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The Milk Carton Kids: Coming to a fine arts center near you

File photo.
File photo.

If I’ve learned anything during my concert-going career at Calvin, it’s this: never underestimate the potential of an opener. (Also, serving Ben and Jerry’s ice cream before a show is an excellent idea. Thanks Fun.)

I often hear people grumble about the musical artist that plays before the band they really want to see. True, they sometimes seem to be sent out solely to increase our appetite for the headliner, like a bland dinner when you can smell the apple pie in the oven. The fact that the former was unsatisfying makes the latter that much sweeter.

But sometimes the opener steps up to the microphone, usually a little nervous in front of a disinterested crowd, and makes you forget that they’re not the reason you came.

This should not surprise us; almost every band we love was once “just an opener” for a band that was experiencing greater success.

With these things in mind, let’s talk about The Milk Carton Kids.

The Milk Carton Kids are comprised of Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale. Both natives of the Los Angeles area, the pair first began collaborating in 2011. Later that same year, The Milk Carton Kids paid a visit to Calvin College as the opener for Over the Rhine and changed my life forever.

“Thank you,” Ryan said in response to the applause which greeted the band at that performance. “We’re used to bigger, kind of coffee shop type venues. It’s nice to be able to do our show in an intimate setting like this,” he joked.

Since their first trip to the Covenant Fine Arts Center, The Milk Carton Kids have seen much more than coffee shops, continuing to open for successful acts such as Old Crow Medicine Show, Josh Ritter and Punch Brothers, as well headlining their own tours in North America and Europe. Amid all the touring, they also released their third studio album, “The Ash & Clay,” in March 2013.

In less than two weeks, Ryan and Pattengale will once again grace the stage here as the opening act for Over the Rhine. A lot has changed since their last trip to our campus, but one thing that has remained the same is the high quality of folk music these two bring to each performance. If you don’t believe me, figure it out for yourself (with relative ease): the band’s first two albums, “Prologue” and “Retrospect, are available to download FOR FREE on their website (themilkcartonkids.com). Again: it’s free. You’re in college. Do the math.

In summary: Over the Rhine will be at Calvin on Sept. 21.

Be sure to get there early.

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A semi-close reading of The Milk Carton Kids

They love California. Not only do both members call the Golden State home, but they also sing about it in their song “California”: “California, California / you know I love you, California.”

They think Michigan is pretty great, too. At their 2011 Calvin performance, they sang “Michigan” for the first time in Michigan. “It’s taken us 112 shows to get here,” said Ryan. “It’s worth it so far.”

They like a good literary allusion. “California” references Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree”, while “Girls Gather Round” makes note of William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury.”

Metaphors are their thing (kind of). Joey Ryan often tells the story behind their band name by explaining how they weren’t quite satisfied with the lyric “one day he just vanished / like a milk carton kid,” but they kept it in the song. They proceeded to name the song “Milk Carton Kid” and later decided to name their band after the song.

About the Author

Catherine Kramer

My name is Catherine Kramer and I am a senior hailing from Grandville, Mich. I am the features section editor for the 2013-2014 school year. As an English literature major and writing minor, I have a love for words and people and the ways they interact.

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