Anticipation’s building for the second annual Arroyo Seco Weekend Music Festival, which will bring legends (Robert Plant, Irma Thomas, Neil Young, Aaron Neville, Los Lobos, Chrissie Hynde, the Specials), majestic jazz (Kamasi Washington, Pharoah Sanders), boundary-pushing blues (Gary Clark Jr., Fantastic Negrito), indie rock stalwarts (Belle and Sebastian, Kings of Leon, Alanis Morissette) and Americana and rock up-and-comers (Margo Price, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Dorothy) to the Rose Bowl this weekend.
Amidst that splashy lineup, Grammy-nominated, Americana Music Award-winning duo the Milk Carton Kids are also preparing for their return … with a band.
Yes, singer-songwriters Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, the handsomely suited duo whose angelic harmonies, sophisticated guitar solos and laugh-out-loud banter made quiet acoustic music hip again, will be joined by drummer Jamie Dick, pedal steel wizard Rich Hinman, bassist Ethan Jodziewicz, keyboardist Phil Krohnengold, and fiddler Jenna Moynihan, performing tunes from their new album, “All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do,” produced by longtime champion Joe Henry. Ryan says Henry innately understood “what we wanted to preserve, and exactly what it was that we wanted to augment,” so they trusted him to help “maintain the identity” they’d musically established while they expanded their sonic palette.
At first listen, it’s not a radical departure. But as they segue from the piano-capped, country-soul lilt of “Nothing is Real” (“True love is binary/ Beauty’s a lie”) to the poetic allusions of “Mourning in America” and “Younger Years” and the 10-minute exploration of “One More for the Road,” it becomes harder to imagine the Milk Carton Kids crafting music with this depth of lived wisdom and understated elegance earlier in their career — certainly not in the early days when they were learning to play and write together on the front porch of Pattengale’s parents’ home in Eagle Rock, the town Ryan says “will always be the spiritual home of the band.”
The new songs arose partly from Ryan and Pattengale’s desire to record with a band (“It got to this point where we felt we were writing the same songs over and over again, at least format-wise”). They were also inspired by a “big life reset”: the end of a long relationship and a serious health scare for Pattengale (he’s now cancer-free); a second child for Ryan; a “disorienting” hiatus from the road; and “an awakening” to the country’s ongoing societal shifts.
“All of those things really shook us,” Ryan acknowledges. “You can hear all those issues … [like] parallel streams running throughout, having to do with this idea of traumatic sea changes in our realities.”
As their expanded ensemble prepares for Arroyo Seco and other concerts, Ryan, who also helps produce radio’s “Live From Here With Chris Thile,” says everyone’s asking: What will our wardrobe be?
“Nobody has a good answer,” he admits. “I would really like to not wear suits anymore. But … we’ll see.”
The Milk Carton Kids perform at the Arroyo Seco Weekend Music Festival, Brookside Park at the Rose Bowl, 360 N. Arroyo Blvd., Pasadena, 4:30 p.m. Saturday, June 23; full festival runs Saturday and Sunday. Single-day ($158-$358) and weekend ($258-$458) passes, schedule, details: arroyosecoweekend.com. Go to themilkcartonkids.com to learn more about the band.