Photos by Ty Hyten
The Scene: The Bluebird Theater was a full house this past Thursday night for California Folk duo The Milk Carton Kids‘ sold out show. The Milk Carton kids hit Denver in the middle of their North American tour in support of The Ash & Clay, which was released back in March. The Bluebird was filled from front to back with folding chairs and winter coats saving seats, both quite the unusual sight. To my surprise, the crowd seemed quite a bit older than Joey Ryan & Kenneth Pattengale, who form the group. After Joey Ryan took the stage to introduce the opening act, the crowd fell eerily silent for the remainder of the evening with the exception of plentiful laughter and applause between songs. The bar remained fairly empty and fans stayed seated for the outstanding show that followed.
Opener: The Barefoot Movement. After a warm introduction from Joey Ryan, who said they fell in love with the band at the Folk Alliance conference, the Southern Bluegrass quartet The Barefoot Movement gathered around a single microphone. The single mic act, when pulled off well, is one of my favorite things about Bluegrass. The Barefoot Movement, who were actually barefoot, nailed it. Their beautiful playing and singing kept held the attention of the room far beyond my expectations for an opening act. The band members ducked in and out from the mic, taking turns singing and picking. The talented foursome left the stage to a standing ovation, quite the accomplishment.
The Milk Carton Kids: The Milk Carton Kids, who are often compared to greats Simon & Garfunkel and Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, are just two guys with acoustic guitars. Joey Ryan plays delicate fingerstyle guitar and Kenneth Pattengale plays winding leads that seem to jump off of the fretboard. In addition to their musicianship another trademark of the duo is their hilarious stage banter and Thursday’s show didn’t fail to deliver on any of these elements. Ryan lead the witty banter that filled the room with laughter after every song. His dry delivery and the playful back and forth between the two was worth the price of admission alone.
They started the evening with “Hope Of A Lifetime” followed by three more songs from their new album. Their remarkably well paired voices have a warmth and instant like-ability that you don’t often come across in a duo. The two touched on what a memorable night the show was becoming and how playing the Bluebird had been a goal of theirs. “Girls, Gather ‘Round” which Joey joked Kenneth wrote in a desperate attempt for female attention was one of a few songs they played from Retrospect which was released prior to the duo taking on the name Milk Carton Kids. In fact, “Girls…,” “Charlie,” and “Maybe It’s Time” were all favorites of the evening. My favorite moment of the evening was an almost cringeworthy, long monologe from Joey, explaining how their first two albums were free and their new album was for purchase followed by “I Still Want A Little More.” The two left the stage to a standing ovation and returned to play crowd favorite “New York” followed by “Memoirs Of An Owned Dog” which Joey explained Kenneth wrote from the perspective of a dead dog and it also ended up causing the formation of the band. The evening ended with the blue “Memphis.”
Their hilarious and heartfelt set made for a memorable experience and a truly great show. If you missed the opportunity to see them last week, I highly recommend checking them out this summer at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, or opening for Josh Ritter at Denver Botanic Gardens.
Energy: A (while they stood mostly still, the energy in their voices and dialogue was contagious)
Stage Presence: A+
Set/Light Show: C