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The delightful twang of bluegrass and folk rang out from duo The Milk Carton Kids Thursday night at the band’s first headlining show at the legendary Bluebird Theater in Denver.
Kids rhythm guitarist Joey Ryan introduced openers, The Barefoot Movement, for their first show on the tour east of Memphis, Tenn. The quartet was very quiet and polite when addressing the crowd, but their music was powerful.
Although neither the fiddle, acoustic guitar, mandolin nor the stand-up bass were electric, and three of the four members sang at one time, only one mic was used for the entire set.
As unplugged as they were, The Barefoot Movement had perfect balance between instruments and vocals. Because they never had a set positions throughout the show, the band could move to feature fiddle and mandolin solos, then make a quick switch back to featuring vocals.
Even with four people and instruments surrounding the mic, they never needed to come closer than a foot or so. Whether that was due to their ability to balance with each other or the mic’s sensitivity, it was still impressive.
The Barefoot Movement was, in fact, barefoot onstage.
They played a diverse set of original music and traditional Americana songs. The traditional songs, including “Jim Along Josie” and one that guitarist Quentin Acres described as a rocking song about a chicken, drew the most hooting and hollering from the crowd through the night.
Acres and bassist Hasee Ciacco provided beautiful backup vocals that highlighted fiddler Noah Wall’s country heartache tones in the slower songs. On some of the more upbeat songs, Ciacco was front and center with the bass, alto tones and all.
The band was such a hit that the audience, which sat for the set, gave a standing ovation and demanded an encore. In the ten years I’ve been going to concerts in the Denver area, I’ve never seen an opener receive an encore. Regardless of conventions, the very talented yet very modest The Barefoot Movement deserved it.
They wrapped up their set with a bluegrass cover of Blind Melon’s “No Rain,” which included a killer mandolin solo in place of the usual guitar solo.
When The Milk Carton Kids took the stage, Ryan joked that after that set, they would open for the Barefoot Movement for the rest of the tour. Because they built up for a raucous bluegrass show, and a quiet folk show was the followup act, this joke actually seemed like a sonically viable option.
The Kids had a much more subdued set compared to The Barefoot Movement. Although they didn’t have the high energy performance of their openers, The Milk Carton Kids were on par as far as musical talent is concerned.
Lead guitarist Kenneth Pattengale intricately picked in every song, but never overpowered the vocal harmonies or Ryan’s guitar. Although neither moved around much while playing, Pattingales swagger for feeling the rhythm was interesting to watch as it changed form song to song. The simple white lighting highlighted that this show was about the music, not about the light show – a difference from most other shows, which I appreciate.
Several songs stuck out in the set, including “Honey, Honey,” one of the duo’s more upbeat songs, and the title track off their newest album, “The Ash & Clay.” The stand-out song of the evening was “Charlie,” a song Pattengale wrote about his daughter. The song, however, is no ordinary father-to-daughter song.
“While she has a song written for her and a name assigned, she doesn’t have a due date or even a mother,” Ryan said as he introduced the song. Despite being written for a hypothetical person, “Charlie” is a beautiful and wise song that made the audience hope that Pattingale does get to sing it to his now-nonexistent daughter someday.
The most entertaining part of The Milk Carton Kids’ show was not the music, surprisingly, but how Ryan and Pattingale introduced the songs. Ryan went on tangents between each song on topics from comma use to the meaning of the duo’s songs to the history of the ampersand, and each one elicited at least one giant laugh from the entire crowd.
Meanwhile, Pattengale poked fun at Ryan’s choice of topics and jokingly called out members of the audience who shouted compliments or words of encouragement. Considering that most of their songs are sad, making the audience belly-laugh between each song was probably the best way to keep them from leaving the show completely depressed.
Both The Milk Carton Kids and The Barefoot Movement are coming back to Colorado this summer. From what I saw on Thursday, I think it’s safe to say that, regardless of who they play with, those shows are not to be missed.
Contact CU Independent News Budget Editor Avalon Jacka at Avalon.firstname.lastname@example.org.