The Milk Carton Kids

The Milk Carton Kids


The Milk Carton Kids returns for their fourth performance at Calvin College, including two visits supporting Over the Rhine.

The band got together when Joey Ryan heard Kenneth Pattengale at a solo show, in their mutual hometown of LA, singing a song from the perspective of a dead dog, which is a circumstance that happens to also be about one of the best ways to describe the duo’s personality: a little bit of dark with plenty of opportunity for dry humor sprinkled all around it.

Pattengale and Ryan have created a distinctively minimal and classic image for themselves and their performances. They both wear suits to shows and play vintage guitars: Ryan a 1951 Gibson J45 and Pattengale a 1954 Martin 0-15 with a white handkerchief tied around the neck to prevent the strings from buzzing. The two have also become known for giving their music out for free and for their dry and witty banter during shows. It is that banter that really helps audiences to relate to the Milk Carton Kids, as it gives a much more balanced perspective of their personalities as well as additional perspective to the thematic material of their music.

In Interview, Pattengale says the subject matter their latest album The Ash & Clay draws attention to the “darker side of a dying America.” That being said, “I learned my lesson a long time ago to never write a lamenting song that doesn't provide some kind of hope or has salvation.”

It’s not that the lyrics ever seem to give a direct and specific answer to death or darkness, but they are experts of writing lyrics that honestly give a well-rounded perspective that does do some lamenting, yet simultaneously offers hope, or at least a direction for the listener to head towards. The title track to The Ash & Clay is an example of this proficiency:

The swing sets are empty like dirt turned the dark of the night
The center of this town it used to whirl in the glow of twilight
It might look like god's away with all the trouble these days
We'll come home before the girls are grown
We're coming home tonight
What, oh, have we done to run this country into such a sight
Stolen from our brothers like we couldn't find a fair enough fight
You wait on promise you will say
Won't forsake the ash and clay
Let's come home before the girls are grown
Let's come home to fight
I know we want whats best for us–I know it has to come at a price
I also know the trouble that you find when you stop being nice
You look around you one day
What you once knew didn't stay
Let's come home before the girls are grown
Let's come home tonight

“The Ash & Clay” expresses regret in the state of the country, or society, but doesn’t decide to give up on it right away. They won’t forsake the remains of a once-beautiful thing; just because it has fallen doesn’t mean that they have license to reject it, give up, and move on. They decide to come home to that thing - the country, society, whatever it is- to fight for it, to work through the struggles of making it good again.

Really, it’s a story of redemption. While we may not see the results of it right now, we have a responsibility to stick with the fallen to see it through that final day of reclamation.  

~ Kendra Kamp


Calvin performances

  • with Anais Mitchell
    Sat, Oct 31, 2015; 8 pm; CFAC Auditorium
  • with Brian Wright
    May 7, 2014; Campus Chapel