Music News & Reviews

The Milk Carton Kids to harmonize at Sacramento’s Crest Theatre

Joey Ryan, left, and Kenneth Pattengale are The Milk Carton Kids.
Joey Ryan, left, and Kenneth Pattengale are The Milk Carton Kids. Sara Kiesling

Don’t expect to stomp your feet unless you’re laughing.

The brand of folk played by the Milk Carton Kids – a mellifluous genre-busting compilation of classical, acoustic, jazz, folk and alternative influences – is anything but the foot-stomping and hollering kind.

The reflective, Grammy-nominated contemporary folk duo and their signature harmonies and vintage guitars will make their way to the Crest Theatre on Monday, May 2.

The Milk Carton Kids are one part Joey Ryan with his 1951 Gibson J-45 and one part Kenneth Pattengale with his 1954 Martin 0-15.

“It sort of sounds to me like the Platonic ideal of the guitar,” Ryan said of his Gibson during a phone interview from his native Los Angeles. “There’s something that speaks to me on a very visceral level on this particular generation of Gibsons. Any time I’ve ever heard anyone play one, it sounds like home, or something. It just feels good on a deep level.”

Though there are a lot of things that stand out about the pair of friends, who in 2011 found a sonic, complementary balance in the timbre of their guitars and vocals after not-so-successful solo careers. And there are the quips they swap between songs with a witty, self-aware humor.

Ryan said their music is the combination of two people’s minds that come from very different places.

“Our process has kind of been intensely collaborative,” he said. “The lyrics sort of come from this place that, I think, is sort of somewhere in between the way that he and I would write instinctively. I tend to be much more literal, and he tends to be much more opaque or impressionistic.”

In the Milk Carton Kids’ latest album, “Monterey,” the artists recorded on the road, setting up a fully functioning recording studio every morning on the stages they would perform on that evening, writing and changing songs as they played.

“We did want to be faithful to the thing that we felt like were good at: performing live on a stage in front of a live audience,” he said. “It forced us to not listen back to the takes after we performed them. We just sort of played, and when we were done recording, it was time to play a show.”

Ryan said that although the Crest appearance will be his and Pattengale’s first concert in Sacramento, “it might be a little bit of a homecoming feel, since I have a lot of family there.” He is married to attorney Lindsay O’Hair Ryan, who grew up in the Sacramento region and graduated from Elk Grove’s Laguna Creek High School. The couple live in Los Angeles with their 2-year-old son, Jack.

When Ryan started writing music in his early 20s, he was trying to find his voice as an artist, to say what he wanted in a way that felt true to himself.

“Forming this duo and making a conscious decision to strip away everything sort of clarified that voice, I guess, and allowed me to finally just feel comfortable in my own skin as an artist,” he said.

Although their style and their instruments may invoke comparisons to entertainers from a bygone era, the pair have embraced the digital age. Their first two full-length albums are online free to download. And Pattengale devised software to pull fan-made covers of their songs from YouTube for a special page on the Milk Carton Kids’ website.

The latter is a way of saying thanks, without getting overly sentimental. It shines a spotlight on the symbiosis that exists between the duo and their fans, Ryan said.

“We think it’s really cool to the degree that the songs become a part of people’s lives and they want to play them in their bedrooms,” he said. “It’s a really wonderful phenomenon to feel like you’re part of someone’s life in that way.”

The Milk Carton Kids

When: 7:30 p.m. Monday, May 2

Where: Crest Theatre, 1013 K St., Sacramento

Cost: $27-$75

Information: 916-476-3356,;