tell yourself, ‘He’s just behind.’”
Allen was observed by a doctor, who reinforced that feeling that Allen’s development was simply delayed.
“I’ve got five kids,” said Tami. “I knew.”
Allen was eventually diagnosed with autism and has been visiting a doctor at Blank Children’s Hospital annually. At 16 months old, Allen began work with the Green Hills AEA, who worked with him on everything from learning basic procedures such as putting away toys to brushing his teeth to speech therapy.
“We got early intervention. That was huge,” said Tami.
Allen’s grandparents said he also had sensory sensitivity and disliked the feeling of certain textures such as play dough and sand. However, through consistent, play-based exposure, he is now desensitized and loves to play with both.
“We try to treat him just like a normal kid ... understand to a point, but not baby him,” Tami said.
Another behavior the Days noticed in their grandson at an early age was his love for percussions.
“He’s always been tapping,” said Tom. “As soon as he could crawl, he’d always be crawling over to the cupboards and pulling pots and pans out and beating on them.”
Tami would encourage her grandson by handing him wooden spoons.
Upon giving Allen a pick, Spencer said he noticed his gift for music immediately as he let Allen strum on his electric guitar as the band continued to play.
“He was just right with them. Didn’t miss a beat,” said Tom. “Bryan said, ‘My God, he has some rhythm.’”
While Allen liked the guitar, he fell in love with the drums after drummer Chris Coke gave him a set of sticks and guitarist Bill Livingston gave him an old suitcase to beat on. His first drum set was complete with a kick pedal gifted to him by Spencer to create a bass drum out of the bottom part of the suitcase, which stood upright.
Tom said this is the drum set his grandson travels with. He plays almost weekly with Beards of a Feather at Creston Farmers’ Market. During Balloon Days last year, Allen heard music coming from the Creston Elks Lodge, where the band was performing and the band members encouraged him to go home to get his set, which he did.
“They have just welcomed him ... I just can’t say enough,” said Tami.
Shortly after joining the local jam sessions at the market, fellow musician Bryan Pellman gave Allen his old set after he inherited a set with sentimental value from a deceased family member.
“Just the spark in his face and the way that he even looks at playing the drums, it was great for me to be able to give him something like that. Something I knew he would cherish and he would love,” Pellman said.
Allen said he spends “a lot” of time at home practicing. He’s graduated from pots and pans to real instruments.
“I have my drums at my house,” said Karter. “I have one, two, three (sets).”
Allen said he now has a set of electric drums, a traditional drum set and the travel set that consists of a suitcase.
Tami said Allen started taking piano lessons from Faith Burkhalter in the fall of 2019, as well.
“Somebody told me he has to have piano lessons before the drum lessons,” she said.
Tami said the piano lessons are to provide Allen a foundation in music reading and theory.
Despite being the youngest musician at Creston Farmers’ Market, Allen’s appreciation for music is not limited. Without hesitation, he said his favorite songs to play to are “Worried Man Blues” by the Carter Family, “Midnight Special” by Creedence Clearwater Revival and “See See Rider,” first recorded by Gertrude “Ma” Rainey in 1924.
Allen said he hopes to be a professional drummer, and postman, when he grows up.
“He’s just an awesome little guy and has such a great heart,” said Pellman. “I just love it that he’s taken something like that and put his whole heart into it.”